Making The Arrangements

When you’re in our line of work – project managers, you know, the basic Process People – nothing rings truer than a quote from Bob Hoffman, AKA Adcontrarian:

“Creative people make the ads. Everyone else makes the arrangements.”

For those of us who make the arrangements, I see our job as a facilitator, keeper of civility, manager of profitability, efficiency expert, therapist, and seer of All Things That Can Go Wrong. (You’d be amazed at the things I can foresee.)

We shouldn’t be a speed-bump, barrier, wall or unmovable object when it comes to getting great creative done.

However, I do believe everyone should get along and do their part so that everything in an agency can get done. On time. I'm not talking a kumbaya moment here. Just plain old cooperation.

Yes, I understand that everyone’s awe-inspiring creative is the most important thing in the agency. Ever. But I also understand that everyone else’s awe-inspiring creative is just as important.

That’s why people like us – the PMs, traffic, those who keep the work moving along – are important and shouldn't be eyed with contempt when they walk into a room.

We make sure everyone has what they need, projects are kept within budgetary boundaries (we always find a way), and move other work around while bargaining our last favor to squeeze extra help for your project. We’ve also been known to get food and drink to the creative masses as they work through the night to meet a deadline.

We’re also the ones at the end of the line, who make the arrangements (and often pick up and deliver) to get the decks ready for your 10am meeting.

So while the Creative People make the ads, the arrangements must be made by someone – and that someone is most often us – the PMs. The Process People.

Yes, we have our systems, and those seemingly tedious systems do make creatives crazy, but those very systems are the ones that give us everything we need to make sure your stunning project gets done. And everyone else’s projects get done too.

So please, don’t complain the next time we ask you to mark your task complete, or do your timesheet. All that stuff makes it easier for us to help you.

We make the arrangements.

The Process People Answer Back

You're late and over budget. And get your timesheets done before you leave!

You're late and over budget. And get your timesheets done before you leave!

I love the Adcontrarian. I read every post on his blog and I own his books. He has the Number One Ad Book on Amazon.

So I took his recent post to heart. It struck a nerve. It cut me to the core.

I’ve heard it before.

I am not one of those people.

But I am.

Yep, Bob Hoffman (AKA The AdContrarian) wrote a piece the other day called The Process People. From his post:

“In my last few years in the agency business a new variety of doubly non-productive people were gaining ascendancy -- "operations" people. Not only did they produce nothing of value, they stole time from the people who did.

They had meetings about meetings. They wanted to know what everyone was doing so they could... I don't know... know what everyone was doing, I guess.”


Because this guy is my hero, and I [usually] hang on every word (he is a master wordsmith) – and I totally trust him – I answered back.

My comment was thoughtful, and 84 words longer than his post.

I didn’t mean to commandeer his gig, and from the other comments, I surely didn’t.

There’s a notion out there that us Process People, Project Managers, and those old-fashioned Traffic Managers are out to wreak havoc on creativity. 

We produce nothing of value.

If you are one of those, please stop it, because you are not the star of the show and it’s giving me a headache. I hate pissing off my hero.

Yes, creative gets all the awards, kudos and lunches out (and drinks) on the company dime. But it’s your job to ensure things get done. Blame doesn’t work. Threats don’t work. Facilitating does.

This is where we provide value . . .

The way I see it, we work in the background and everything magically happens. I know it’s not really magic – it’s difficult, tedious work. You signed-on for this job. I've written about this before, guys.

Ours is a world where we walk the line every day between creative and account and keep them from killing one-another.

If you don’t understand the creative world, start listening. If you don’t understand the account world, do the same. Understand their minds (scary, yes), the way they think, what’s important to them – then great creative can actually happen.

Yes, your job is hard – a real pain in the ass. But I guarantee that if you quit playing the role of dictator and start listening, you’ll actually get a little cooperation. And eventually, the creative folks will trust you just a bit, and ask you to save their butts when deadlines loom and last minute art direction comes in from the client.

Save them. They’re doing the work that pays the bills.

Use software to manage your work. Understand that not everyone is willing to log-in to your system and provide updates. Find out why. That’s your job too.

Let’s all make it easier for everyone to know what’s going on by not being a bunch of process- workflow- software-spewing hags.

I am not a hag. I’m here to make sure your work gets done.

And yes, it is time for a drink. Ketel One will do just fine.

By the way, I don’t want to rank lower than social media, Bob.

You Need A Project Manager

You need a Project Manager to organize your work. You know, the person who knows what comes next and can prepare for it (planning). To remind everyone there is an end date (deliverable). And to keep everyone on task (not a taskmaster, mind you).

