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3 ways boundaries can set your creative team free

By Heidi Melin, Chief Marketing Officer, Workfront

We hire creatives for their ability to think outside the box. So we shouldn’t be too surprised when they resist efforts to box them in, foist structure upon them, or build rigid processes around their work. Regular doses of unpredictability and encounters with the unexpected are key to creative health.

On the other hand, there’s no doubt that too much chaos in the workplace undermines creativity, compromises quality, and puts deadlines in jeopardy. And for many marketers, the chaos is constant—with nonstop interruptions, disorganized work requests, shifting stakeholder expectations, and overflowing email inboxes, among other distractions. It can really add up. According to Workfront’s most recent State of Work report, the average knowledge worker today spends just 43% of their time on their primary job duties.

So what’s a marketing leader to do?

Having worked in tech for most of my marketing career, I’ve seen that glazed look in the creative team’s eyes when talk of process, workflows, and structure comes up. But I’ve also seen creativity and productivity skyrocket once those same workflows are put in place to keep the chaos at bay. Here are a few tricks I’ve learned to help creatives make peace with process.

1. Make process invisible.

Good design is invisible, as the old adage says. In other words, when it’s working well, you should barely notice it. The design simply supports and helps communicate the message. The same is true for today’s automated work processes.

When an enterprise work management platform is implemented in a seamless and customized way, in support of the work itself, your team will quickly stop viewing processes and workflows as restrictive boundaries or barriers. They’ll see them as scaffolding that allows them to climb higher—more confidently—than ever before.

2. Embrace automation.

As alluded to in step one, automation is making inroads into every stage of the modern workflow—initiation, planning, assignments, execution, delivery, and measurement. For each of these six stages, I’ll highlight one small example of how automation can eliminate busy work and repetitive tasks, freeing up creatives for higher-impact work:

Initiation: Require all work requests to come in through the same portal, whether through a Google Form and an auto-populated spreadsheet or through an integrated work-request tool. No more sticky notes, emails, and instant messages to comb through to figure out what needs to be done.

Planning: Create and apply project templates to all work requests for repeatable work, including developing a complete task list, assigning job roles to tasks, and estimating the duration and planned hours of each task. No more half-day meetings spent hammering out the details from scratch.

Assigning: Take advantage of the built-in resource planning tools in a work management platform, which can track availability and utilization rates. No more guesswork or emailing everyone to find out who has bandwidth.

Execution: Streamline reviews and approvals with digital proofing, which collects everyone’s comments in one central location. No more confusing email chains, conflicting feedback, or paper copies circulating the office.

Delivery: Invest in digital asset management (DAM) to provide a central storage location for all digital assets and enable easy sharing with clients and executives. No more version control issues or lost files.

Measurement: Set standard key performance indicators (KPIs) up front, and rely on automated reports and dashboard updates to reflect where you stand currently, the progress you’re making, and where you want to be. No more waiting until the end to hash it all out in a post-mortem meeting.

It goes without saying that some of these tasks (such as creating and applying project templates) might best be accomplished by a project management expert, system administrator, or studio manager, with heavy input from creative team members.

3. Meet creatives where they are.

Take the technology to the people. “If you build it, they will come,” may have worked for Kevin Costner, but it doesn’t work for today’s modern marketer.

One shining example of this mindset is Monique Evans, an enterprise work management system analyst at Stanley Black & Decker, where she supports a marketing team comprising 500 team members and 1,500 internal and external collaborators. Monique is a big proponent of keeping users inside their native programs, so they’re not constantly switching between different applications and being forced to manually input updates about their projects.

She relies heavily on plug-ins that allow her team members to stay inside the programs they’re most comfortable with, sending status updates and files with a touch of a button, without switching apps. “Your designers want to be in Adobe,” she says. “They want to just create and live in that space as long as possible.” The same goes for sales staff who’d rather be in Salesforce or traffic managers who live in their email inboxes.

Make peace with process.

Most creatives (including creative services teams, in-house agencies, marketing departments, marketing operations, new product development teams) are resist being boxed in by overly rigid workflows. And who can blame them? But once they experience the benefits of invisible, automated work processes that allow them to focus more of their time on the work they were hired to do, their resistance magically disappears.

When the right digital processes are in place, marketers at every level of the department will be empowered to deliver consistent, high-quality work, increase their speed to market, make better-informed decisions, and most enticing of all, reclaim time for innovation and creativity.

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