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What’s the big deal about tiering?

One of the most common recommendations Cella puts forward in a Creative Operations Assessment is to implement project tiering. Tiering can be implemented in varying levels of complexity and, for most organizations, the simplest implementation is often all that is necessary.

So what is tiering?
Tiering is simply labeling your projects according to a pre-defined set of criteria. At minimum that criteria must include creative complexity:

  • Tier 1- Brand new creative concept (e.g., new corporate brochure)
  • Tier 2- Previously approved creative concept applied to a new deliverable type (e.g.,  sales sheet based off the corporate brochure design)
  • Tier 3- Templated/formulaic work, or test revisions to an existing document


Some creative teams we work with include two additional levels of creative complexity:

 

  • Tier 0- Creative strategy development > most in-house creative teams do not take on this work. Usually external agencies, corporate brand strategists or marketing departments own this work. That said the creative team and the greater organization would benefit from the creative team’s participation in these discussions and meetings.
  • Tier 4- Self-serve or automated work such as business cards and PowerPoint presentations. Typically this is work that the creative team does not take on but has set up a process to manage the work (e.g., creating PPT templates).


Additional criteria that may be considered in setting up a tiering matrix may include:

 

 

  • Corporate compliance requirements
  • Project complexity (different from creative complexity; something may be highly templated but have 100 pages and require a high degree of attention to detail)
  • Corporate strategic value (the annual report versus the retirement luncheon invitation)


Why is tiering important?
Tiering can help with process, staffing, work prioritization and department metrics reporting.

 

Process
Not every project requires a creative brief. Likewise, a Creative Director shouldn't need to review every project the department works on. By identifying projects based on creative complexity, you can set up high-level processes to identify which steps a Tier 1 project must go through vs. Tier 2 projects versus Tier 3. This ensures the right people are involved at the right stages of the project, and that the right amount of upfront work occurs for each project (whether that means a full kick-off meeting and creative brief or just an intake form).

Staffing
If 80% of your work is Tier 3, but 80% of your design staff is senior designers, you may have a retention or morale issue, as senior designers would be unfulfilled working on production assignments across long periods of time. In addition, you may be compensating your team higher than your work requires. Through tiering your work by creative complexity and cross referencing Tier with Project Type or Category (e.g., Web, Interactive, Print Design), the mix of execution-level staff required for an optimized operating environment will be clear. Below is example of a sample department’s print design work breakdown by tier and the type of design staff they would seek to hire to meet their needs.

What’s the big deal about tiering?This example allows the senior designers in the department to focus on Tier 1 projects, but also gives them a “brain break” from creative challenges through working on Tier 2 projects. Likewise, graphic designers and production designers can focus on the Tier 3 projects, but have the opportunity to work on the more creative projects should they have (1) the ability and (2) the desire. This is a very simplistic approach that does not speak to creating stretch opportunities and other best practices; it does, however, illustrate a key benefit of tiering.

Prioritization
Some creative teams are only supposed to work on projects that align to the strategic priorities of the greater organization. Others work on all projects submitted. One is not necessarily better than the other, only sometimes the creative department struggles to prioritize because strategic importance is not always easily defined. Or, even when it’s evident, it’s not always possible to tell the CEO that his luncheon invitation needs to be de-prioritized in favor of the sales brochure. Creating a prioritization scale that is bought into by senior leaders in your company, can decrease pressure on the creative team when it comes to “breaking ties” between competing projects. This can be done in conjunction with your Tiering model or outside of it.

 


Creating Your Tiering Matrix
Like all initiatives, don’t implement tiering without first identifying your desired outcomes. When considering what criteria to include in your tiering model, you need to determine what change or process that you are trying to impact. From there you can develop a tiering model that meets your specific goals.

Learn more best practices to put into practice with your team—join us in Chicago October 9–10 for Beyond the Creative 3!


Jackie Schaffer

In her role as Cella VP & General Manager, Jackie Schaffer has consulted for Fortune 500 clients with more than 400 in-house team members and for teams at mid-sized businesses, government entities and educational institutions with teams as small as four designers. Her management competencies lie in operations assessments, financial management and talent management. Prior to joining Cella, she led an international "mega-sized" creative team through an evolution of production studio to strategic partner.

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