As discussed in previous blogs, creative leaders are most effective in implementing operational changes when their decision-making is data driven. Quantitative data builds confident and swift decision-making and enables them to justify their decisions to their staff, business partners and executive leadership. Unfortunately, too few creative leaders have access to this level of data. The mission-critical data that creative departments generate falls into two main categories: Project Intake and Time Tracking data. While both are imperative, we'll focus on project intake data.
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While each department will have some unique requirements and its own nomenclature for these categories, it is strongly recommended to collect the following information at project intake:
While this is not a data point, it's how you'll refer to a project now and in the future. Don't worry if the actual deliverable title changes over time, what's more important is that you understand the purpose of the deliverable. For example, "2023 Campus Recruiting Brochure" or "Product XYZ Launch Landing Page" are clear descriptive project names. Project names should be used consistently as part of standardized file naming convention to facilitate effective file and asset management protocols.
Project / Reference Number
If your creative department is using an industry standard Project Management system, it will most likely have an auto-generated project reference number that is a unique system identifier for each project. Many systems are able to be configured to follow some business rules for a more intuitive numbering structure. This is a data point that provides another way to filter and report on project activity with precision.
Project Start Date & End Date
This will allow you to report on project timelines. At the close-out stage, the end date should be updated to reflect the actual end date. Some departments choose to input "Estimated End Date" at Project Intake and then at close-out have a new field entitled "Actual End Date". This allows the department to learn how frequently and by how much end dates are moved and in what direction ("I need it sooner" or "I need four more revisions" which may back up the project).
This is where you can gain visibility to key creative activity areas your team is supporting. Categories are groupings such as Campaign, Seasonal Promotion, Digital Marketing, Print, Events, Corporate, etc. Each parent Category might contain a few too many (child) project types that are tactics or activations. Project categories provide a high-level view of where creative support is being provided.
Project types are a more granular way to look at creative work. It is important to utilize a standardized list of creative project types your department supports - this list may be quite long (maybe up to 50 and in some cases more). Project types may include things such as brochure, whitepaper, micro site, landing page, HTML email, video, etc. When the percentage of any given project type gets high, you should review those projects with your team to understand if it would be meaningful to break out the project type further. For example, there is a significant difference in a "talking head, 60-second video" and a "five-minute, script-based video." A junior team member could possibly manage one of those videos, and the other requires a senior team member who understands how splitting the total video work across two allows you to hire and train appropriately. It should be noted that “miscellaneous” is not a project type - if you have more than 10-20% of your projects falling into a miscellaneous category, it's time to review those projects to identify new project types.
Client Name & Business Unit / Account
It's important to understand who is requesting project work, project type and volume. For example, Business Unit A brings 300 projects per year, and x% are fact sheets. This allows you to filter your data by account – corporate, division, business unit, etc. If your department is a charge-back department, a charge-back account number (or cost center) should also be requested at this time.
If your internal clients are in multiple locations, you may find it helpful to track their location so that you can determine when it might make sense to hire a team in that location versus serving those clients remotely. And if you already have teams in multiple locations, this may help determine the appropriate staff to location ratio. Business partner locations may be identified by city, region (southwest US), country or even global regions (EMEA, APAC, etc.)
Projects should be identified by a standardized Tiering level, in which Tier 1 projects (Strategic Creative), are complex and require original concepting. Tier 2 projects are adaptations / implementations of approved creative strategy concepts across defined touchpoints / tactics. Finally, Tier 3 projects are production design/refinements and edits of established work. Tiering work allows for creative leaders to align creative team resources to most effectively and efficiently support the project creative needs for the department's clients.
Like tiering, it is desirable to have a standardized methodology for determining and assigning levels of priority to project work. This data point helps provide transparency to the way work flows into the creative team, impacts workload, and determines resourcing. It is important to consider the approach to provide the best data insights. A simple “low, medium, high” priority grading is less likely to deliver the controls and insights that you can benefit from.
All projects have a cost associated with them. There may be a monetary budget, or it may be calculated as the level of effort (hours). Either way, tracking estimates vs actuals is an important metric to understanding both demand and productivity. More mature creative departments may also be able to extend this to calculating value creation via cost avoidance of using external agency services.
This list is not all-inclusive as your reporting requirements/business needs may require additional data to be collected. Regardless of your charge-back status, you should be keeping a master list of every project that enters your department and collecting key pieces of information about each of those projects. Collecting this data will allow you to report on:
- Who your customers are
- Where your customers are located
- What projects your team creates most often
- What percentage of your work is Tier 1 versus Tier 2 versus Tier 3
- The average timeline for projects (by project type)
- And more…
All of these are key data points to help you better understand your creative department's operations and opportunities to provide more effective and efficient creative services for your company, which in turn, increases your department's value to the organization.