The creative services industry is in a constant state of flux. In-house agencies are constantly looking for "magic bullets" when it comes to effective and efficient project management, tracking productivity and improving customer service. All of us in the creative business have heard the title "Traffic Manager," however, some external and in-house agencies have opted to eliminate this role altogether. Here are two reasons why:
- Ongoing budget cuts --Having a Traffic Manager is sometimes a luxury that an in-house organization can no longer afford because it is often unfortunately viewed as an administrative function.
- Technology--As marketing and creative services organizations adopt and implement sophisticated project management and collaboration software tools (such as MarcomCentral, Function Point and Workamajig), they are often seen as a replacement for the traffic function.
- Traditional Job Description
The primary function of a Traffic Manager (TM) is to work as a go-between that connects Account Managers (AM) to other departments within the agency that produce the products the AM has sold.
TMs coordinate and ensure the on time and orderly flow of all projects from job initiation to product completion.
The New Trend
A new trend shows an increase in the number of external and in-house agencies eliminating the TM function and allowing their AMs to serve as their own traffic managers. The AMs are allowed to open their own jobs in the agency's project management system, assign tasks to employees, track their respective jobs, route materials accordingly and oversee the jobs for their clients.
How would work get done without a dedicated TM?
- It would require exceptional communication and close attention to schedules and priorities among all employees. For example, multiple AMs couldn't request work at the same time from the same resource.
- Daily production meetings can be used to establish priorities and may eliminate this type of workflow bottleneck. This, however, would require that all staff members be in-house or accessible simultaneously if some members work remotely.
What are some of the potential pitfalls of this new trend?
- Potential for every job becoming a priority.
- A breakdown in communication among employees causes huge problems.
- Inevitable conflict when there is more than one AM vying for the same resources.
- The creative team is left to decide how to prioritize the work put forward by the AMs, which is an obvious drain on the creatives and distracts them from doing what they do best.
- The personal touch, experience and knowledge about individual creatives (their talents and temperaments) are lost without a live TM involved.
When conflicts arise due to lack of a TM, the in-house department leader will be forced to step in and play referee; this of course keeps the leader involved in the daily operations of the organization and away from his/her role in employee development, strategic planning and monitoring the organization's bottom line. Likewise, when AMs assume the traffic function, they cannot dedicate 100% of their time to generating and bringing in additional or new business.
Can an on-line project tracking and collaboration tool replace the Traffic function?
Managing the day-to-day workflow effectively is an important factor of any in-house department for a variety of reasons. One advantage to a workflow management system is improved efficiency within the department. By automating the workflow processes within your department and establishing procedures that are consistently followed, unnecessary steps are eliminated and every member of your team is fully aware of his or her responsibilities.
If your department does not have a Traffic person, make sure the automated system you choose has been designed to include this role. Simply put, these are some of the key features of an automated system:
- Getting a project in the queue
- Creating estimates, timelines and tasks
- Routing work for internal and client approval
- Ensuring work is completed on schedule and on budget
- Tracking client changes
- Keeping full control over your data.