Full-stack thinking is unlocked when we’re given layers of abstraction that shelter us from the specialized skills that once stood in the way of progress. These abstractions include frameworks, automation, cloud-based services and even agencies and outsource providers that do the heavy lifting on our behalf.

For marketers, full-stack thinking is a welcomed alternative to unending selling and socializing of ideas and wrangling of contributors and stakeholders who don’t necessarily share our considerable energy and enthusiasm. We’re liberated from these dependencies and often given a faster path to escape velocity.

But, as I mentioned last week, we don’t generally have the luxury to go it alone. This is particularly true in large organizations where roles and skills are necessarily specialized and teams working together are how we’re able to achieve scale. Here, the full-stack marketer has the potential to get a bit lost.

But that’s not to say that full-stack thinking is invalid in larger organizations. The difference is that, here, the philosophy is embraced by cross-functional teams that organize and orient around products and well defined goals. Skills may remain specialized, but teams form around what matters most to the business.

In this context, the key abstraction is the removal of politics, bureaucracies and command-and-control power structures.

At the heart of this reorganization are the agile principles of a product—rather than process—orientation, where teams align to discrete products, outcomes and units of customer value. It may sound like a subtle difference, but the performance and velocity of teams improves dramatically when you give everyone a clear line of sight to real business goals and the freedom to iterate through the darkness.

An extreme example of this idea in practice is Zappos’ widely reported reorganization around the idea of Holacracy, which aspires to break down functional and hierarchical boundaries, refocusing work around clear purpose and goals and giving everyone an entrepreneurial voice in the pursuit and prosecution of solutions. But you can see shades of this thinking in most every progressive approach to work:

  • Agile teams organize cross-functionally and deliver increments of value for continuous feedback.
  • Kanban ask teams to self-organize against visual signals of available capacity and demand.
  • Design thinking removes assumptions and constraints to focus teams on actual customer-centered goals and motivations.
  • Design-centered organizations deliberately create the constructive tensions that arise when diverse and interdisciplinary teams are challenged to solve problems together.

Each of these are examples of stripping away layers of process and bureaucracy and command and control style authority to make teams more responsive, adaptive, higher velocity and more focused on moving the needle for the business. This approach to work yields higher performance for the business and higher satisfaction for employees. Needless to say, these two factors are closely correlated.

So, to scale full-stack thinking, look at it as more of an operating philosophy than a title or a role.

After all, for large enterprises in particular, it often takes a village. No marketer is an island.

3 Comments
  1. 29 April 2015 at 3:25 pm
    Jesse Noyes says:

    I’m in total agreement with you here, Jake. Marketers are buying more and more tools to optimize individual in-house functions, but they are largely focused on smaller external outcomes rather than how it facilitates greater visibility and ease of execution internally. I believe this is one of the principal reasons why so many of these tools “fail” to help marketers meet those desired outcomes. Marketing leaders should ask of every new solution, How will this help organize our efforts and people against our larger organizational priorities? and How will this solution help free my teams to pursue their work without fear of being “off brand”?

    Process shouldn’t be something that marketers dread and roll their eyes over. It should be liberating and enable them to meet the big goals. This way of thinking needs to come from the top down to facilitate bottom-up productivity and purpose.

    • 1 May 2015 at 8:42 pm
      Jake Sorofman says:

      Well said, Jesse! Couldn’t agree more. Particularly this part: <>

      • 1 May 2015 at 8:43 pm
        Jake Sorofman says:

        I’ll try that again. Particularly this part: Process shouldn’t be something that marketers dread and roll their eyes over

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