The keeper of progress. Moving forward. Keeping your agency or department from losing its way.

Why? So you all don’t look stupid (negative).

Or, so the Senior Director of Account, the Executive Creative Director, or the Senior VP of Marketing look like heroes (positive). Or at the very least, you don’t have to answer to your superiors because something, very simple, was executed in a very lame way.

No one wants to look bad. But when the daily routine gets done with a lot of internal strife, or delays, or at extraordinary cost (waaaayyy above estimate, or department budget) – it gets noticed. The CFO, CEO, Owner, Partner – the folks who make the decision as to whether that Director or VP is actually worth the big money they are paid – they notice.

In other words, the bottom line is that a Project Manager will save your strategic, creative ass.

This isn’t about telling you what to do, although it can be (if you’re lazy, or off on The Next Big Thing, or golfing, or at yet another conference on how to make your agency more awesome) while active projects languish.

A Project Manager keeps things organized for those who find organization a pain in the ass. Or worse, unnecessary (you are doomed to fail if you think this way).

A Project Manager keeps the team – your team – on task. And that indispensable individual is forever aware of the things that can derail a project (these are risks): an AE who has to have this now (resources). Client changes that affect scope (time + dollars). A creative director who doesn’t know what he wants until he sees it (unimaginative). An Art Director/Designer who keeps tweaking a project until it’s ‘perfect’ – and wrung-dry of available dollars (unsupervised).

If you don’t have a Project Manager, then Account, Creative, Production – and yes you, Management/Owner – are doing the work.

Or actually, doing the cleanup.

Messy. And a huge waste of time.

If you cared about your Agency or Marketing Department, you’d run out and poach the best Project Manager you could find.

Now ditch that personal assistant or life coach and put those dollars to work.

So you can do great work – and keep your job.

Break Your Projects Into Smaller Steps

I break my projects into steps – such as comp, layout, layout revision, and final. And those steps include client approvals in between. I never just count on overall project hours to carry me through the life of a project. Why? Well, you can burn through too many hours at the beginning of a project (been there) and you’re left with either asking for more money (been there too), making cuts to the project or taking a hit on the profit (ugh! been there too!). 

Profit is good. We stay in business when we make more than we spend. A good project manager is aware of everything going on and how it affects the bottom line. They don’t get a lot of love, but they always have an eye on the trifecta of projects: scope, schedule, budget.

We all love going back to the client to tell them it’s going to be late; that they’re asking for more than we agreed to (you did provide a brief didn’t you?); or we need more money to make awesome happen – right?

Therefore, red flags arise quickly when tracking projects broken down incrementally. Any slippage is easy to see, and moreover, you know what caused it. That allows you to learn. Wow.

Getting a handle on how much time (therefore how many dollars) each step in a project should take gives a project manager a better handle on burn rate and provides each employee with expectations.

Oh yes, we set expectations with clients too.

By the way, say thank you to your project manager. They have your back.

Advantage Project Schedule and Estimate Templates ... And More

I know it’s Sunday, but let’s start the week talking about those pesky issues like creating a quick schedule or estimate. How are those templates project schedule and estimate templates working for you?

Are you even using them? Do you know how they work and the value they lend to efficiency?

Using templates is the fastest way to build a schedule or estimate. (I’m a sticker for scheduling / assigning / allocating hours for every project).

And for that matter, have you customized your forms? Do you know all the wonderful (well, wonderful for me - I like accurate documentation) things you can create in the custom forms area?

A lot of great ways to document, track and manage your work.

If you need some help, just let me know. I’ve created a ton of templates and can help you make the most of Advantage.

So the Client Didn’t Fire You. Start Planning Better.

Yesterday I wrote about an agency that showed a client awesome, and gave them an estimate with a caveat of ‘budget uncertainties’. What’s disturbing to me is that the author of the article works for a major digital firm that shouldn’t make this kind of mistake.

I'll say this nicely – if your budget uncertainties are enough to derail the project significantly, should they turn into realities – where a plus or minus (aka contingency) is not factored in and agreed to by both parties – then you should not proceed on the project.

You don’t have enough information to move forward. You have a fabulous idea with wonderful creative and some numbers. That’s it.

Budget uncertainties will kill your project in one way or another. It can also kill your agency if this is generally accepted practice.

So, do your discovery and research for creative and execution.

Now I’ll piss some people off…I see this more in the digital / mobile area than any other area of advertising. I have reasons to believe this. Inexperience. Fear of clients, colleagues or vendors. Lack of knowledge.

