Case Study

See how Emma uses LeanKit to create a culture of visibility and accountability, keeping the entire organization aligned around common business goals.

Customer Profile

Emma helps organizations create, send, and track stylish email newsletters, surveys, and campaigns through a do-it-yourself web interface.

More than 45,000 customers worldwide, including small and midsize businesses, nonprofits, and agencies

Mission: create intuitive online tools and hands-on services that make email and social marketing surprisingly personal

Recognized by Inc. Magazine as one of Nashville’s fastest-growing companies

Kat Amano, Operations Analyst at Emma, sat down with us to explain how LeanKit has become ‘the place people go to know what’s going on’.

Tell us about your role.

Officially I’m an Operations Analyst; in reality I manage various projects for the company. For example, I’m our Salesforce and LeanKit account administrator, a Scrum Master and I also help facilitate our weekly company-wide ‘rocks’ meeting.

What do you mean by ‘rocks’?

‘Rocks’ are what we call our large business goals. Every quarter, each team identifies the top priorities that we need to focus on. These are communicated and tracked using a board in LeanKit, which everyone in the organization has access to. The goal is to complete all of the rocks by the end of the quarter.

How does LeanKit help with the ‘rocks’ process?

LeanKit is an essential part of keeping the process transparent. Each rock is represented by a card on the board, and we use different colors to indicate status such as not started, in progress or behind schedule.

Once a week our entire company gathers around a massive LeanKit screen and shares progress updates on the rocks.

Company-Wide 'Rocks' Meeting

There’s a lot to get through, but the meeting moves at a fast pace. We go through the rocks in order, opening each card in LeanKit to share the latest information. When a rock gets ‘crushed’ we move it to the done lane on our board, which is always accompanied by a lot of cheering and clapping!

What led Emma to adopt this approach?

Our company has experienced rapid growth. When we were small everyone knew what was going on, but as we grew we reached the point where it felt like there were 100 people focusing on 100 different things.

A lot of our work involves teams across the organization working together.

A lot of our work involves teams across the organization working together. The lack of transparency made it difficult to manage expectations and ensure that everyone was aware if priorities changed or deadlines shifted. We were getting frustrated with each other because we weren’t all on the same page about where we should be focusing our efforts.

We realized that for the company to be successful we needed to align ourselves around common goals and communicate these clearly with each other

How did you initially manage the new process?

We started out using a white board and sticky notes, as well as Google Docs to document our goals. It was a good way to define the process but it wasn’t very scalable – the white board contained information that couldn’t be erased for an entire year and we had a complicated color-coding scheme that wasn’t easy to interpret. Also, it didn’t give us the transparency we needed since you had to be physically in the room to see the details. We quickly realized that we needed a tool to help us.

What type of tool were you looking for?

We wanted a tool that would be instrumental in making our process transparent.

We wanted a tool that would be instrumental in making our process transparent and surfacing the right information. We also needed the flexibility to model our process our way with a tool that’s easy for both technical and non-technical people to use.

Why did you select LeanKit?

We considered three tools: LeanKit, Trello and Jira. Trello didn’t provide enough flexibility and Jira was too complex for our non-technical users. We felt that LeanKit was the best fit as it accommodates different teams and different planning styles so well. We’ve been able to structure an approach that works well for everyone. Also, LeanKit is so easy to access and use - it was the right tool to meet our goal of complete transparency.

How did you implement LeanKit?

We started out by modeling the process we had defined on our white board in LeanKit. Once we had the lanes set up and the cards created, we gave everyone in the entire company access to the ‘Emma Rocks’ board. LeanKit very quickly became the central point of focus for managing our initiatives.

Using LeanKit to manage the "Rocks"

Over time, our LeanKit board has evolved as we find ways to improve our process and leverage more capabilities within the tool.

What benefits are you seeing from this approach?

We’re not 100 different people working on 100 different things anymore.

It’s been completely transformative. We now speak to each other using the language of common goals. Every single person at Emma feels accountable due to the visibility and transparency that underpins our organization. We’re not 100 different people working on 100 different things anymore. We’ve eliminated so much wasted time working on non-prioritized initiatives.

Can you share any examples of successful initiatives using this approach?

We've completed a number of high-profile projects using this approach now. Here are a few examples that come to mind:

  • Emma Guestbook – this is an iPad app that we developed to help our customers quickly and easily grow their audience at events, at the point of sale — anywhere they’re interacting with potential subscribers.
  • Emma for Salesforce – we created a robust integration with Salesforce that lets users sync their Emma audience groups with Salesforce leads and contacts.
  • Emma Concierge Services – this is an expanded service offering for customers who’d like extra help with in-account actions like importing lists and creating autoresponders.

I can honestly say that using LeanKit to manage these initiatives made a big difference in enabling us to complete them successfully.

Has it addressed the frustrations?

Yes. While change is inevitable in any organization, the difference now is that everyone is informed about what’s going on, why things are changing and the impact on the rest of the organization. We just have to look at the LeanKit board to know what’s going on. This very open, transparent style of communication makes it easier for everyone to adjust to the change and helps us work together more effectively.

How do teams manage their day-to-day work?

Each team at Emma has the flexibility to manage its work in the way that makes the most sense. One example of how LeanKit is being used at the team level is to manage custom design templates for our clients. The board makes it easy to see where the work is during the design process and which designer is doing the work.

Flexibility with LeanKit

What features in LeanKit do you particularly like?

We like the ability to define card types and assign color to status. It lets us instantly see how things are progressing. We also like ability to filter cards. For example, during the weekly meetings we filter out any work that's not started to help us focus on the work in process. Comments and attachments have proven to be a useful system of record for each initiative.

In summary, why does Emma like using LeanKit?

LeanKit helps us feel connected with our roots. When Emma was a small startup everyone kept each other updated with what’s going on. As we grew we started to lose that. LeanKit has become the go-to place to know what’s going on. It keeps us in touch and communicating with each other. It fulfills our desire to be transparent and achieves the goal of including everyone in the organization.

Thanks Emma, for sharing your story with us!