The Path to Operational Excellence for Creative Agencies

At Function Point, we’ve been working with creative agencies for over 20 years. We probably don’t need to point out that within those 20 years, technology has changed dramatically (20 years ago was in the nineties). As a result, we’ve been fortunate to watch the agencies we work with learn, change, adapt,  improve operational efficiency and grow. We’ve lost clients who couldn’t keep up with the rapidly evolving industry, and we’ve gained new clients in the budding agencies that had the foresight to jump into the industry with big new ideas.

We’ve seen the way brands communicate with their audience grow in leaps and bounds, and it has completely shifted the way we understand marketing and advertising. Needless to say, the market has become extremely competitive. Agencies are always promising better work, faster, and at a lower price.

In order to better position themselves in this aggressively competitive market, many creative agencies are seeking “operational excellence”, a business strategy that seeks to provide services faster and more reliably than competitors, without cutting quality or profits. So, what exactly is operational excellence, and what does it mean for your agency? How can you set goals to achieve it?

Achieving operational excellence isn’t quite as simple as setting a goal and meeting it. For our team at Function Point, it’s an ongoing journey: a process of trial and error, and continual incremental operational efficiency improvements to find the best flow of value from company to consumer. While operational excellence will look a little different for every organization, there are ways to begin addressing the necessary changes to make that apply to any company, big or small.

The Importance of Operational Excellence for Growth

Operational excellence, in its broadest meaning, refers to making ongoing adjustments to a business to gain a competitive edge. Agencies optimize both the value for their customers and their financial gains by doing this. With operational excellence, you can create effective systems where employees concentrate on their work and are empowered to resolve issues as they arise. Every team member has the knowledge and authority to address issues affecting the organization and the channels in which they are employed.

Together with product leadership and customer relationship management, operational excellence is a key building block for an agency’s competitiveness. It is essential for your business growth due to the following reasons:

Effectiveness

Operational excellence helps establish effective management that prevents resource waste like time and manpower. Therefore, you can improve your agency’s workflow and offer top-notch products at the most competitive prices, resulting in increased profitability and expansion.

Agile

Operational excellence is a dynamic, adaptable concept that is aligned with continual business adaptation. By implementing the agile method, agencies can create a self-correcting process that ensures clients’ needs are met. With the agile and adaptable approach, you can respond quickly to changing market conditions, customer demands, and emerging trends to grow your agency continuously and sustainably.

Standardization

Standardized processes must be used and continuously improved for operational excellence. By standardizing your workflow, you can simplify business operations and facilitate growth, especially when you expand your team or shift to another location.

Workforce

Operational excellence creates a culture of employee empowerment, which is critical for attracting and retaining top talent. By fostering an environment that encourages the production and adoption of new ideas by all levels of the agency, you can reduce costs, boost demand, and promote corporate expansion.

Elements to obtain operational excellence

Businesses that rely on services like agencies must aim for operational excellence. To ensure your creative agency functions smoothly, a number of factors have to come together and cooperate. Performance of the below 6 standards is necessary for this drive.

  1. Strategy: Leadership entails the development of values and a vision, which are then translated into a strategic business emphasis.
  2. Culture: For the celebration, you must establish a set of ideals that your employees trust in and follow. Make your staff members aware of the goals and results-driven tactics.
  3. Processes: The company’s operations and service delivery are governed by a standardized integrated business process plan, including all aspects from customer service and production to supply chain management and financial planning.
  4. Methodology: Persistent progress requires discipline and diligence. To achieve continual development, it is essential to use rigor and discipline. 
  5. Project Management: This requirement and methodology go hand in hand. You need a rigorous and disciplined approach to produce high-quality deliverables on time and within budget. 
  6. Tools: To attain operational excellence and outperform your rivals, you must adopt certain tools like problem-solving, solution delivery, and ongoing process improvements.

The culture and guiding principles of a business must evolve in order to achieve operational excellence. Strategic transformations are required to alter both internal and external procedures, which are necessary to enhance the operations of your agency.

Here are some key points to begin looking at to make 2023 your year of focusing on operational excellence.

Key Points to Operational Excellence for Creative Agencies

Involve Everyone in the Organization

Achieving operational excellence relies on every member of your team, from administration through to management. Relying on a “trickle down” effect puts a lot of emphasis on management to perform perfectly and doesn’t give more junior members any autonomy in dictating how the processes and performance that they directly affect can be improved. Everyone should contribute to improving agency operations in their own way, working to streamline their own tasks and improve value for their position.

Any organization’s culture of respect may be seen in how everyone is treated, including clients and vendors. Employees are more motivated to do their best when they are treated with respect. People, from top executives to entry-level workers, should recognize the value of respect and pledge to treat others with dignity since they are fellow humans with value and potential.

Focus on the Process

To operate your agency flawlessly, your entire team must effectively coordinate with one another. For instance, each member has to understand how they contribute to the success of the company. This necessitates a strong focus on processes. To do this, create detailed standard operating procedures (SOPs) for your workflow, provide training, and make it a daily goal to ensure that your processes are being followed. If issues develop, analyze them and adjust your procedures as necessary.

