Implementing Lean Project Management In Your Creative Agency

Resistance to change and new processes can happen in any workplace, and a creative agency is no different. Fostering agile project management requires a few things to consider in order to be successful.

Background on Agile and Lean Methodologies

For those of us who are familiar with lean and agile project management, Toyota’s lean production system is considered to be the forefather of our modern agile development processes. In fact, the term “lean” was first coined by John Krafcik based on his experiences with the NUMMI car plant – an automobile manufacturing company jointly owned by General Motors (GM) and Toyota. At NUMMI, Toyota showed General Motors the secrets to producing high-quality cars at a low cost. This story eventually led to the release of the best-selling book The Machine That Changed the World.

However, there was one thing that is always glossed over in the books: If lean manufacturing is clearly superior, why didn’t GM adopt it in all of their automobile manufacturing plants?

I discovered the reasons last week as I was listening to a “This American Life” podcast. It all comes down to this: change must come from within.

Working Towards The Same Goal

In the podcast, Frank Langfitt, the NPR Automotive Correspondent, explains how GM tried to mimic the lean processes at NUMMI in other plant locations. They replicated the plant layout and sent hundreds of managers to NUMMI to take notes. Yet, they utterly failed because what they didn’t realize was that implementing the lean manufacturing process was an upper-management initiative and it wasn’t being echoed throughout the company.

The Andon Cord Example

In the NUMMI manufacturing line, workers were instructed to work as a team, so that whenever a problem occurred they pulled the andon cord to stop the line. This would prompt the manager to come and assist in resolving the issue. At NUMMI, they were able to identify numerous improvements when the team analyzed the problems together.

This did not happen in the other GM plants that replicated NUMMI’s setup. When new workers tried to pull the cord, they were severely reprimanded by their managers. Why? The plant managers were working towards different goals because their bonuses were based on the number of vehicles that rolled out to the yard. The workers also had a seniority system that caused senior workers to feel like they would lose their privileges if they adopted this new team approach. They pressured the new workers to not rock the boat.

Fostering An Environment Where Improvements Come From Staff

Resistance to change isn’t limited to large manufacturing plants – you can probably see examples of it in yourself or at your creative agency. In my chats with agency Traffic Managers, a common issue that comes up is the poor adoption of new processes by senior creatives. Creatives have a strong eye for detail, so they often feel that processes for tracking how many hours they spend on a particular task places undue emphasis on speed over quality. This can lead to them being unwilling to do their timesheets or provide an estimate for the amount of time required to complete a task.

Instead of mandating new processes from the top, a better approach to making changes is to foster an environment that encourages improvements. Talk to your creatives about the agency’s growing pains. Tell them about the issue you may have around staff resourcing of upcoming projects. Listen to their thoughts about the existing workflows. Then ask for their assistance in figuring out ways to work together in handling additional requests from new clients and ways to improve the agile project management process. Also, attempt to incorporate an andon cord-like process for the team. Provide an easy way for people to identify issues, come up with ideas for improvement and test them.

Is your agency ready for lean project management? Let Function Point be your agency’s andon cord. An all-in-one project management software like Function Point allows you to streamline your agency processes, simplify collaboration, centralize information, and deliver real-time business data. With Function Point, you’ll have access to data about the progress of each project, as well as the overall health of the business. Book a demo with one of our software experts to see what Function Point can do for your agency.

Cheryl Chung

Cheryl Chung

UX / Interaction Architect

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