Building creative workflow management processes

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When it comes to establishing processes within your digital agency, it can be difficult to keep everyone happy. Team leads and project managers want structure. They know that without concrete processes, projects will be completed in a rush of confusion and adrenaline, and clients will end up disappointed.

But what works for one person may not work for another. You might find that your creatives resist systems, processes, or workflows, because they don’t want them to curb their creativity. Maybe they view these structured ways of working as administrative burdens that rob them of their time and creative energy.

But this isn’t true.

You need to establish a workflow at your digital agency to avoid total chaos — for your project managers, your creatives, and your clients alike. And a great workflow should enable creativity, not limit it. The trick is to build a workflow that’s standardized enough to make work more efficient, but flexible enough to fit the variety of different projects that your agency takes on.

This means taking a close look at your existing processes, mapping out the similarities as stages, and moving to a flexible project management tool that’s easy for every team member to access and use. Here’s how to set up your workflow in a way that keeps everyone happy.

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1. Clarify responsibilities

When your agency was just a few people, each member of your team was probably wearing a couple of different hats. You might have had one single employee who was responsible for keeping up all customer communication, scoping all their projects, and completing every project from start to finish. But as your company grew, you probably found it necessary to specialize in order to give each area more attention. Now you might have:

  • Managers who are responsible for scoping projects and making sure deadlines are met.

  • Creatives who build the marketing campaigns.

  • Account managers who interface with clients.

This structural switch is where many agencies go wrong.

On paper, each role might be defined, but in practice, team members often find their daily duties unclear. Without specific guidelines outlining where one responsibility begins and the next one ends, actions may overlap, creating confusion and duplication of efforts.

For example, your creatives are supposed to be concentrating on content creation, but instead, they’re looped in on email threads to help with project scopes and adjusting deadlines. Not only is it confusing for them (how do they know what to prioritize?), but it’s a misuse of their time and resources.

Avoid this uncertainty and clarify each person’s role by sticking to McKinsey’s Mutually Exclusive, Collectively Exhaustive (MECE) principle. This principle suggests that any business problem needs solutions that have no gaps or overlaps. This model is particularly applicable to roles and responsibilities since unclear roles could mean there’s either a gap or an overlap. To put it another way: either there are two people doing the same work, or each person assumes the other will handle it, creating a gap.

To avoid this, make a clear list of all of the responsibilities for each role, then make sure they’re distinct and account for every edge case.

Your list should have an answer for the following questions, at a minimum:

  • Who scopes a project?

  • Who’s responsible for meeting a project deadline?

  • Who has the authority to change it?

  • Who decides when a project is good enough to ship?

  • Who communicates with the clients and how often?

2. Diagram your workflow

Perfecting your workflow isn’t about doing a radical overhaul. In fact, creating a workflow from scratch would mean that you’d have to change the behavior of every person in the company — without proof that the change will work. Instead, you want to start by analyzing your existing workflow and finding the best way to optimize it, one step at a time. To start, pick out several different types of projects that your team has worked on over the last few months and write out the workflow for each project. A general workflow for an entire project might look something like this:

  1. Create project specs and campaign ideas

  2. Send over ideas and estimates

  3. Ask client for feedback

  4. Content creation

  5. Get manager approval

  6. Send campaign to client for approval

  7. Launch

Of course, workflows will vary for each role or department, but the process is the same. Map out your workflow step by step based on when a task is handed off from one person to another. You can use a diagram tool like Gliffy to create a business process model.

Diagramming your workflow is an easy way to visualize your entire creative process, start to finish, and pinpoint any bottlenecks. If you find that the bulk of the process involves a project going back and forth between two people, you might need to cut out a few steps. If you have lots of separate processes for different projects, try to come up with stages that all workflows can fit into. For example, if the design team doesn’t have internal feedback loops but the social ads team does, you can create more general steps to fit all use cases such as “content creation.”

This is a simplified example, and it’ll be different for every agency. The important thing is that by the end of this process, you should have one single workflow model that can be adapted to any situation.

3. Move to a flexible project management software

The next step is to map the workflows you created in Step 2 into a project management software that’s flexible enough for creative work. Pick a tool that was designed to let you work the way that works for you and your team, like Teamwork Projects. The right tool will give you all the features you need to systematize your processes — without adding unnecessary bottlenecks or slowing down your team’s creativity. Here are the top features you should look for:

  • A board view Since projects can move back and forth between stages (between manager and creative or between client and creative), you’ll want a visual representation to see where everything stands, as well as how much work is on your team’s plate at any given time. (See how we use boards to create a killer content marketing workflow.)

  • Task list templates. Once you find a process that works for you, make it even more efficient by using templates to take the hassle out of the setup stage. Templates can help you to automate regularly recurring tasks, saving your team valuable time setting up each project.

  • Task assignment by name or project role. This handy feature will help you to clarify who’s accountable for what. You can assign tasks to individual team members, or you can assign tasks to project roles such as “developers” or “SEO strategists”, which means that all team members with that role will be assigned to that task.

  • Different levels of permissions. Teams at agencies don’t function like teams at other companies. There are considerably more stakeholders involved in every step of the process, whether they’re managers, co-workers, or clients. Your project management software should have settings that enable you to share parts of your workflow with outside parties without giving them access to your entire database. Look for a tool that lets you so they can see exactly what they need to, without compromising on confidentiality. (Learn more about Teamwork Projects’s robust privacy and permission settings .)

4. Integrate all of your tools into one workflow

Once you’ve ironed out any kinks in your process and your team is happily using your project management software, you can make your workflow even more efficient by bringing all the tools you use together.

Whether you need them for specialized tasks or to fit in with how your clients like to work, it’s likely that you’re going to have to use a few other tools every now and then.

Hooking those other tools up to your project management software lets you keep things flowing smoothly. Use integrations (or an integration tool like Zapier) to connect your email, proposal management system, invoicing tool, and anything else you use, so you can manage everything you need from one central place — and avoid breaking your concentration by switching apps every few minutes.

Make room for creativity and efficiency

As a digital agency, you know that creativity is the lifeblood of your business. You need to be innovative to keep clients happy and earn a good reputation. But you also need to have structure and processes in place to ensure that clients get the results they need, when they need them.

A great workflow will enable creativity, not limit it. It can help you to bring transparency to your day-to-day so every member of your team understands their responsibilities within the agency.

With this added clarity and direction, your creatives can focus on the quality of deliverables — and consistently achieve the high standards that will set your agency apart.

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