Upscaling communication. Upgrading services. Uplifting teams. You could definitely say the only way is up for Area Manager Maarten Witteman. While his professional coding days are over, he does thrive on cracking problems – especially when it gets really complicated. Let’s meet up with him.
An Area Manager, you say?
Maarten Witteman is happily married and the proud father of a son and a daughter. And he is our Area Manager Advertising! His area is part of our Customer Engagement cluster. Not to get into too much detail, but a little understanding of our organizational chart might be helpful here. So please bear with us: DPG Media has over 500 tech colleagues. To organize their efforts, they work in teams (squads). So far, so good, right? Each squad is part of an area. There is an advertising area, a freemium area, an editorial area, and many more. Those areas are grouped in clusters, such as the Business Application cluster or the Technology & Support cluster. Combine all those clusters, and that’s the tech organization. Got it?
As an Area Manager, Maarten is responsible for the budget, people, and delivery of everything related to advertising in the Netherlands and Belgium. In both countries, he has two teams working on automating advertising for clients and the ecosystem of ad placement.
An example of their work? In December of 2020, Maarten’s teams launched the advertising platform DPG Direct: a self-service environment where customers can create ads for all DPG Media’s online brands. A bit like Facebook’s or Google’s advertising environment. But better, Maarten smiles. “DPG Direct focuses on the local market, and through us, you can easily reach anyone you want through Dutch brands like Algemeen Dagblad or Eindhovens Dagblad. Soon, Belgium will follow with Het Laatste Nieuws and De Morgen.”
Cracking the code to smart communication
Maarten has a technical background, which comes in handy in his role. He studied electrical engineering – soldering, programming, that sort of stuff: it was heaven in Haarlem. Not ready to part from the student life, he got his Master’s degree at the Technical University of Twente. Fond memories, Maarten reminisces. While he doesn’t program professionally anymore, he keeps up to date by visiting conferences, lots of reading, and setting up and playing around with AWS accounts himself. “I always thought that programming was my calling, but it turns out that my love for solving complex problems is more generic: software, collaboration, people, conflicts… You name it. Coming up with and working out solutions for complex issues is what I do best. Even better when I can do it with other people.”
Maarten joined DPG Media in 2017 as a Scrum Master; in late 2018, he stepped into his current Area Manager role. “The backbone of both roles is the same though: it’s all about motivating, activating, and empowering people. As a Scrum Master, I did that with my team; now, I have a broader focus. I just think it’s awesome to achieve something with a big group of people and to make it scalable without becoming bureaucratic.”
With over 40 people in his four Scrum teams, Maarten has broadened his focus for sure. Managing that many people, budgets (systems and licensing budgets and an investment budget), and delivery can put you in a time squeeze. But Maarten actually seems pretty laid-back. He’s got his pragmatism to thank for that – and hard work: he cracked the code to smart communication.
“It’s humanly impossible to have proper conversations with each team member every week. So my challenge is to scale communication. For example, I have online ‘coffee meetups’ with multiple people at the same time. I enjoy the interactivity that emerges in those sessions. Also, my team members have one-on-one meetings with each other. That keeps the pressure off me, but mainly I feel like you don’t need to discuss everything with your manager. People are perfectly able to help each other out. So I do have one-on-one meetings with everyone, but at a much lower frequency. And, of course, the Product Owners and Scrum Masters play a big part in people management too.”
Being smart about communication does not only mean scaling it – the messaging is equally important. “I strongly believe in autonomous teams. We – DPG Media and its managers – are the ones to facilitate the teams by providing context and means. Explaining what we are doing as a group, and why, is indispensable when you want people to put their work in context and act upon that.”
Making connections at the (un-) usual places
As Maarten speaks to many people, it’s easy for him to make connections and help others create them too. Making those connections, right through all organizational layers, is both exciting and rewarding, Maarten thinks. It’s one of the reasons why he is one of our hackathon’s organizers. ”Cool thing is, our hackathon projects often become a reality.” Executive Chairman Christian van Thillo is a big fan of the hackathons and drops by whenever he can. “When Van Thillo likes an idea, it’s happening.”
Hackathons are a great way to connect with other colleagues, and the Guilds, based on the Spotify model, also offer a playground for making connections. DPG Media has quite a few of them, and Maarten hopes to set up an Area Manager Guild. He’s already found some allies and is excited to get started. “The main thing to be successful as a Guild is to have a common goal. It doesn’t have to be a pompous goal; it has to be low-threshold and should unite the Guild members. For the Area Managers, a good first goal could be to activate other Guilds. It’s as simple as that,” he smiles.
“DPG Media is big but feels small. There’s a bit of a start-up vibe but with all the perks of a grown-up company.”
Becoming a mediatech company
DPG Media offers a good working environment for tech colleagues, Maarten says. “We truly work agile with two-week sprints and good sprint reviews: no obligatory PowerPoint-run-throughs, but lots of useful feedback. Everything is digital-first; we use the cloud to its fullest. Mainly AWS, and we keep an eye on Google and Azure as we are always open to exploring other options.”
Maarten recognizes the size of the company can seem a bit overwhelming and might put some people off. He gets that but disagrees. “DPG Media is big but feels small. There’s a bit of a start-up vibe but with all the perks of a grown-up company.” That vibe, and the seemingly endless supply of creativity within the company, are infectious – in a good way.
“Having over 500 tech colleagues doesn’t make us a tech company – we all have to craft solutions together to serve our customers best. To do so, business and tech need to be interknitted to the max. I see us becoming a true mediatech company. Just like we’ve seen in finance, with fintech. DPG Media is in the middle of that transformation, and we’re moving fast. ” Maarten can’t wait – and he doesn’t.
With his positive outlook and open-minded attitude, Maarten can get a lot done within DPG Media. No guts, no glory? “Kind of. As a company, we’re not afraid to experiment, learn, and even fail. We have an entrepreneurial spirit.” Working at DPG Media is very dynamic, which means people need to be self-reliant in making day-to-day decisions. “I love how there is always a new challenge that arises. There is little chance of getting bored here,” Maarten grins.