The first step to improving your operations is to admit it’s not perfect.
In my experience, I’ve seen many studio operations teams become process-constrained or overwhelmed with completing obsolete tasks. Staff came and went, but for some reason, their daily routines didn’t change. New talent and new perspectives got lost in an outdated checklist-style workflow.
Eventually, these redundant efforts accumulated and what they were left with were outdated processes and a “we’ve always done it this way” mentality.
Yes, it can be nice to find a production groove and run with it (especially when everyone seems content) but we all know business doesn’t always work that way. For studios to continue positive growth, they need to include consistent training with A/B process testing, workflow improvements, weekly check-ins with stakeholders, and internal discussions around what’s working (and, maybe more importantly, what’s not).
4 best practices your operations team can use
Of course, you can always decide to not prioritize process evolution. Just be wary of your team becoming “reactionary.” When this happens, your team may barely be able to meet your client’s or company’s expectations, and when they do, it won’t be with excellence.
To avoid that altogether, and begin to create an environment of proactivity, here are some best practices I’ve discovered during my career that will help any operations team stay out of the dreaded and seemingly never-ending “Pit of Reaction.”
Saving a few minutes up front may inconvenience your teammates
Any kind of work in our digital age involves multiple teams of staff working together on different systems. Rushing to start work, saving a minute or two by cutting a corner, or skipping a documented step doesn’t save anyone any time in the end.
If others are relying on you to complete a job, it’s important to not only fully understand your role in a company, but also how your work affects those next in the workflow. If you truly understand where you “fit in” you will be more likely to follow through before you pass it off to the next person.
Running A/B process tests will reveal new efficiencies
Because modern workforces can sometimes be a puzzle of freelancers, new staff, and senior staff, informal processes can quickly change with little or no notice. A/B process testing and re-training helps to ensure your team’s processes are as efficient as possible and up to date with standards.
A/B process testing is the simple experimentation on your team’s reaction to a change in how they work. It can be as simple as changing the times of your meetings or as drastic as adjusting the team structure, and seeing what improves the culture and productivity of your team versus the status quo.
Think critically about improving your operations processes and test your ideas regularly. You’ll be surprised with how eager your team is to find a better way of doing things.
In a 2018 report, 67% of creative and marketing professionals (worldwide) say that technology that supports business operations is the most important requirement of a company transformation [source].
However, with the seemingly overnight advances in technology, it’s easy to find yourself overwhelmed with the possibilities. Taking the time to evolve your processes by gathering detailed information through process tests and using that data to compare and improve your routines is the best advice I can give.
Know when to outsource — and when to do it yourself
When is it a good idea to hire someone to do a job, and when is it better to rely on your internal team? An easy way to answer this question is to look at where you and your team excel, and then where you don’t.
In the simplest terms: You have things which you are the “best” at doing, which is why you work where you do. Then you have things you are either average at performing or maybe even less than.
The things you do best you do yourself. The average things you can usually collaborate on with a teammate. And the things you are less experienced in usually get reassigned to a different team member or department. When considering contracted work, ask yourself, “What are we best at?” If what you want to do isn’t your strength, outsourcing it might be your best option.
Though, there are numerous other reasons. Maybe your in-house costs are rising too quickly, your long-term productivity isn’t what it used to be, or perhaps it’s simply too much work for you to complete at a quality level.
Regardless of why you outsource, the benefits of contracted work is uniform across industries. Contractors don’t require lengthy training, which means they get to work sooner and completed projects enter the market earlier. This is mostly due to the fact that contractors are professionals in their area, so they are typically more efficient, and use the latest technology. And, you won’t have to worry about adjusting your workload to the size and capabilities of your team.
Close each week with what worked and what didn’t
Spending time learning from your mistakes is Business 101. If you’re not doing that, well, good luck. Before you start your next project, take the time to reference past experiences.
This step should (must) include asking the hard questions around delays, errors, and other operations failures. If you don’t, you may never recover from the onslaught of unresolved issues that, when ignored for too long, can eventually cause production to stop completely.
Change isn’t easy
Of course, these meaningful operations changes won’t magically happen overnight. Even the thought of changing existing operations can be overwhelming to a busy company.
Start by incrementally introducing these processes into your team’s daily routines by following three simple steps:
- Clearly set the goals you want to achieve.
- Identify “champions” who have already bought in to the changes to help push your cause (you can’t do this alone).
- Communicate clearly what’s expected to your staff, giving very specific parameters for success.
Most employees want to feel like they’re contributing to the greater success of the company. I’ve found that if a team member realizes how their processes affect the company’s success at large and can see themselves evolving with it, they’re more inclined to improve their performance.
In a recent survey, 75% of leading C-level executives agreed that the best method of working toward operational goals is to invest in the improvement of their employees’ skills [source]. That number is hard to argue with.
Making process improvements a daily priority for your operations team — and keeping at it when the going gets tough — will eventually become second nature. Just remember, practice makes perfect.
Tony Estes is Product Specialist, Photography, at RRD.