Universities are fast becoming the new arena for digital disruption and adoption of agile ways of working. Macquarie University's Group Marketing department is one such example of the adoption of business agility within a heavily regulated education sector in Australia.

How did we go about "creating the art of the possible" in an educational institution which was going through multiple waves of change management? What did we do differently? And why do we feel that this story is unique and inspiring? We believe our story gives an insider's perspective to adopting agile as a new operating model in a business unit which is traditionally seen as an shared services function and not as a strategic competitive advantage within a university business model.

How did we go about improving not only our customer experience but also our employee experience? Taking a unique not a paint- by-numbers approach, we designed our own Agile framework and operating model. Adopting Agile principles - not rules and being focused on solving the impediments and blockers with fast feedback loops, we were able to demonstrate that (a) we were serious about making a change and (b) we were able to lead a rapid transformation engagement over 6 weeks to move to a new way of working.

We moved from a traditional heavy middle management organisational structure to autonomous cross-functional teams of experts aligned with the business. We learnt that Agile was not rocket science and that we were able to demystify Agile demonstrating that it was a natural way of working together as humans. Learning from each other and changing from individual expert contributors to becoming a team of experts who were able to ask deeper questions and engage more effectively with our stakeholders.

We learnt that we had to lead by example. And so, all Group Marketing executives underwent the training and adopted the Agile model in our day-to-day operations. We started slow with physical Kanban boards for Squads and Chapters inviting stakeholders for the showcase and planning sessions where they saw items in Blocked and Parking Lot demonstrating the impact that this way of working had. As a result, stakeholders started to become innovative and come up with ideas, engaging with the teams up front in an advisory capacity.

We learnt that people are amazing and we need to focus on changing inefficiencies in the organisation's operating model. Going back to principles and creating a space for learning, our teams started to come up with their own innovative ideas. We learnt that we had to go all-in and bring everyone along the journey. Finally, agile is about people and values (not rules) and that people have a natural passion to work this way. Rather than making the existing organisational practices work in a standard "agile" framework, we were successful in changing the culture and mindset of the organisation to adopting agility.

End result, we have become a much more agile business unit being able to respond faster to market needs and customer requirements, improving the internal culture and better customer experience.

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Outline/Structure of the Talk

Business Problems

  • Legacy Group Marketing team had an imbalance of specialist experts vs. generalists who would pass the work and information with very little accountability.
  • Lack of expertise led to lack of product knowledge which resulted in mediocre customer experience.
  • An imbalance of the skills mix across the teams for work (e.g. comms, events, web, CRM, etc.) resulted in suboptimal delivery of work and loss of $ efficiency savings.
  • Interdisciplinary siloed teams of individual experts working on multiple initiatives with no sense of collaboration.
  • This high level of context switching meant that there was no domain expertise in a specific Faculty/Office where Group Marketing team members were specialists in the area of business.

Actions Taken

  • The Art of Possible : We firstly had to create a desire for change within our peers and our management. Since none of them had experienced Agile before, it was a leap of faith and confidence in our ability to lead the change.
  • Building Bridges : Extensive stakeholder engagement, communication and management were critical. Words which could be perceived as buzzwords such as "Agile" were not used when we engaged with the stakeholders. The focus was on the current state business problems and what the business benefits would be.
  • External Expertise : We went to market and after selecting 3 vendors shortlisted Deloitte to bring in organisational expertise for rolling out the new operating model.
  • Custom Framework : A custom framework was rolled out over a 6 week period which required understanding our business model, customer mapping and 11 cross-functional Squads aligned to Faculty / Offices.
  • Efficiency and Autonomy : Creating this structural change resulted in 11 FTE positions being removed from the org structure and bringing on board marketing experts within the Squads, Chapter Leads and Planning Director roles which built new leadership.


