The Path to Operational Excellence for Creative Agencies
Read time: 7 minutes
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 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 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 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. Here are some key points to begin looking at to make 2018 your year of focusing on operational excellence.
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 the process in their own way, working to streamline their own tasks and improve value for their position.
Focus on the Process
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 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 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 processes, 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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.