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. Dictionary.com 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.

Confusing Technology and Behavior

Once again Adcontrarian hit the nail on the head.

Confusing Gadgetry With Behavior.

It rings true to just about anything that is technology-related. I’m watching TV. I’m on the phone. Doesn’t matter the method, the action is the same.

On my side of the ad agency fence – squarely in the middle of the making sure things get done department – technology is frequently confused with behavior.

When things go wrong in an agency, as they all too often do, the first inclination is to turn to technology. We need a[nother] new software program. What we have doesn’t work, is too hard to use, the UX looks funky, blah, blah, blah.

New software will Fix Everything.

I have seen agencies and in-house marketing departments spend tons of money – the cash kind and hours (that could be billable) kind – in project management and workflow solutions hoping to achieve workflow nirvana.

Sometimes the tools (not the people – the technology) that are in place were selected by accounting, IT, or God forbid, a committee comprised of management who know nothing about what it takes to juggle a boatload of work, and resources that are hiding at Starbucks.

Often, the tools were not setup or implemented properly, training was done as more of a features overview, or worse, via five- or ten-minute videos on YouTube.

Really?

I don’t care if you’re using the biggest, baddest enterprise solution, or an easy-entry freeware, cloud-based app. You have to set parameters for use, or else everyone will do whatever they want, however they want.

Technology does not change behavior.

If you’re not getting much in the way of consistency or compliance in what you’re using now, it won’t happen with something shiny and new.

That’s why I have a job. (I can help you)

There’s more to keeping your agency humming along, and preventing people from hatin’-on one another. Tools (technology) are one thing. Process is another (I can hear The Adcontrarian now), but yes, you need a process – just basic, clearly defined steps to get things done works fine.

Then there are people.

People. They’re the ones using the tools. They often don’t know why they’re required to use them. They’re getting their work done. Thank-you-very-much. So back off. And please don’t say Process again.

Bottom line; involve users (especially creative folk) in evaluation and decision-making of technology. If they understand why you decided to do this to them, they’re just a little more inclined to use it – and use it the way you intended it to be used.

Ask for their recommendation. Don’t make it an ordeal. Involvement takes 10 minutes. Any more than that and you’ll lose all of the creative folks. You take care of the rest, and then give a 5-minutes or less dog-and-pony of the awesome solution you found.

There will always be a few who refuse to comply. If the culture allows it, then that’s part of your job: find out how important it is for management, then they have to do their part. Compliance can require tough love. You don’t have to be a jerk – help them get over the resistance.

Last, if I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a million times – customize your solution to fit your agency.

Out of the box, plug ‘n play, is a complete lie. Trust me on this.

Technology doesn’t change behavior. We still do what we have to do. These days, we don’t have keep timesheets on a three-part form, we click a button.

The inclination (or lack thereof) to do so will never change.

And in case I didn’t make it clear: I love the creative guys. I really do.

Your work pays the bills.

Features Training vs User Training On Software - They Are Not The Same

Let me guess, you just got new software in your agency – to manage your agency. Everything from job forms, SOW, and briefs to project management, collaboration, accounting and billing .You were trained in a two- to five-day session and now you’re LIVE!

Oh, for cripes sakes. More software? Please. Shoot. Me. Now.

Oh, for cripes sakes. More software? Please. Shoot. Me. Now.

Do you remember anything? Was there so much thrown at you that, now that it’s up and running, you don’t even know where to start with that great Agency Management and Productivity Solution?

Maybe you were trained on all the features, but not how you actually should use the software specifically for your workflow.

Way back when, there was someone in your agency who decided it was time to get out of email, Excel, Google Docs, Basecamp, a free timesheet app, and whatever accounting program you were using – and use one comprehensive program – that is more efficient by gathering everything in one database.

But to make the software really work for you, it has to be customized to your needs, and training absolutely must be tailored to your particular workflow.

That’s how training sticks. It needs to be relevant to your needs, the way you do things, and addresses the pain you endured.

In other words, it has to fix stuff. Make life at work better.

