The New In-House Agency Success Story: Adapt or Die, Part Two

In part 1 of this series on creating an adaptable team, I focused on the adaptability imperative and the first 2 of 12 critical drivers of adaptable in-house creative agencies.

In this post I’ll address 3 related tactics all focused on operations and project management: process, project and digital asset management solutions, and project & account management teams.

In the context of adaptability, the establishment of operational and project & account management infrastructure serves as a scalable foundation that affords creative teams the ability to absorb new business mandates, establish new services, develop new business and manage increased volume while maintaining efficiencies and cost-effectiveness which are critical in-house value propositions. All three tactics provide a framework and support for executing work, and without them (even if in their absence a team is currently getting their work done) that team would most likely freeze up if new types of deliverables or services were requested of them or if the volume of existing project types increased dramatically.

Key practices that dictate executional processes such as Standard Operating Procedures, workflows & work instructions, and Operational Level Agreements provide creative teams a level of clarity around their project-specific roles, responsibilities, and how and when they should engage in those roles and responsibilities that ensure there are no gaps or redundancies in the creative process. They can and should be general enough that they both allow for team members to exercise judgment in their engagement in project execution and allow for their application to multiple job types. If they are too prescriptive, in-house agencies run the risk of a rigid culture of conformity—not an effective mindset for groups working on many different types of deliverables with varied objectives and client expectations requiring multidisciplinary teams. Extreme specificity and process mandates also result in the avoidable need for the group to constantly reinvent process when introducing new services. The most effective implementation and enhancement of process requires a balanced approach in the creation and adoption of process that allows for just enough of it to avoid confusion and inefficiency, but not so much that it slows down execution and impedes the team’s ability to apply common sense solutions to operational challenges.

Like process, the adoption of project management and digital asset management may not seem like a necessary action to take to manage existing workload and project types, but if an in-house team understands and acts on the need to expand services to remain relevant to its host organization, these solutions will be critical to its future success. Both support team members who are engaged in project-specific creative tasks by helping to guide them through project workflows and by providing them easy access to needed creative assets.

Similar to process, too much or too little functionality and the associated management of project and digital asset management tools will render them either ineffective or a roadblock to efficient project execution and the ability to expand on existing services. It’s critical that those responsible for project and digital asset management tool implementation clearly determine only the needs most critical to project execution that those solutions should address and configure the tools to be as user-friendly as possible.

The establishment of account and project management teams and accompanying formalized practices requires strategic planning and implementation with a considered focus on flexibility and scalability. The calculations on when, how many and the mix of Project and Account Managers rely on a number of variables including job types, tiers and complexity, client & upper management service level expectations, cost and anticipated business growth.

In the context of adaptability, two important account and project management considerations are the types of new services and elevation in project complexity (tier) the team is expecting will occur. It’s critical to making this determination that in-house agency leadership partner with (1) internal subject matter experts to explore new creative services technology, (2) clients to assess new needs and the competitor landscape and (3) upper management to understand their operational and financial expectations.

Most teams already have Project Managers in place to manage their current workload. If their assessment of future work coming into the group includes an upward trend in tier as well as a shift to digital and media services, more senior level Project Managers and the introduction of Account Managers will be required. The challenge is timing these hires to coincide with the establishment of new services and higher tier projects.

One final word on this group of adaptability tactics: in recent roundtables Cella has moderated on this topic, participants over and over again stressed the need for a high level of personal leadership engagement when establishing or modifying process, implementing operational tools and enhancing project and account management. Bringing in the greater team to participate in the establishment or improvement of these tactics early on, focusing on the why and WIIFM of operational initiatives, and consistently supporting the team in embracing and practicing new operational initiatives ensures understanding and adoption of these evolutionary practices.

In the last post on this series, I’ll address the remaining 6 adaptability tactics.

Andy Epstein is an industry thought leader in the field of in-house creative. He currently serves as the Director of Studio Operations for Cella Solutions where he has oversight of the managed in-house agencies run by Cella. Andy has written and spoken extensively on in-house issues and published “The Corporate Creative,” a book on in-house design in the spring of 2010. He is a co-founder of InSource, the former Programming Director for the InHOWse Managers Conference, and a key member of Cella’s professional development team. Andy is focused on empowering in-house teams to raise their stature in the design and business communities.

One thought on “The New In-House Agency Success Story: Adapt or Die, Part Two

  1. This may just be me, but I would find this WAY more helpful if it was written in less ‘business speak’ and more ‘real’ language. Almost feel like I need to re-write this in language me & my team would understand. You’re talking to business people, yes, but creatives first.