In the first post of this two-part series we discussed pain points and ways to address them, but let's now say you've got a defined creative process that has been in use by your organization for a while. And yes, you've made adjustments when needed to handle the changing work requirements and clients. You have also added in some new forms and maybe a tool (or two) to help manage your project work. But when was the last time your processes were reviewed from beginning to end?
In-house agencies are dynamic, needing to flex with the organization as it changes. Being responsive and nimble is ever more important in today's digitally-enabled global business environment. In-house agencies are challenged to add new capabilities AND produce more, in less time, with the same resources. Asa result, over time, even industry-leading organizations can have 'process creep' occur, where the complexity of and rigid adherence to project processes grow out of alignment with actual project needs. Some drivers include changing project types, organizational structure, legal and regulatory mandates and supporting technologies. Whatever the causes, process creep points to the need for a process tune-up. So, where to begin?
The best approach is to engage in a Process Improvement exercise. This is a well-proven methodology for evolving your current work processes into future best-in-class agency processes. There are five major parts to this exercise:
- Discovery review and audit of current state processes
- Identification of known pain points and causes
- Evolving new process solutions
- Mapping improved future state processes
- Implementation and change management
Process improvement most often uses a methodology such as Lean Six Sigma, led by an experienced facilitator, to analyze and evolve processes. It begins with a deep dive discovery involving a detailed review and audit of the current state processes. This is typically done with cross-functional team involvement to capture the day-to-day reality of the work process needs. Current state process maps are then generated to document the key steps, hand-offs and decision points that create the workflow.
Watch out! Sometimes organizations try introducing new project management technology to solve process issues, but this kind of 'lift and shift' of your existing processes is unlikely to deliver a different and better result. Alternatively, conducting a process improvement exercise and THEN strategically selecting a project management technology solution to meet your organization needs, can generate significant efficiencies and value.
Analyzing the current state
Once the current state process maps are generated, it is important to identify the known pain points within the process to understand the frequency and level of impact to the workflow. This will help define areas of inefficiency and waste that contribute to process complexity and increased cycle times. While some issues identified are easily understood, others may require a root cause analysis to determine the key source of the problem. It is important to make issues visible so they are understood and action may be taken. Frequently, this is where the team may learn of the process challenges to different functional counterparts for the first time.
Note: Many in-house agencies have documented processes, but most often they are not at a level of detail needed to identify improvement opportunities or build efficient workflows into technology tools.
Future state improvements
Once the pain points are all defined, the team can begin to work on creating process solutions to resolve them. The collective brainpower of a dedicated cross-functional team is highly valuable in this part of the process. Some solutions will be simple and obvious, others will require process re-engineering and at times, organizational changes to gain acceptance. What is important is identifying opportunities to streamline portions of the process as well as potential automation of activities to reach an improved future state process.
Implementation and roll-out
Now it is time to implement the new revised processes to begin realizing the benefits. It is a good idea to pilot the processes on a small number of projects to verify they work as intended, making any small adjustments that may be needed. It is important to have solid alignment on process improvement with senior management to establish top-down support to lead change effectively. It is also critical to implementation success to develop a change management and communication plan to support and guide the roll-out of new process changes and encourage adoption.
Benefits for the effort
Benefits of the process improvement include:
- Alignment of all stakeholders on process elements including key milestones, hand-offs, and decision points.
- Role and responsibilities clarity
- Process consistency across projects types
- Informs SLAs by agreed process approach
- Improved project quality
- Reduced cycle time through opportunities for process streamlining and automation
Manage and Monitor
So you have rolled out the new processes, what next?
The focus after implementation should shift to managing adoption by monitoring how users follow the plan and tracking the level of effectiveness resulting from the changes. Your communications to your team should continue to guide and reinforce usage. You should also take time to celebrate your team's successes as a result of the new way of doing things. Keep in mind that this is an ongoing journey and the reality is that processes need to keep evolving in response changing organization needs.
A final note -
It is important to understand that process improvement exercises require focus and a significant time commitment from in-house agency staff whose bandwidth may already be challenged. The outcome, however, is often greater efficiencies and more bandwidth for your team once the new processes are fully implemented.