Every agency is slightly different, in structure, roles and responsibilities, culture and . . . compliance.

Merely buying, installing, getting an on-site (or online) overview (aka training) of everything the software does is fine – but that brief approach is the path to workarounds, maintaining old systems (just in case), low adoption and worse, software implementation failure.

Change isn’t easy. Giving up old ways is hard if the shiny new thing doesn’t relate in any way to the way you work.

Your workflow may be entirely screwed up, or non-existent – then you need a structured solution to get you on track. But that doesn’t happen via plug ’n play.

The best way to ensure success is to clearly define problems, review roles and responsibilities, map out your current workflow, review current documents, then find a solution that will work for your agency. Some tools are replacements, and some introduce new processes. It’s all designed to get you on track and make you more profitable. At the very least, you should emerge from training with a real sense of which tools to use, and how to use those tools for your specific workflow.

Need help? Contact me. The first call is free.

 

The Dark Side: When Process Becomes CYA

Back to matters of getting your agency organized…

Clouds 365 Project. Shot dated 04/17/13. 

Clouds 365 Project. Shot dated 04/17/13. 

Process is in place for a reason. It’s your guide to the way you do your stuff every day. I’ll bet you don’t give it a second thought. But someone else probably does. And that person is trying to figure out what the heck’s going. It’s usually your friendly producer or project manager.

Well, you still need to get things done. And it’s that delicate balance of maintaining process – the checks-and-balances so things don’t go sideways – and CYA because of other issues.

I’ve said it many times before; if something is wrong in an agency it is one, or a combination, of process, tools (technology to manage work/collaboration) or…people.

Process – without it, priorities are set by whichever client is barking the loudest; things get lost; errors made; and who knows how many dollars you lose – every hour.

Tools – those awesome technologies that, along with a good process, actually can take some of the daily documentation burden off of you and allow you to do your real work. Like strategy, creative, tweeting.

People – your co-workers – you gotta love ‘em, but they can throw a wrench into the effectiveness – or usefulness of process or tools. When one or the other isn’t followed or used properly, errors can and will happen.

There is a dark side to process and tools. When they are implemented for CYA. You know what that is. And it may be more costly and time consuming than no process or tools at all.

How I hate CYA. Such a waste.

Process steps, put in place as punitive measures because something went wrong. An error, now there are extra steps / extra people involved in proofing, more reviews and approvals on everything.

Massive emails and documentation just to make sure that when a project goes sideways you can say, “See, I did my job” (aka: it isn’t my fault).

A tool purchased to ‘fix the problem’ without identifying what is really going on. It is ‘sprung’ on the agency with little warning, and expectations that you’ll be on easy street.

Uh huh.

Process is not CYA. An effective process – that is practiced and not cumbersome – reduces the need for time-wasting efforts. Process makes you more efficient.

If you really take the time to map out your process – the steps a project takes and who touches it – you will get a clear picture of redundancies, gaps and bottlenecks in your workflow. Then you can start applying the two other key aspects – tools and people – to clarify how to make workflow better.

Mapping is the first thing I do with a client.

Before you choose which tools (technology) to invest in (and it is an investment – whether it’s fee or free), map your workflow and define / refine your process. Evaluate your technology options carefully – and get input from your colleagues. And get to the bottom of personnel issues.

You will be introducing change and that involves transition. Transition is the process of change.

Get it? It’s all about process and not CYA.

I’ll leave you with a line from Kelly DeLay’s Clouds 365 Project:

“Process matters. Good work flow is satisfying in its own right apart from the success of the final product. Effective work flow allows me to maximize the outcome of my work while minimizing the costs. I want my process to be open and transparent.”

Define Process Before Deploying Agency Management Tools

I re-read this position paper on process by David Baker the other day and have to share it with you.

If you are considering (and you should) implementing agency management software/tools/technology to better manage your workflow, read David Baker’s paper. I haven’t met Mr. Baker, but truly admire his work – and he shares a lot of it on his website.

Any system, from a simple internal form and email to an integrated solution can be a time consuming waste without a process. Basic rules that everyone follows.

