Builder ethos: the DNA of digital teams (people, roles, skills) - Digital Platforms and MACH Architecture with Andrew Kumar

Just getting started with or scaling a digital platform like Contentful can be an exciting time for our customers and their teams. Anticipation is at an all-time high to alleviate pain points and build solutions that weren’t possible with legacy systems.

This post is part of a Builder Ethos Series, see them all:

Everyone is a digital builder

The builder ethos is a philosophy that recognizes that outstanding digital experiences start with those who build them. It acknowledges that builders aren’t just the people who code the backend of a new app. Builders are people throughout the organization who use technology to solve customer problems, and everyone has the opportunity to use these tools to work better, faster and deliver more value to customers.  Users, creators and builders are one and the same. The shared characteristics of builders are a high standard for quality and craft, as well as a high standard of care in the outcomes and experiences created for customers, businesses and one another as collaborators. 

But, wait ... exactly who is going to build the new global marketing, agile ecommerce and knowledge base digital delivery engines? How do companies enable, grow, enhance and combine the talent they need to build amazing digital products with Contentful? 

This is the most common question I discuss with our customers as the director of platform strategy at Contentful. After leading 50 Contentful implementations and participating in eight digital transformation initiatives, I think I have the key to answer this puzzle. Or at least a solid starting point for building digital teams that embody the mindset and digital capabilities companies need to be fast and competitive in the digital-first era.

Building a digital team begins with enabling people who have a growth mindset and favor action. These are people who are:

  • Eager to learn, willing to try new things and are not put off by failure

  • Customer-obsessed with a strong drive to take ideas and run with them

  • Ready to fail small, and fail often, in the pursuit of maximum impact

See how I didn’t mention a dependency on programming skills or technology chops? According to Gartner, “By 2024, 80% of technology products and services will be built by those who are not technology professionals.” And even the most talented technology and software engineers sometimes struggle to make this mindset shift. 

This is part one of the builder ethos: understanding that everyone is a builder simply by demonstrating a growth mindset to test, learn and adapt. 

The people, roles and skills for a world-class digital team

To support cross-functional collaboration and autonomy, I recommend all teams have a mix of strategy, analytics, project management, content, design and engineering skills. The ratio of people needed in each role, and what those exact roles are, change based on the team’s purpose. 

Below are examples of the mix of roles on digital teams. These are meant to serve as a starting point that can be further refined based on your company's timeline, resources, scope and ambition.

FunctionRolesAlso Known AsResponsibilitiesSkills Needed
StrategyDigital Product DirectorProduct Manager Product Owner PM-T Can also come from: Product Marketing DirectorDefine & set KPIs Define roadmap Uphold agile principles Stakeholder managementProduct management Road-mapping Business casing Story writing Certified Scrum Product Owner or equivalent
Insights AnalystData Analyst Data Scientist Analyst Can also come from: Product Marketing ManagerReview data outputs, analyze and confer with Platform Owners Set up tracking automation Set up dashboardsExperience with analytics and tagging systems (GA, Adobe, posthog) Experience building dashboards and funnel reports (Data studio, tableau, etc...)
Project / Campaign ManagementAgile Program ManagerProject Manager Scrum Master Delivery Manager Technical Program ManagerMaintain momentum Shepherd of the process governance protocols and workflows Uphold agile principles Stakeholder managementProject management Facilitation, scheduling Story writing / tracking Certified Scrum Master or equivalent
Content & CreativeContent DesignerContent Lead Content Creator Copywriter Marketer Agency WriterDevelop content as per content model, channel and KPIs Develop content modelsDigital experience content writing Strategy experience (web or mobile applications, commerce content, SEO, editing, writing)
Visual DesignerGraphic Designer UX Designer Interaction Designer Product DesignerCreate templates, components and experiences for all channels/front ends Develop content modelsDigital experience Design experience Figma, Invision, etc.
EngineeringSoftware Development ManagerTech Lead Tech Architect Principal DeveloperPrincipal EngineerDevelop content models, preview, front-end & backend operations + set up integrations Set up CI/CD pipeline, cloud infrastructure & deploy live experiencesDeveloper experience: node, microservices, front end frameworks like React, Vue, scalable systems, n-tier application architecture, cloud platforms CI/CD experience, GitHub, cloud functions, etc.
Software DevelopersSoftware Engineers DevelopersFront-end language experience (React, Vue) Some CI/CD experience
Automation TesterQA Specialist QA EngineerTesting and quality checks across experiencesTest automation and performance experience (lighthouse), ghost inspector, etc.

From baton-passing waterfall to cross-functional adaptive agile teams

Digital teams need a variety of skills that enable them to work faster and more autonomously than traditional teams. Instead of a string of hand-offs, you want your digital teams to have all the roles and skills they need at one table. This encourages cross-functional collaboration and enables teams to pursue new ideas and bring them to market faster.

Your organization will likely also need a platform that fosters collaboration in this modern, adaptive and agile way. (Consider these factors to evaluate the digital and content platforms that are right for your team’s DNA.)

We’ve all been at awkward meetings where one team excitedly pitches an idea they've been working on for weeks only to have the next team in the delivery process raise dozens of concerns. Typically these concerns have to do with priorities, delays in previous features or templates, not having enough humans, or being inundated with many other tasks in their backlog. 

To build faster, you need to bring people with different skills and perspectives together to share a common goal and objective, and a common roadmap. Cross-functional collaboration avoids the baton-passing and downstream problems — there is no more downstream. The digital team works as one unit to build, compose and launch to customers with speed. 

Deck showing the team members for a digital delivery squad

“Digital business is treated as a team sport by CEOs and no longer the sole domain of the IT department,” says Rajesh Kandaswamy, research vice president at Gartner. “Growth in digital data, low-code development tools and artificial intelligence (AI)-assisted development are among the many factors that enable the democratization of technology development beyond IT professionals.”

As Paolo Negri, co-founder & CTO at Contentful, puts it, “The principle of low-code is really: How can we make available an environment where people can only write code specific to their business? So it’s business logic that is absolutely custom to what they’re doing — it stays in the domain of knowledge for which they are solving.” 

Collaboration doesn’t mean everyone is working together all the time. In my experience, well-functioning digital teams converge and collaborate at times, then work on different parts of the project separately, and then come back together to collaborate more as their individual contributions come together. It's like a continuous pendulum of together, independently, back together — this motion keeps the whole team running smoothly. 

A venn diagram depicting how the technical side and marketing side of a company combine into the customer experience

This back and forth between individual work and cross-functional collaboration, encourages interdependent instead of codependent relationships. People are empowered to do their own part, but success depends on a team effort to bring the individual components together as a whole. 

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This post is part of a Builder Ethos Series, see them all:

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