I have witnessed it first-hand. Digital is in huge demand. Therefore, the bar can be set pretty low. Lots of inexperience. So, a person can work in a digital agency, gain some experience, and move their way up the food chain where the demands, budgets and risks are much higher. Someone who knows the lingo may be clueless to risk as it applies to scope, budgets and timelines.

Those who are client-facing, usually Account or Producers / Project Managers, may not have the depth of experience in scoping, estimating, project management, sourcing, negotiating, arguing, writing a purchase order with restrictions, managing internal deliverables, risk and mitigation planning, and managing client expectations (as well as those of your colleagues). But saying yes is so...easy.

What I am witnessing in the digital and mobile areas is that the demand is high, the staff is young and inexperienced, and everyone is highly driven. I’m not saying you are stupid. You are just making rookie mistakes. Everyone must understand that they are part of running a business - first. 

And by the way rookies, I have also personally witnessed veterans who give it away every day because they think they can circumvent the potholes that will kill their project.

Then there's the ever-changing landscape of apps, platforms and whatever else anyone can dream up – that you have to keep on top of – all the time.

Give everyone an education. Pull everyone into a room to flesh-out the scope, budget and timeline. And make that a mandatory meeting. I guarantee that an hour (or two), in that one meeting, will save hundreds of hours (and dollars) down the line.

What happens in that meeting? Talk about possibilities; flesh out the good ones (that are achievable); everyone must poke holes in the scenarios and execution – and explain why (that is the education part); shout out every issue that can and will affect cost/timeline, and be realistic. Take into consideration what everyone has on their plate during the life of the project – you should be able to see everyone’s schedule (just sayin’).  

Speak up! Here’s your chance to clue everyone in on the pain you endure every day to fix the things they committed you to…without asking first.

And before you fall in love with something, find out if it can be doneCost, schedule, requirements. Bring that back to the group and make sure it fits – before presenting to the client.

I absolutely love great creative and an awesome experience. I hate parsing out the good stuff because someone didn’t do their homework.

Tomorrow, collaboration. The old-fashioned way.

Fixing Advantage – or Just About Anything

It doesn’t matter what you use, from Advantage to Workamajig, I can predict that if the agency management software you are using isn’t ‘working’, there’s more at issue than the software itself.

Blame the software. Always the first response.

In my post a couple days ago, I asked for questions/issues that you are having with Advantage, in particular. I happen to know the software very well – that’s why.

But the lessons here apply to any technology solution you are using.

I received an email from a project manager in an agency who is doing ALL of her updates after work. And these updates take her two to four hours a night. She’s really sick of it, and looking for a different job because she wants her life back.

What? Advantage is a database program, and everyone in her agency has access...that is specific to their role. She should be able to see, from her computer, the progress of her projects and make adjustments during the course of the day.

So we chatted, got online and I took a look at how she was using the software.

In her project schedule, every line entry was unique and required direct input; tasks were assigned to some employees (not everyone was available to assign); no time per task was allocated (therefore no automated resource planning). She input due dates only – manually. And only key dates.

Everything was straight data-entry.

Then she prints out her schedule every morning and during the day, hand-writes changes. After work, she spends her evenings updating everything from her hand-written notes.

This is one person in a 200-person agency. There are eight PMs. Each uses the technology differently.

They reduced a comprehensive database to an Excel spreadsheet.

Training on the appropriate use of the technology; developing a process to use it; and compliance in its use. That’s the magic formula for successfully using agency management software. - It's more work to complain about having to use the new software than it is to actually learn how to use it.

We then went where she had never gone before – how to use the software – appropriately.

Schedule templates, allocated hours for tasks, assigned employees (this required getting HR to set up everyone in their proper role). Pushing tasks out to employees – and requiring them to use their task list – plus having staff update it themselves (Gasp! which means they mark it ‘complete’ – no, that is not hard). Now, this PM wouldn't have to update everything. Herself. Every night.

Wow, they’ve been paying for this technology for years, and never used it as it was intended.

Here are their next steps: Review the setup – which really needs an overhaul. Nothing had been done since they installed it – seven years ago. Review roles and designate them appropriately. Set up appropriate tasks for the schedule (and condense it down from the 700+ that had been created) and build templates. It makes for fast work of getting all projects (large or small) in the system.

Then last, but not least, train and enforce compliance. You need management’s full support here, because this is where the whining comes in. You will actually be asking your colleagues to be a part of the solution. It’s only a mouse-click for crying out loud. Not any harder than an IM to their friends about lunch.

And I only covered project schedules here. Think of what you can do when you get the entire agency on board?