Start Fixing Your Processes
I’ve written in the past about selecting workflow systems and about specific aspects of automation, but what if you’re just starting to get your creative processes under control? Well, it’s an old axiom that if you automate your processes before fixing them, all you have is an automated bad process. (Or at least an un-optimized process.)
So, where to start? In my experience, there are three main areas within your processes to address first. Once you address these areas, the rest will fall in place pretty easily.
There are two main problems that can happen with project initiation. The first is not having a formal intake process. Clients come to you with an idea, and the project gets started without much definition. Without specs or a brief, any design concept work is a “best guess” at what the client really wants. Designers work on their interpretation of the client’s idea and then, when it’s presented, they need to start over because it really was not what the client was envisioning. Worst case, the client decides they aren’t going to go forward with the project and the time spent on design work is wasted.
The second problem that can happen at project initiation is having a “one-size-fits-all” intake form (either paper or on-line). These forms are usually designed for the most complex projects and may be many pages long. Clients get used to not filling out much of the form because, usually, most of it doesn’t apply to their simple projects, such as reworking an ad or making minor web modifications. Then, when a complex project that requires new creative comes along, they still don’t fill out the information since they’ve been trained to ignore most of the form. So, take a look at your intake process. Make sure that all information that is necessary to move forward is available. And, don’t make your clients fill out a creative brief for a reprint!
Approvals should be based on the type of project and on the area of expertise of the approver. A new campaign that is in support of a key corporate initiative may really need to go to the CEO for final approval, but those cases are rare. It’s also important to look at how many rounds of revision your projects go through. I’ve heard horror stories of relatively simple projects going through 20 or more rounds of approval. A project of medium complexity really shouldn’t require more than three rounds of approval. If it takes more, then either the information wasn’t well defined at the beginning of the process, or your approvers are trying to do the design and copy writing functions of your department. Another pitfall is having way too many approvers for the particular type of project. Determine up front if things like legal and regulatory approval are really required or if it’s really just habit to include them for all projects. Finally make sure that your approvers understand where you are in the process. Concept approval is just that. Once concepts are approved the focus needs to move to actual content. Related to this is making sure reviewers are providing feedback in their areas of expertise. For example, a great regulatory lawyer is not the right person to provide input on form and style.
Finally, take a look at how ready your projects are when they move to production. Changes made after a project has moved on to print production are not only expensive, but are also hard to track. Those changes—whether at the request of the client or to correct work done by the creative team—can come back to haunt you when that piece is updated later.
The real key to all three of these areas is identifying the stages of your projects, such as intake, concept, etc., and establishing appropriate rules for moving on to the next stage. Then, make sure all your participants, including approvers and management, understand and follow the rules. With a little effort, your processes will run more smoothly and your clients will appreciate the better service.
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Les Johnson, a Cella consultant, has nine years of experience providing technical solutions and process improvement in the Creative Services environment. Les is a certified Six Sigma Black Belt and provides process analysis and improvement services to clients. These services include process mapping, improvement activities and recommendations for process changes to improve efficiencies and reduce costs.