Don’t Overcomplicate It. Process Is Actually Easy.

If I’ve seen it once, I’ve seen it a thousand times. A committee, or better yet, a Task Force, is convened to define Process.

Yes, it’s that P Word again.

I’ve defined process everywhere I’ve been. And as much as everyone hates Process, and the people who embrace it, there is, indeed, real value in it.

Let’s define process first. says:

nounplural processes 

 [pros-es-iz, uh-siz, uh-seez or, esp. British, proh-sesproh-suh

1.   a systematic series of actions directed to some end: to devise a process for homogenizing milk.

2.   a continuous action, operation, or series of changes taking place in a definite manner: the process of decay.

Milk and decay aside, Process exists at some level in every agency – whether you know it or not, you probably have a process that’s unwritten, yet people are doing pretty much the same thing in the same way, every day, and everything works just fine.

There’s your process.

Then there’s the other side, where the steps are so detailed, so unwieldy, that process becomes The Job. This is usually the consequence of a project that went off the rails somewhere in the past – and probably not all that spectacularly, and no one can really remember what happened...

Just some random event that really pissed off someone, be it the Partner or, God Forbid, the Project Manager.

Then you get new rules. Lots of rules. Rules that become process.

Rules about the Order For Approval. Proofer has to see it first (but they’re at lunch).

The rule about Rush Jobs. Two days constitute a Rush Job (but there’s a huge opportunity to do something amazing for the client – today).

The rule about Account standing over Creative and giving direction. This one I’ll stick by. NEVER is this acceptable.

Lots of little rules that add up to a giant pain. For everybody.

Anyway, there are a bunch of Rules. And a bunch of Steps. And a punitive jerk or two who wears the mantle of Project Manager and gets in your face. Every day. Because you didn’t follow process.

Well, an agency needs process. It doesn’t need to be complicated. It just needs to make sense to everyone who’s involved. Or else your amazing team will simply ditch your carefully diagrammed process.

You will be the butt of jokes. Mocked. Scorned. Dare I say, despised.

Let’s make it easy.

Map your workflow. It can be a numbered list - please skip the Microsoft flow diagrams, they're icky and time-consuming. This is supposed to be easy, right?

  1. What are the logical steps it takes a project to enter the door and leave? 
  2. Who touches it at each of those steps? 
  3. What tools are used for that individual to progress through those steps (and know what's going on)?

About tools: they can be as simple as using email (which I will personally shoot anyone who uses email for managing work, but hey, if that’s your system, then by all means. But fair warning of disaster ahead). Or you could have something a little more sophisticated and organized. If you don’t want to pay money for software, then at least go with Google Docs. Or even an organized folder structure on a central server. Bottom line: give everyone a place to find shit. Okay?

Here’s an example: The client calls, the AE fills out a job order and turns it over to the PM. The PM good-naturedly takes the job, applies a schedule, confers with creative and turns it over to the chaps ready and willing to do marvelous creative. It gets reviewed and proofed, then back to the AE to present to the client, who then loves it and writes a big, fat check.

It all comes down to: what are the logical steps? Some projects are more involved and require more steps and more touch-points, and some fewer.

Yes we can do a Rush Project. We note them as such. And no, not everything is a RUSH.

Now go, map your workflow. That’s the foundation of your process. When things go wrong – and they do (or else you’re not in advertising) – look at the mapped workflow and note what basic step was skipped – or perhaps missing. Chat with the individuals where the error occurred and ask them how to avoid it in the future. It could have been a one-time thing. Lesson learned, and move on. Don't create another rule. 

And by the way, it is good policy to ask the people doing the work how they see workflow. What are the steps that lead to them, that if done properly, make their lives easier?

The process will be written and owned by the users.

No Committee. No Task Force.