The Lure of Lean Workflow: Decluttering Ad Agency Systems

Decluttering is a certifiable trend. After decades of acquisition, Baby Boomers have embraced downsizing and clearing out, looking for the simpler lifestyle of their parents. Once upon a time, we all had less stuff; now we need to rent storage facilities for the stuff we can’t quite let go of… hence the thriving declutter-your-life industry. Millennials and Gen-Xers, wisely, haven’t acquired that much stuff, and don’t want to. But my topic today is about decluttering your ad agency workflow processes.

Ad agencies spent years shifting from hand-tracking jobs and schedules, managing everything on paper, to all-digital workflow systems. Now, many agencies recognize that they spend way too much time managing their complex and often inflexible systems, and not nearly enough time doing great work.

Many digital systems are so inflexible, the extra hours we ought to spend nurturing and serving clients or developing great creative ideas instead disappear into daily system updates. That’s because programmers write software, not agency people. The systems, all about data and detail, end up being burdensome rather than time-saving for smaller agencies, especially if the person in charge of reviewing and assessing all of that data is also responsible for other important management functions. Agencies can’t afford to devote that much time to recordkeeping and schedule-management as clients continue to demand ever-greater output for ever-lower fees.

This is why more agencies have moved toward objective-based tools and lean processes. Being a slave to software has simply worn out its attraction (if there ever was one). We need flow way more than we need the extra work of system management.

This “just enough process” movement focuses on stripping away redundant steps, paring down process until it becomes the least we need to do to correctly and efficiently accomplish the assignment.

Benefits of Decluttering Workflow

Spend less time managing your system. By discarding the burdensome parts of your system that add little value to daily operations, agencies can greatly improve efficiency. More efficiency equates to greater productivity. The less time you spend managing the system, the more time you can spend on actual creative product… or client relationships, or new business prospecting.

Spend more time managing your agency. Principals or owners of smaller and midsize ad agencies and marketing firms often spend part of every day managing accounts, people or doing creative work. Too many have difficulty fitting in financial and agency management time. Reduce the time spent managing the system by making workflow leaner, giving principals more time to sit back and review how the agency is doing every month. Are you meeting profit goals? What does cash flow look like? How are billings and collections? Do you need more people, or computer upgrades, or to reposition the brand?

Spend more time on agency culture. Better flow and efficiency helps you make time to appreciate your people and their contributions; train your successors; and find ways to make the agency’s culture stronger. An efficient agency can give everyone more time to collaborate and grow as a team.

Spend less time in the agency, and more on your life. Some people live to work, but most people want to work to live. Greater agency efficiency means you should be able to go home at quitting time instead of working late, a lot… or take time off to watch the kids play soccer… or even give employees the time to knock off early for happy hour. You and your team will be less stressed, more energized, and better able to handle occasional rush projects. Less time spent in process and procedure equates to more time generating fresh, innovative creative ideas.

Work smarter to make money. Efficiency is not a guarantee your profits will be great. But it does guarantee you will have more time to meet and exceed profit goals by focusing on those things that are most likely to help you achieve your goals. You can’t bill workflow system management. You need to be servicing accounts, winning new clients, and generating great ideas and marketing plans. Lean systems enable you to work smarter.

Read more about lean workflow:

Lean Trends in Traffic Management Software

One Agency’s Workflow Story

How Much Process Is Enough? Workflow Management in a Modern Agency

Less Process, More Speed: Agencies Seek Efficiency Through Object-Based Workflow

The KAIZEN Agency: Harnessing Employee Power to Make the Agency Better


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