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IBM CMO explains how the giant marketing team switched to Agile



Michelle Peluso
IBM CMO Michelle Peluso is
a big fan of the Agile Method.

Demano / Stringer

  • IBM’s Chief Marketing Officer Michelle Peluso joined
    the tech giant two years ago and completely revamped how her
    5,000-person department works.
  • Inspired by her time as CEO at Travelocity, Peluso
    implemented the Agile Method, a project management technique
    used primarily by software engineers.
  • Agile’s main components are short deadlines, and small
    “squads” which work together to complete tasks as a team. Each
    squad has people with diverse areas of expertise.
  • It leads to “better outcomes,” Peluso says, and has
    helped IBM become more data-centric in its marketing.

When Michelle Peluso joined IBM
two years ago as chief marketing officer, she decided to
completely revamp the way people worked. If she was going to move
the storied media company’s 5,500-person global marketing team
forward, she thought, they would have to be more agile, or
rather, Agile. 

Agile is a
project management methodology
that became popular with
software development teams in the early 2000s. The methodology is
designed to maximize “value creation” by pushing out product
updates faster — usually on a two week deadline. 

It’s the way that tech titans like Facebook and Google got so big
so fast, by organizing teams so that they could improve the
product in real time with a constant stream of small

So how does a computer programming technique apply to
advertisements, brochures and other marketing material?

In marketing, this means putting out brand campaigns one piece at
a time, and adjusting the next iteration based off of data and
customer feedback. Previously, marketing teams at IBM would work
on projects for months before putting anything out into the
world, Peluso said. 

“You just feel more productive. It’s more rewarding to get to see
work going live faster and much more regularly,” Peluso told
Business Insider. “It tends to produce better outcomes because
you’re iterating all of the time.”

Agile brought an end to IBM’s work-from-home policy 

IBM Watson Office 7Hollis

Peluso, who first tested the methodology while CEO at
Travelocity, thinks IBM may the most “aggressive at scale” teams
to use Agile for marketing. 

To make this happen, IBM reorganized its marketers from large,
focused departments into 8 to 10 person “squads” who all bring
different skill sets to a project. 

“So instead of having a full-functioning creative department or a
full-functioning product marketing department or content
department or social department or analytics department, every
squad has to have some of those ingredients,” Peluso said.

The transition hasn’t been without some difficulties. For one,
about 2,600 people on Peluso’s team worked from home when she
first joined IBM. But in spring 2017, IBM made waves by
requiring that those people
, as well as some software teams,
make their way back to IBM offices. 

Team co-location, Peluso said, is vital for Agile to work well
since workflow becomes organized around what a squad can
accomplish in a set time frame, rather than what the individual
can get done. 

“They start their day with
certain rituals. They do a daily stand up each morning and end
with retrospectives,” Peluso explained, adding that each team
decides on a joint priority at the start of the day.
It really pushes and
forces reconciliation on what is most important.”

Now data is front and center for everyone

Changing up how its teams work has positioned IBM to have a more
data-centric approach to its marketing campaigns.

For one, the data-minded team members work side-by-side with the
creative minds, which means that analytics are involved from the
very beginning. Additionally, the shorter deadlines means that
IBM can actively adapt its next project to earlier

Now it’s like a real time
sport,” Peluso said.

To put its data to work, IBM has put what Peluso calls “a huge
amount of effort” into taxonomizing how it understands data
across the entire company. 

“I can’t have a different metrics
and measurement than the sales team has,” Peluso said. “We ground
ourselves in the sales and finance data and then we work
backwards, so there’s not competing versions of the truth and the

The marketing team also has its own digital dashboard where all
of the marketing data from various marketing tech platforms is
aggregated into charts and graphs to give insights into its
campaigns. Namely, it indicates which teams are making the most
out of their ad dollars, and which ones need to play catch

“It’s almost the gamification of
data,” Peluso said. “You create an environment where people
strive to do better and you have a lot of transparency.”

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