The rate of change we experienced at ExactTarget between 2012-2014 was mind-boggling but could never compare to the earlier days of the company. Over the past year at OpenView,  I’ve learned that the period of time between early stage and expansion stage for a software company is rapid, stressful and continuous. Not to say that expansion stage to exit is not stressful. It is just different. How do you survive and succeed through all the stages of a successful software company? Continuous rapid improvement.

If you aren’t constantly changing, you are slowly dying.

This idea of continuous rapid improvement is steeped in the tradition of Kaizen developed in Japan after World War 2.

Kaizen is a daily process, the purpose of which goes beyond simple productivity improvement. It is also a process that, when done correctly, humanizes the workplace, eliminates overly hard work (“muri“), and teaches people how to perform experiments on their work using the scientific method and how to learn to spot and eliminate waste in business processes. – Wikipedia

There are many ways to use Kaizen or embrace the concept of continuous rapid improvement within your business. Here are two.

Continuous, Rapid and Improved Goals

I’ve always been taught that goals are meant to be set, left and pursued no matter the cost. However, there is benefit in rapidly improving your goals and campaigns over the course of a quarter and/or year instead of setting and forgetting. Below you will find how the marketing team at OpenView manages or goals on a weekly, monthly and quarterly basis.

  • Firm Goals – set by the management team at the beginning of the year. They are meant to be all encompassing and metrics oriented (SMART).
  • Quarterly Campaigns – projects meant to support the initiatives and goals for the quarter/year. Campaigns have the ability to shift and change based on the need during the given week. We continuously improve and shift the campaigns to meet the initiatives and SMART goals for the quarter.
  • SMART Goals –  Our SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-Oriented) goals are metrics driven.

An example:

Marketing Goal Development

SMART goals and campaigns are developed at the beginning of the quarter but can be changed on a weekly or even daily basis based on the team and activities. Things happen. Priorities shift. Your ability to adjust to change on a daily basis will mean your success.

Did something happen within Hubspot to change our landing page conversion goal? Let’s shift it. Did the Facebook retargeting campaign drive 2% CTR in the first test? Let’s change the quarterly goal to 4% CTR and 20% of the newsletter subscribers.

Goals should be planned weekly, monthly and quarterly. Goals should be continuously and rapidly improved.

One thing to note and it is extremely important, the key word in this phrase in IMPROVEMENT. This doesn’t not mean that you decrease the goal if you are having trouble achieving it. SMART goals should always shift UP… not down. If the goal becomes impossible to reach you need to spend more time planning.

Continuous, Rapid and Improved Activities 

The marketing team at OpenView uses Trello and an adjusted version of SCRUM to improve our activities in order reach our goals or to support unforeseen projects that are bound to appear. Our weekly team meeting planning schedule is setup to embrace the idea of continuous improvement.

  • Weekly Planning (60 minutes) – every Friday we meet for an hour to review the previous week, check goals, discuss ideas for next week, and plan accordingly.
  • Monday Planning (30 minutes) – every Monday morning we review the plan from Friday and assign tasks for the week to individuals on the team. Each team member has their own Trello board to manage their daily activities.
  • Daily Standup (15 minutes) – Tuesday – Thursday we meet every morning to review each team members daily schedule and to solve for any impediments that arose the day before.

We also use Trello as a quasi project management tool. The team manages projects from a marketing team board and activities are manage on separate boards for each team member. Haven’t heard of Trello? Checkout the video below for a quick demo.

Each team member manages their personal Trello boards that corresponds with our team marketing board. We use lists and cards to organize our team board in the following way:
  • Backlog – any good ideas that will need to be completed but can’t at the given moment for a multitude of reasons.
  • Projects – current campaigns being worked on by the team. This list is pulled directly from our goal document.
  • To Do – By far the more important list on our Firm Marketing board. This list includes all activities that will be completed within the current week to move our projects towards completion. We plan the list on Friday and confirm the acitivities on Monday. We move the activity from To Do to Doing every morning during our 15 minute standup.
  • Doing – This list is updated daily and includes all activities being worked on by the team.
  • Done – Completed activities and projects. This list is managed and cleared on a weekly basis.
  • Killed – Projects or activities that were killed because of budgetary restraints (both human and time).

There are many ways to use Trello and we’ve just scratched the surface. Want additional tips. Checkout Trello’s blog.

The importance of continuous rapid improvement cannot be overstated. The history of modern business is littered with examples of companies who succeeded and failed because of change. Of course, this is just a snippet of what we do as a team and I imagine will be adjusting the process in the very near future.