Here’s how to explain it, sell it, and get it...
In-house creative teams face a lot of corporate challenges, most often because the creative function is so unique compared to the other business arms of the organization. We use our own language and terminology, we’re sometimes loud and appear to be “playing” rather than working, and we most often are on Macs rather than PCs (boy our IT teams really hate that, don’t they?).
So maybe that’s why, when we ask for our own workflow platform, we aren’t taken seriously. Instead, we are offered up the tools used by the IT and Dev teams or other groups within the company.
Here is my true story of how I addressed this issue, fought for a specialized creative workflow platform, and actually got what I wanted (eventually).
At the time, I was the Operations Director for a large in-house agency. In the early days, we, like everyone else back then, used Excel to manage our jobs. It was very basic; a list of jobs, a column for due dates, and a column for each step in the process. We generally just used this in our weekly production meetings to make sure jobs were on track. When that no longer could handle our growing task list, we had a programmer build us a custom project management system. It took Excel to a higher level, but basically served the same function; it provided us a mechanism to run daily and weekly status reports.
We had over 50 unique clients and stakeholders requesting jobs through email, catching us in the hallway, or grabbing us at lunch. You know the drill. That meant someone on the creative team had to remember to log the request into the system to get it documented.
Sometimes there was a brief, but most often it was just verbal directions, making it really easy for that stakeholder to later say “that’s not what I asked for”. We were spending more time hunting down job folders than actually doing the work.
Additionally, Running reports for management was seriously time consuming. Requests for different data points meant running an entirely new report. The time we were spending managing the requests, redoing the work, tracking down information, and finding the job folder was killing our productivity, not to mention our morale.
I knew there had to be a better way to manage the workflow for creative team. So, I partnered with my peers in other areas of the company to see what they were using.
Our sales team used Salesforce. It allowed them to talk to teammates and clients, provided a tracking and timeline function. Better, but so complicated and still not what we were looking for.
I discussed the problem with my manager and she advised that I meet with our IT Director. Our IT team used a custom-built system that helped them manage their project deadlines. It focused mainly on iterations, units of effort, priority, and sprints. He asked me questions like “how long does it take to create a brochure, a 30 second TV commercial, or a billboard” to which I said, “well, that depends”.
In IT world, it’s pretty black and white. In the creative world, it’s always going to be gray. Project timelines depend on so many things. Was the brief completed thoroughly? How much time do we have? What’s the budget? How many people need to approve it? Priority? (Well, that’s always high) Timeline? (That’s always asap) Also, after reviewing the platform our IT folks were using, I could tell right away it was way too complicated and would end up taking more of our time away from being creative.
In discussing this problem with my fellow IHAF (In-House Agency Forum) members, I discovered that what we were going through was very typical. Managing creative workflow just isn’t the same as typical project management for other areas of the organization. But nobody really understands that outside of the creative team.
I began asking everyone I knew in the creative field what they used. Most of them were struggling as we were. But some of them had founds solutions that were actually built to manage the very specific needs of a creative team. I formed a committee of creative team members, account managers, stakeholders, and our system administrator to compile what we really needed our solution to do. Here’s what we ended up with:
- A way for clients to request jobs through a single channel.
- An auto-fill creative brief for clients to complete so we could kick off the job with complete information
- A way to manage our team resources
- A way for us to communicate within our workflow platform so we wouldn’t have to keeping logging in and out of email.
- An easy to use review portal so we could get rid of those dreaded folders
- Fast, automated reporting
- A way to time track to help us better predict timelines
- Most importantly, ease of use
We were so busy, and change is hard enough, so I knew if we didn’t onboard a tool that was easy to learn and easy to use, we weren’t going to use it.
Armed with our needs list, we researched over 10 different platforms. Some at the request of our IT team (there was a big push for us to use their system so we could save money). We brought the top three in for in-person demos with our committee. The clear winner was inMotionNow. It checked the box for all of our criteria, and it was quick and easy to get started with right away.
Now I had to sell this to Management. I had to make a case for how investing in this solution going to save us time and money. inMotionNow put me in touch with some of their customers who told me their stories. They increased efficiency and improved time to market immediately. They were able to get better information from their stakeholders upfront, saving redo work. They were able to do more with existing resources because the workflow was so much more efficient.
I put together projections based on our job numbers, staff size, and the information I had gained from the referrals of how we could increase productivity without hiring additional staff. I projected that in the first year we would shorten our turnaround time by 25%, which would result in being able to take on more work. I also projected that we would decrease our iterations from an average of 4 drafts to 2 in the first year.
The numbers looked good and showed the value of the platform over several years. We were approved to move forward with inMotionNow!
The onboarding involved clients, administration, and creatives training on inMotion. We tested and adjusted before we rolled the platform out to all users. After three months, I ran reports to see how we were progressing toward our projected goals for the year. In the first three months of using this new platform, we had already shaved 25% off our delivery time, decreased our drafts from an average of 4 to an average of 2.5, and we had turned several “tough” clients into true partners with the collaboration and ease of use.
If you’re running into obstacles trying to sell management on adopting a specialized workflow platform for your creative team, follow these steps:
- Define your problem
- Compile a needs assessment
- Do your research – internally and externally
- Include your stakeholders in the decision-making process
- Make a case for how much time and money you’ll save by gaining efficiencies
- Once you have the system in place, review and revise to make sure you’re getting all you need out of it
What are some of the key challenges you hope to solve with creative workflow management on your team?