For an in-house creative services team, random requests can come from anywhere in the company at any time—HR wants a new employee flyer, marketing needs a web banner designed, sales wants you to create some cool graphics for a presentation. And they come at you in every conceivable way: phone calls, emails, taps on the shoulder, or scribbled on a sticky note.
As the requests pile up, your team quickly falls into reactive mode, working on projects for the person who makes the most noise. Meanwhile, clients complain that your team is unresponsive, takes too long to fulfill their requests, and they don't see your services as creating value to the company. Clients start to outsource their "important" work leaving your team with the grunt work. Requests are lost or forgotten because there's no real system to track them. There are frequent shifts in business priorities and accompanying last-minute fire drills in effort to meet changing demands. Every fire drill creates a domino effect on subsequent deadlines for other requests. And then constant rework is the name of the game because expectations are not defined and managed properly from the start.
Chaos Breeds Bad Stress
Have I struck a chord with you yet? If none of this has resonated with you it's probably because you don't work on a creative team or you're in denial. Or you might be part of the three percent that don't feel stressed at work, in which case, hats off to you. (A recent report shows that 97 percent of marketers are stressed work.)
I don't want to imply that all stress at work is bad. Corporate creative work is stressful by nature. Meeting deadlines, understanding client expectations, and navigating infinitely complex design tools naturally creates a little anxiety. Some creatives (including me) might even like the adrenaline of a little stress, which is why they've committed to their career. But there's a difference between feeling a little adrenaline that motivates you to start and finish a project and feeling so busy and so overwhelmed with administrative tasks and ad hoc requests work that you don't even have time or energy to work on strategic, creative projects.
The overwhelming stress I'm referring to starts with poor request management, where your requests are managing you instead of you managing your requests. With five simple changes to your request process you can regain control of your requests, your stress levels, and how much time you get to spend on strategic, creative work.
1. USE CREATIVE BRIEFS
How many times have you seen it happen? A designer submits a first draft to an internal client after hours of hard work, and the client returns the draft with so many changes that it hardly resembles the project you were asked to deliver? Frustrated creatives, unsatisfied clients, and a lot of rework are all results of poor visibility between client and creative.
Creative briefs are the remedy. Sit down with internal clients before diving into a project and determine each other's expectations for the work. Make sure you understand the who, what, why, when, and where of the project, then write it down in a creative brief where you, the client, and anyone that ends up working on it can refer to the details of the request. Or, make the process even easier with your work management solution by using customizable creative briefs that are built in to the request process and that help you gather all the information you need from the start.
This simple best practice kills chaos by offering visibility into the specs of a project right from the beginning. It ensures that creative teams and clients stay on the same page throughout the project, which in turn means less rework, happy creatives, and satisfied clients.
2. CENTRALIZE REQUEST MANAGEMENT
When requests come in myriad ways, like personal emails, Google Chat, or sticky notes, you can count on the entire project being one big ambiguous, chaotic mess. The only way to reduce this chaos is to standardize and centralize your intake process.
Designate one way to receive requests, whether with an online form, an email alias, or a work management solution. Then, communicate that method to your team and clients. Both internal clients and the creative team must buy into this method for it to work, which will require some enforcement; if requests continue to come in the hallway or with sticky notes on the desk, kindly but firmly remind clients to submit them through your established process.
When all requests are received, assigned, and tracked from one location, it's easy to have visibility into what the work is, who is doing it, and when it's due, bringing clarity to a chaos-prone process.
3. HIRE OR DESIGNATE A TRAFFIC OR PROJECT MANAGER
Having all requests channeled to one place is a first step to controlling chaos in request management, but then those requests need to be organized and distributed to the team.
Place one person in charge of request "triage." This team member should be the gatekeeper and should have complete visibility into every request that comes to the team. Then, they can prioritize and manage projects with a clear view of all the requests made of the team. If your team lacks the bandwidth to appoint or hire a dedicated traffic manager, the creative director or a senior graphic designer could assume this role as an additional responsibility.
With a traffic or project manager in charge of request management, he or she can gain visibility into all incoming and outgoing work. That visibility enables the project manager to keep track of workloads, appropriately assign tasks, and ensure that projects are completed according to client expectations.
4. STRATEGICALLY PRIORITIZE YOUR WORK
Even with a traffic or project manager, teams often distribute work without considering its strategic value—usually because they neither have the tools nor time. Without a method to prioritize work, creative teams can get caught up designing an internal newsletter while a time-sensitive marketing campaign sits in the queue.
You can effectively approach project prioritization in a couple of ways. One way is to create a scorecard where you assign points to requests based on a number of elements, such as requester importance, business strategy impact, and deadlines. Then, distribute the work to your team according to the total number of points that were assigned to the request.
Another way to prioritize work is the tiering method, where projects are organized according to project complexity. Cella Consulting suggests three tiers for creative work: Tier 3 – templated, recurring projects; Tier 2 – existing concept or template applied to new work; Tier 1 – non-standard, non-iterative work.
Having a plan in place to strategically prioritize and determine the value of requests will give your team better visibility into which work requests need to be done next, and which can wait. Without this visibility, it's easy to get lost in the chaos of ad hoc and "urgent" requests rather than spending time on the most important, strategic work.
5. REVIEW THE REQUEST
Now that the request is in your queue, under the safe care of a traffic manager, and with critical details recorded in the creative brief, it's time to gather your team to review it before diving into the work.
First, bring your team together without the client. A meeting like this gives the team an opportunity to look at what is being asked, what the deliverables are, what the timeline is, etc. Plus, it offers a safe space where everyone has the opportunity to ask questions and push back on areas where they have concerns.
Next, hold a kickoff call or meeting with the client. In this meeting, both parties can ask questions about the project and set expectations. Holding this meeting gives your team the opportunity to get a better sense of the client—their personality and style preferences that may inform the work.
Clear and ample communication is key to avoiding chaos in request management. Taking the time to review the request, both as a team and with your client, eliminates confusion, rework, and delays down the road and helps set clearer expectations for everyone.
Kill Your Chaos with Effective Request Management
When I wrote that these are simple steps to reducing request chaos I wasn't implying they can be effective in one day. In fact, adjusting your process to apply these tips and convincing your whole team to join you will probably be a process that requires some time. (Refer to this Complete Guide to Request Management for more best practices on how to successfully improve your request process.) But in comparison to the return on investment—improved productivity, increased team morale, fewer missed deadlines, more satisfied clients, less confusion and stress, etc.—they truly are simple steps that are worth the effort.
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