Geek Squad founder Robert Stephens once said, “Even now, when I do a slideshow of the Geek Squad story, the first slide is a photo of ramen noodles. Because for me, ramen noodles are the international symbol for a struggle.”
I also find ramen soup to be a great analogy for the struggle of engineering and marketing teams to communicate with each other and produce an optimal product. In the last couple of years, there has been an increased demand for data engineers, and a lot of companies remain dysfunctional when it comes to processing, analyzing, and reporting data.
If you ask marketers about this dysfunction, they’ll always blame the company’s engineers for not creating the optimal product, and the engineers will blame the managers for not defining it correctly. Conversely, while ramen soup can be prepared very easily and simply, some noodle shops turn it into an artistic creation, a combination of colors, smells, and tastes far beyond simple home-cooked ramen. What can marketers learn from noodle shops?
- Always think about the end product: Before going to the engineers, define clearly the questions you wish to answer, how you wish them answered, and what data dimensions you’ll need. Maybe even build a small Excel spreadsheet of the column names and data structure and end graphs. This will help the engineers supply you with the right information.
- Try to avoid a change of plan: We’ve all had this experience: We’ve finalized the questions and answers and handed them off to the engineers to start development. Then a senior manager says this isn’t what’s needed, and we want to change everything. Don’t work in sprints; wait until the entire management team commits to the plan before you hand it off to the engineers.
- Become more actively involved in the process: It’s easy to hand off a plan to the engineers and ask them to make it happen, but the result won’t be what you envision. Instead, check in with the engineers at each stage of the project; hear their concerns and ask questions. This way you’ll know in advance if some elements are not going to be as you wished.
- Be logical and be dynamic: Can these two qualities coexist? Yes, when it comes to data. You don’t need to have a waterfall of data. Know that you can’t display all the data in one table, so don’t be afraid to break it into smaller tables. Be dynamic in thinking about solutions, and be logical when it comes to the solutions offered.
- Keep the same table in place for the long term: No table can answer every question. Before you start making changes to an existing table, do a test run, and then redefine your needs if the results aren’t what you want. Don’t change the table after the engineers have put a lot of work into it.
- Stop the blame game: If engineering and marketing have conflicts, don’t start blaming each other. Sit down together and create a service-level agreement — or, better yet, invite the engineers to sit next to you for a day or two, so they can see how you work and what you do. They will come up with a solution they can support; that’s their job.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for external support: If conflicts continue between the teams, stop immediately and bring in external eyes — ideally a data project manager — to support you in structuring communication and tasks. A data project manager will understand both sides well enough to propose ways to increase communication, which is always essential.
Takeaway: Don’t settle for a mediocre ramen soup. Make it awesome by mixing in the right colors and veggies, and make the process of “cooking” it fun and communicative.