There's a time and a place for thinking big. During strategy sessions, planning meetings and goal setting, you want to aim high - really high. But when it comes to taking the first step towards that lofty plan, it's usually best to start small. After all, you can't just snap your fingers and implement an entirely new strategy - or creative operations process.
So if you know you need to start working on your creative operations, where should you start?
There's no one right answer, since every team and process is different. However, here are ten different steps that we've found can each be a great starting place to start making your creative operations more efficient and productive.
1. Map your current process
What happens on your team between the time when you realize "I need an asset" to the point where you can say "I have an asset"? Write down every step you can think of, and get input from your team as well. At the end of this step, you should have a comprehensive list of each part of your process, which doubles as a to-do list of areas that might need to be improved.
2. List your assumed bottlenecks
Once you have that long (or short) list of every known step in your process, highlight the ones you assume are the source of unnecessary delays. These are the areas you think could really speed up the process, if they weren't so slow or didn't cause so many delays. Alternatively, if you're working with a pretty efficient process, identify areas of excellence and work backwards. Which steps didn't make the "areas of excellence" list?
3. Examine past projects
If you can't come up with anything, past projects are a good place to look back and see the steps in the creative operations process. As a bonus, past projects will also serve as a reality test for your assumptions. If you haven't included certain steps on your list, but the calendar from that project showed three weeks spent on that step, you can easily see you've missed an important phase in the process.
4. Look for patterns
Is every email project running behind schedule? Does the final review and approval stage usually take twice as long as it should for video campaigns? These are good indicators that there's something you can optimize in that part of the process, and finding those insights is half the battle.
5. Ask different participants
You might have some pretty solid ideas about where the creative operations process is working, and where it isn't. Before you jump right in to fixing things, run them by a few different team members. Does the design team agree that the creative briefs need to be more detailed? Does the Legal team think the review process is hard to use? Testing your assumptions on individuals is a quick way to get early feedback.
6. Make sure your creative briefs are detailed - and structured
This one is more specific, but it's a good thing to check, since a delay at the start of the process can trickle down through the whole project.
For example, we work with one company who started looking at the metrics involved in their creative operations process. What they eventually found, by looking at the numbers, is that the creative briefs were too vague for their email marketing campaigns, which was causing a huge number of change requests. When they added detail and structure, they were able to reduce the number of change requests dramatically.
Start at the beginning and take a look at how things are communicated at the beginning of your process. Is there room for improvement?
7. Set clear expectations for reviewers
Another great area of improvement that can help add efficiency to your creative operations is making sure that reviewers are clear on what's expected of them. Adding guidelines, deadlines and clear instructions to every review request can help make sure you're not getting unrelated comments. Reviewers can focus on their area of expertise and where they add the most value.
8. Give visual feedback on visual assets
One of the biggest wins you can get is to optimize the way your team reviews and approves creative work. Email is never going to be the most efficient way to review a video or website. Things get lost or buried in inboxes, and the feedback is given out of context. Online proofing tools can help you annotate directly on visual assets from videos to PDFs, which helps make feedback more clear - which will help reduce change requests.
9. Send effective emails
There's been a lot of advice around how to send effective emails written, with recent coverage from Fast Company, 99u and other high profile outlets, so there's a good chance most of us aren't sending very effective emails. While I'd never suggest reviewing creative work by email - too many headaches - there are still some places in your creative operations process where emails might be used. Make sure they're short, clear and to the point so that less time is spent writing and reading email novels, and more time is spent on the work. Simple tricks like five.sentenc.es can help simplify this process.
10. Automate repetitive tasks
Are you always sending out reminder emails the day before the review deadline, or going through the exact same steps to start new projects? Find ways to automate as much of this repetitive work as possible. It might be as easy as an IFTTT recipe, or as involved as finding a new software solution that can handle all the automation you need. Regardless, it frees you up to handle more important, high-value tasks.
10.5 Help your team automate their repetitive tasks
It's a more advanced step, but talk to a few different people in each role on your team. What are their most repetitive tasks? Is there a way to automate them? This is getting more into the detailed aspects of your creative operations process, but once you've gone through everything else, this is a great way to create extra time in your creative production process.
Creative operations is a challenging process to manage for a number of reasons, but by taking things one step at a time, you're well on your way to increasing the efficiency and productivity of your creative production process.
What step will you take today?