  • Regulated Industry : Constant and heavy consultation across stakeholder groups such as Unions brought on board the Deans of various Faculties and Offices to create buy-in.
  • Specialists : As we had not done it ourselves prior and at this university, we went out to get specialists. We brought on board organisational design specialists to support Agile.
  • One Step Ahead : We applied a rapid transformation approach over 6 weeks and 6 weeks of transition support from Agile Coach. Due to the rapid adoption, underlying organisational challenges kept surfacing at a high velocity so we used the Executive Operational daily stand-up to focus, as a team, on the next priority issue and blocker.
  • Middle Management Engagement : It was key to get the middle management to buy into the change as most of them had not been able to attend the Agile training and hence a special 1-week time was given for Coaching Clinics to all staff. The Agile Coach had 1-1 sessions with all squad members and middle managers to understand their problems and bring a real-life sense to "How would this change my life?" perspective.
  • Creatively Destroying the Old : As all change initiatives, we had to creatively destroy the old ways of working while adopting the not-yet new ways of working. This gave the outgoing staff the opportunity to create negative feedback which they shared with the team members. The key here was regular and constant engagement with employees.
  • Keeping Up : As the staff was encouraged to ask questions, challenge the rules and find their own creative ways to solutions, their maturity grew at a faster pace requiring a rapid rollout across Sprint 1 Squads, Sprint 2 Chapters and Sprint 3 Integration.


  • Efficiency Target : The financial efficiency target was achieved (FTE reduction) with improvement in quality of work delivered within 12 weeks which was a key balance.
  • Working Culture : Better working culture across teams with reduced management overhead and cross-functional team structure leading to siloes being broken down.
  • People Growth : People now have a chance to grow and learn from peers.
  • Visualisation of Work : All work (planned, unplanned) is clearly visible to all stakeholders, individual team members and teams. Stakeholders are able to see the work on Kanban boards blocked and parking lot sections to resolve the issues leading to them sorting out internal issues.
  • Stakeholder Relationships : Faculty and Office feedback is "I have got my person" when they meet with their dedicated squad members. Experts now engage directly with Faculty and Office instead of having generalists to play middleman which has improved stakeholder relationship

Learning Outcome


  • Lead by Example - Buy into the change yourself first and lead by example. Group Marketing executives had to undergo Agile training and use the model for their operations.
  • Sponsorship - Strong support from my manager David Wilkinson, Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Corporate Engagement and Advancement who believed in me and trusted me when we said we are going roll out Agile. He had to take a leap of faith as he had not seen it being done before. He did not doubt me and removed all blockers that I could have had.
  • Leadership Team - Bringing in a new leadership team that was made of industry experts supported leading the change across Group Marketing. It is key to create a coalition of the willing.
  • Ability to Learn - Team ability to learn and adopt new ways of working was rapid as squads displayed a growth in maturity requiring more advanced coaching and mentoring.


  • Heavy Consultation - Due to the heavily regulated nature of the education industry, heavy consultation across the university across all stakeholder groups, e.g. unions was crucial.
  • Evaluate Maturity to seek Expertise - Know your maturity and don't try to do it yourself - get help. Macquarie University engaged with Deloitte's Enterprise Agility practice to bring on board an Agile organisation expert to provide insight and guidance for the transition to the Agile model.
  • Team Structure : We created lean specialist teams (Chapters) but were unable to effectively forecast demand as most of the work was hidden. In hindsight, some of them were too lean.


  • Invest - Invest in supporting digital tools as required. Bear in mind that the tools are only to support the people behaviours and the process, not the other way around.
  • Start Small - We did not invest in any tools till Sprint 3 by which all team members were used to using physical Kanban boards across Squads (Sprint 1) and Chapters (Sprint 2).


  • Create a burning platform - To mobilise the change rapidly over 6 months and execute over 12 weeks, we had to create a sense of urgency and a burning platform.
  • Do not underestimate the complexity - Leading the change is hard and needs a deep desire to change as organisational complexity not to be underestimated
  • Bring everyone along the journey - Upstream stakeholders who are used to the old ways of working need to be constantly engaged and brought along the journey.
  • Slow Down to Go Faster : Using a test and learn approach, a transition backlog was created to focus on underlying org challenges as they surfaced.

Target Audience

Senior Executives, Chief Marketing Officers, University Staff

Prerequisites for Attendees

The presentation is general to senior executives leading agile adoption across organisations and hence is tailored to all stages of maturity. The focus here is on sharing our learning and hence no prerequisites are necessary.

schedule Submitted 2 months ago