Process defines what tools you will use, who will use them, how they are used, the handoff and follow-up.

And compliance. From the top – down.

An investment in agency management technology can be expensive. Developing a solid process is insurance for your investment.

And if you’d like some help (re)defining your process, assistance on selecting the right technology fit, or just want to chat about how things are going in your agency or marketing department, contact me.

First call is free.

Inappropriate Tools

No, this isn’t some guy who hit on you at a bar.

ID-10073973.jpg

This is about taking something that was meant for a specific purpose and using it to perform a different task.

Like using a knife as a screwdriver. Or the heel of a shoe for a hammer. Or Excel for everything.

I like Excel. Heck, I love Excel. But it has its place.

There are plenty of agencies and in-house marketing departments out there using Excel for everything from Job Forms and Briefs to Schedules, Budgets, and Reports. This creates a lot of redundancy – and therefore, a lot of data-entry.

That’s fine if you have a couple clients and a few jobs. But it’s a nightmare with dozens of clients and hundreds of jobs.

Worse yet, everyone is using their own version of forms that you originally created - with a lot of time and consideration - for the purpose of consistency.

Yet many agencies still turn to Excel for most, if not all, of their daily agency management.

Imagine a solution where you – and your team – input data that’s relevant to what they do every day (all that stuff you have to track and measure – like timesheets), and it’s all gathered in one place.

Reports gather all that data in one place, and you can search or slice-it-n-dice-it any way you want.

There is software out there that does exactly that. If you need some help researching solutions, I can be of assistance.

If you truly feel that Excel (or any office / Google Docs / cloudware program) is the solution, I can help you build a better process.

No matter how simple or complex the solution you choose, you need structure (that means process), a little bit of training, and compliance to make it really work for you.

Oh, and that guy at the bar. He is inappropriate.

Closing the Great Divide – Or Integrating Your Agency

I am actually going to go down this slippery slope...

I have worked in and with agencies that have severe silo problems. Digital and traditional (online and offline – or whatever description du jour) work separately – but in a parallel universe.  Wasteful.

In my personal experience, I found the digital folks think that those on the traditional side have no way of EVER understanding their world.

Conversely, the traditional folks think the digital know-it-alls are way-over-stating it.

What I have also witnessed in the digital world, is that there are either extremely stringent producers/project managers who control every-person’s every-move; or they’re extremely loose and kind of shoot from the hip to get work done – they just run around asking where’s this or that.

Traditional producers/project managers are in their groove and with the exception of some technology advancements, have pretty much the same parameters in managing work as they’ve had for years. Life is good and what’s the fuss?

Digital and traditional are different. And I get it.

Well, knowing that nothing is insurmountable, and most employees are capable of learning, I believe we can actually integrate digital and traditional.

And that’s good for an agency.

I don’t need to learn to code, and you don’t need to learn how to put ink on paper, or edit video. But we all need to know what it takes to get those things done.

There’s a big bonus when knowledge is shared: Communication with your client is clear and accurate (sure we can do X in Y time for Z budget – it's not a guess, or worse, over-promised), better utilization of resources and assets, and consistency in brand and message. But I shouldn’t have to tell you that.

So we travel to an agency in Sweden called Honesty and they’re going for their version of agency 2.0. The belief is that everyone should understand how to produce digital as well as traditional – even getting rid of their specific titles – wow.

I agree with this – and hope the great divide between disciplines is actually bridged – because I’ve seen too much of holding info close – not letting others in because it’s so complicated.

In an article in AdAge, the agency’s CEO, Walter Naeslund says:

It just doesn't make sense anymore to have separate staff to handle a separate area which is inherently impossible to separate from anything else…To achieve speed we attack organizational overhead and inertia by putting all our efforts into integrating strategy, storytelling, design, advertising, PR and production under one roof, one strategic account director and one creative team...To our clients this will mean better results in shorter time and at better prices. To Honesty it will mean a lot of new learning, more creative control, better output and further improved profitability.”

Control, better output and improved profitability.

Makes sense, doesn’t it?