Just when you think you’ve heard it all…
I’m a Gemini, so while I love good design, I can appreciate the more functional aspects of agency and workflow management systems. They have a job to do, and they are engineered to do it well (providing users adopt them fully). I also know just enough about coding to understand how problematic it is to try to redesign a functional interface just to make it prettier. Yet that seems to be what some people in our industry want from AMS/WMS—eye candy, not substance.
In Second Wind seminar roundtable sessions, attendees focus on issues and concerns we did not anticipate or address in our training. Our COO, Laurie Mikes, offered feedback and insights from our most recent Certified Agency Financial Management seminar. [Our 2018 seminar schedule is now available.] CAFM attendees voiced concerns we are more accustomed to hearing from traffic and production people: agency employees won’t use the agency management system properly, ignoring functionality and failing to make good use of features designed to make agency financial tasks easier.
The reason people won’t use AMS or workflow/estimating systems: they think the system interfaces are ugly.
That’s right; people are refusing to use software aimed at improving efficiency and productivity because they don’t like how the pages display on their screens. Who says design is not important?
The Wrong Priorities
Our friends at Functionpoint, the workflow management software firm, told us not long ago that they have invested significant time and resources improving user interfaces over the past few years. Without starting all over from scratch, a complete redesign is difficult at best; underlying code would have to be completely overhauled. Ultimately, it’s worth asking whether they should focus so much time and effort on how their systems look, rather than on improving how the systems perform and manage their designated functions.
How much does the design of a page affect user experience? We have at least anecdotal evidence that it may affect adoption.
Compared to formerly manual systems, and to early iterations of AMS software, today’s agency and workflow management systems are substantially more visually appealing. They aren’t just glorified spreadsheets. But they are still a long way from “beautiful,” at least for the average user accustomed to modern, minimalist page layouts and online interfaces heavy on striking imagery and simple typography. In an industry where a high proportion of users are design oriented, the less-than-gorgeous interfaces may be impeding agency efforts to move their firms from chaos to some degree of control over their accounting and workflow systems. How can agencies get past this resistance?
Culture and People
The best systems for smaller ad agencies and marketing firms also build in a good degree of flexibility (i.e., allow elimination of some steps depending on project requirements). They also offer integration with popular software like Quickbooks for accounting, simplifying the agency’s operations. Beyond these factors, modern workflow adoption may require some or all of the following:
- The right agency culture
- The right talent matched to the right roles
- Reorganizing internal communications
- Developing new processes
- Investing in the right technology
- Building on current capabilities
- Finding the right strategic partners
- A focus on improving value vs. billing costs
- Respect for leaders advocating system adoption
The biggest factors in system adoption are culture and people. A culture that puts the focus on team and outcomes, and people willing to do everything they can to help the agency achieve positive results, leads to better system adoption and use, and ultimately builds a more efficient agency workflow process.
Don’t forget one other critical factor in system adoption: leaders must use the system too, modeling the behaviors they want to see from employees.
Looks vs. Brains
I can offer just one obvious parallel for how silly this emphasis on appearances seems to me; the high school trope of the pretty-but-dumb blonde vs. the brainy-but-plain brunette. We’re judging AMS and WMS for their looks instead of their brains (LOL).
It’s time to ditch the clichés and get serious. Management systems perform specific and vital agency functions. Maybe they aren’t as visually beautiful as users think they should be. But they are smart, improve efficiency and enable us to do our jobs better and more comprehensively—and way faster than by manual systems. Appreciate AMS and WMS for their brains. Give the kaleidoscope a turn and see your system from a different perspective. The view may astound you.