A common stumbling block in project management is the game of pointing fingers between creatives, clients and management as soon as something goes wrong. Everyone has an opinion of who is at fault, but frequently it’s a broken process, not a failing team member.

The goal of achieving operational excellence for your agency means streamlining all of your processes to cut wasted time, money and energy to become a lean, mean creative machine. It’s about taking a 360 degree look at all of the moving parts, understanding where waste is coming from, and eliminating unnecessary bottlenecks that slow things down. Once you’ve streamlined your best possible processes, you can go back to playing the blame game… just kidding.

Rely on a Single Source of Truth

Streamlining your workflow management system will be a key element of achieving operational excellence. Having robust agency-specific workflow management software will provide your team with a single source of truth. This ensures that all of your team members are working with the same consistent information. All of the moving parts of a project will be linked in one easy place, leaving little room for miscommunication.

Everyone on your team may have their personal way of managing their own productivity, whether it’s digital task apps, a daily priorities list or a bullet journal. But when it comes to agency-wide information, using a single source of truth ensures that everyone is monitoring the same timelines and working towards the same goals.

Use the Tools You Have Available

The majority of creative agencies merely don’t make use of all the workflow technology available to them. As a result, they are missing out on the benefits that technologies like workflow automation can provide. It’s time to get down to business and maximize the potential of your IT stack. By automating your business procedures, You can increase your profitability. Additionally, many workflow systems already include automation and AI in their product offerings due to high demand in recent years, which gives you so many opportunities to explore and improve.

The same technological advancements that are challenging us to work faster are also enabling us to work smarter. Automation, AI and cloud-based SaaS provide agencies with tools that we can use to improve creating operations management, eliminate steps and generate the same quality of work, only faster. Best of all, these tools generate data that help agency management make decisions for how to improve agility, budget better, and manage time more effectively.

Today’s problem with data is rarely the lack of it, and more the confusion of how to put it to use. In our recent study of project management productivity and best practices (Coming soon! Stay tuned!), we noticed that a large percentage of project managers and agency leaders admitted to making significant business decisions like budgeting based on feeling and guesswork, rather than on meaningful data. This simply won’t fly when achieving operational excellence. If you want to work smarter and faster (rather than simply harder), data should be driving all of your business decisions. This means cracking down on time tracking, and budgeting for the necessary time to review past projects to plan for future ones.

If it takes some time for you to feel comfortable utilizing your tools, don’t feel bad about it. Finding the ideal tool and mastering it are only a few steps in the process of improving the operations of your creative firm. You can identify the right workflow tools for your firm by experimenting with a variety of options. Once you have a strong understanding of what a new tool can accomplish and how to get the most out of it, conduct an agency training session for your staff so they can learn how to utilize it to make their jobs easier.

Visualize Your Flow

It’s easy for everyone to agree that “being better” and “achieving excellence” are great goals, but how do you know when you’re actually making progress? Just like with agency project management systems, new organizational goals that ask people to tweak and improve their existing flow will require full buy-in, and that buy-in will rely on showing continuous improvement to your team.

You must use a single workflow platform if you want to streamline your creative agency’s operations in accordance with your processes. Long-term, this will improve communication and lead to quicker response times. Additionally, it will simplify the creative process at your company, which will boost productivity.

In order to ensure your entire organization is working towards the same goals, they need to be able to visualize flow. This should include both the flow of work between client an agency, and the flow of your agency follows towards ideal operational excellence. Visualizing your ideal project flow will help employees identify when the flow is breaking down, and fix it before a significant problem arises. Good project management tools will provide you with visual interpretations of flow that can help your team self-manage their own flow better.

Be sure to provide new team members with training so you can show them how to use your process platform according to your company’s standards. It would be advantageous to record this training to use it during the onboarding process for new hires rather than delivering it repeatedly. If your agency is growing quickly, having an agency training library is crucial.

Find Your Optimal Speed

Achieving optimal speed isn’t necessarily about being faster, it’s about being as fast as possible, without sacrificing quality or profitability. Just because you can bake a cake in half the time by turning the oven up to 550 degrees doesn’t mean the cake will be edible.

We live in a fast, digital world, and many clients who interact with immediate services like Amazon (one day shipping!) and Uber (chauffeur outside my door right this second!) find it hard to let go of this immediacy in their business life. Part of finding your optimal speed will involve relaying this to your clients, and showing them the real value of your processes. There will always be someone who will promise to do something faster and cheaper, but this rarely provides true benefit to clients. Working with agencies that have achieved true operational excellence is a very different experience than working with agencies whose goal is to pump out product as fast as possible. Own your processes, know your value, and be proud of what you’ve achieved.

Chris Wilson

Founder & CEO

Chris started Function Point over 20 years ago in his basement as a way to help professional service agencies run their businesses more efficiently. Since then he’s grown FP into an international success, working with over 600 agencies from around the world and continues to run the company from the head office in Vancouver, Canada.

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