What is the single biggest cause of delays for creative marketing agencies? If you said last-minute revisions, you’re in good company, with over half of all marketers finding this same problem. But that’s only one cause, and there are many – so what’s the solution?
It is essential in today’s world that agencies that offer creative services, especially those relating to ad creatives, UX or UI design, or other services, focus on establishing creative workflows to meet all deadlines and provide deliverables on time.
Establishing documented processes helps agencies track performance, minimize confusion, and ensure quality. Digital agencies that don’t invest in establishing creative workflows often have difficulty in managing resources or deadlines.
Why Creative Workflow Processes Are Essential
A creative workflow is a process of generating new ideas, reviewing those ideas, getting approvals, and executing those ideas. All creative work requires continuous progress through the tasks at hand. Creative workflow management enables this by introducing structure and a set of protocols that all members of the team must follow.
Effective process workflows allow creatives to find a balance between fostering innovation and staying organized. Some professionals believe that meticulous planning is critical to their creativity.
Defining process workflows for creative teams is essential for several reasons. Here are a few.
Managing Time and Resources
One of the major reasons why you should consider developing creative workflow processes is because it helps agency owners manage their time and resources more effectively. In digital agencies that work with distributed teams, it’s important to define processes to manage time and resources more effectively.
Meeting deadlines is critically important for digital agencies. With multiple clients to manage and deliverables to work on, it’s important for agency owners to establish documented processes that they can use when working on different projects and introduce a measure of accountability.
With formal and documented processes, it’s much easier for employees to know the next steps once the process is formalized and detailed documentation exists. More importantly, in case a client asks, they can update them accurately about where the project stands.
Faster Employee Onboarding
It often takes more time for new employees to better understand new processes and become accustomed to the way agency processes generally work. However, when creative workflow processes are defined, it’s much easier for new employees to hit the ground running.
The Four Stages of Creative Workflow Processes
Before you start creating workflow processes, it is important to define the phases separately. Creative workflows start from ideation and then move on to creation. Once the creation stage is complete, it then moves to review, and finally, execution and launch.
Let’s delve into these processes in more detail.
1. The Ideation Stage
This is the stage where the idea has to be refined. This is arguably the most important stage, as it requires the validation of an idea before it moves to the creation stage.
At the ideation stage, companies often require a brief from the client indicating the deliverables and the scope of the project. The focus is on identifying key milestones and establishing the key purpose that the client is trying to achieve.
During the ideation stage, creative professionals often work together to determine the resources and the time that will be required to achieve their main targets. During this stage, the metrics of the project are also defined, including the main blockers that the company can expect.
Another important step during the ideation stage is the assignment of roles. The team structure is defined and members are given responsibilities for their tasks. If the company feels that the client’s expectations are not being managed properly, they also hold meetings to address this fully, including setting the timeline.
2. The Creation Stage
This is the stage where the teams begin working on the idea. For instance, if it’s UI or UX design for a website or an app, the teams begin to get together and brainstorm solutions.
Depending on the nature of the contract, client collaboration often varies at this stage. The creation stage involves brainstorming ideas and using techniques such as sharing information on mood boards to determine what works.
It’s all about chronicling your approach to resolving the client’s issues. One of the best strategies to use at this stage is to evaluate other similar products in the market. It’ll give you a better understanding of the basic features, and the areas for improvement that you can focus on.
Tips to improve the process:
- At this stage, it’s all about creating a collaborative work environment. All stakeholders involved in the project should be on board, and should regularly meet to discuss progress.
- Using collaborative tools such as Sketch, Miro, or others like Trello is a great way to bring everyone on board and establish structures so that everyone contributes to the project. Sketch and Miro are visual collaboration tools, whereas Trello lets you collaborate on different tasks using Kanban boards.
This is the phase where quality control comes into play. Reviews are required to oversee different action items and to determine whether they meet the client’s expectations.
There are several activities that can expedite and streamline the review and approval process. For instance, agencies can share content with the clients to get their feedback once they’ve received initial feedback and approval from management.
Again, using collaborative tools is a great idea as it helps product managers manage change, expectations, and helps bring all affiliated parties on the same page. It’s also important to assess and create internal review cycles. This reduces time wastage and ensures that every stakeholder is on the same page.
It’s important to create a framework for managing the feedback from clients. It’s often susceptible to change, which is why it’s important that you track it effectively.
Using project management tools like Basecamp can help streamline the flow of communication, and mitigate resource consumption overall. Once you have final approval from the client, you can then move to the next stage.
4. Execution and Launch
The next step, and arguably the most exhilarating, is the execution and launch of the product. But, there are a few key pointers to discuss at this stage.
It’s important that you get feedback from the client regarding the product launch, especially after handing over creative assets. After execution and launch, it’s also important to offer after-sales support and to send any outstanding invoices.
Five Best Practices for Establishing Creative Workflow Processes
Seasoned professionals often recommend a variety of different techniques that digital agency owners can use when establishing or streamlining workflows for creative teams.
1. Create a Formal Project Request Process
Project request management is an incredibly important process for creative agencies. It ensures that only value-based projects are executed. It ensures efficient resource allocation, improves visibility, and reduces scope creep.
There are several questions that must be answered before a project is greenlit. Some common questions include:
- What tangible benefits will the project provide?
- What resources will be required for the project?
- Can those resources be used more efficiently?
- What supporting documentation will be required?
- How many milestones will be set for the project?
2. Establish KPIs and Metrics to Track
To effectively track the progress of different projects and maintain accountability, it’s always important that you establish KPIs and tracking metrics at the start of each project.
When the project is about to begin, make sure you get approvals from the client about what KPIs you’re going to track. It’s essential that all parties remain on the same page before the project gets underway.
Common KPIs and tracking metrics include:
- Planned value (PV)
- Actual cost (AC)
- Earned value (EV)
- Cost variance (CV)
- Return on investment (ROI)
3. Be Clear When Assigning Roles
A planned and well-defined team structure plays a critical role in effective process management. Before a project gets underway, it’s imperative that you assign roles and responsibilities. Make sure that every team member knows what they have to work on, as well as any dependencies they might face.
4. Create a Process for Identifying and Mitigating Issues or Blockers
It’s also important to establish a process through which team members can identify and mitigate any issues or blockers they might face. It’s imperative for teams to ensure that they follow a hierarchy, and know who to inform when they face an obstruction.
5. Establish and Formalize the Team Hierarchy
Formalizing the team hierarchy is essential if you want to reduce communication barriers. Create a centralized document that’s easily accessible by all team members which highlights the roles of each stakeholder.
A formalized team structure also makes it easy for new members joining in to quickly hit the ground running, instead of asking around from others about what they have to do. For instance, you could maintain an official document that shows the team structure and chain of command in Notion or any other document management software.
Even project management tools like ClickUp now let you create and manage documentation, so anyone within the organization can access these to understand where they slot in the hierarchy.
The Benefits of Proper Design & Development Collaboration Software
As you can imagine, there are a lot of moving parts in this process, so it’s important that you choose the right design and development collaboration software. You need software that lets you collaborate with distributed team members, share ideas effectively, and gain more visibility into different workflow processes.
One of the best tools that you can use for this purpose is Atarim. Atarim helps you centralize and manage clients, projects, teams, and tasks, bringing them all together through a dedicated dashboard.
You can assign tasks, reduce needless back-and-forth between clients, and manage communications all through a simple, easy-to-use interface.
It’s also easier to gather content from clients and seek collaborative feedback from clients. You can see exact locations on the page where content is required, providing clarity and simplifying workflows.
How To Deal With Clients Who Don’t Follow Your Creative Workflow Process
The best-laid plans can come undone when you don’t have clients who follow your creative workflow process. Difficult clients are often a problem, especially when they start dictating your work.
It’s incredibly difficult dealing with difficult clients, but not impossible. It all starts with understanding their concerns and then showing them the benefits of your workflow processes.
In many cases, clients have a particular vision of what they want, and may even tell you how they want you to work. It’s important that you sit with them, propose your solution, and explain to them the benefits before you proceed further.
If you feel that a client is too disruptive, and wants to fundamentally change the way you work, it might be a wise idea to cut your losses, especially if you have to deal with excessive scope creep.
It’s a fierce business world out there, and today more than ever it is vital that agencies are organized, efficient, accountable, and on target. Introducing creative workflow processes isn’t merely a nice option, it’s the only way to allow your agency to grow, and for your employees to feel effective parts within a well-oiled machine and not an old banger that’s ready to blow.