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Studio Sense: Three reasons creative managers can’t tell the boss what’s coming up next month

“So, what will the creative team be working on next month?”

No matter how many times you sit opposite your CMO or director and hear this question, it never ceases to elicit discomfort. You, as a creative manager, want to give an accurate, detailed response that proves you’re on top of things – that you have a firm grip on all of the work coming through your shop. But, more often than not, although you might know the large projects that will occupy the majority of your team’s time, you’re left guessing when it comes to all the smaller tasks and ad hoc requests in between.

The good news: you’re not alone. Forecasting team workloads is a major challenge for most creative managers. It’s extremely difficult to budget resources, personnel and time when you can’t see what’s coming up next week, let alone next month or beyond.

The bad news: you probably still don’t know why exactly you can’t tell your boss what your team will be working on next month.

Plainly said, even within creative teams, the right hand doesn’t always know what the left hand is doing. This leaves the creative manager without insight into how much time tasks take and, therefore, unable to make any realistic forecasts. And then – let’s be honest – creative teams often neglect planning in general, skip steps, and leave things undone until the last minute. Add unexpected requests from other departments to this mix, and you have a recipe for lots of overpromising and under-delivering. And let’s not forget all the awkward stammering and guesstimating in front of your boss.No wonder that, according to a new study by Workfront, 55 per cent of marketers, including creatives, listed “proving your value to people who don’t understand what you do” as the their top source of stress at work.

Inevitably, you will find yourself back in the hot seat, answering that same question. But there are ways to ensure that, the next time, you can give a response worthy of the creative manager you aspire to be, to present an accurate, informed picture of what your creative team will be working on next month and maybe even the month after that. Start this transformation by improving these three critical areas of your team’s work management:

1. Your work request system 

In most creative teams, requests come through a multitude of means. The Workfront study revealed that 63 per cent of marketers receive work requests through email, and one in five creatives receive additional requests during status meetings. Because work comes from so many sources, it’s easy for things to slip through the cracks and for accountability to be nil. This lack of standardised procedure makes it very difficult for a creative manager to plan resources and timelines.

To fix this problem, creative managers should focus on centralising their request intake process. A small team might designate a specific email alias for all incoming work requests (such as projects@yourdomain.com) and designate one individual to accept, assign, and prioritise those requests. Larger organisations, on the other hand, tend to do better with software designed for this specific task, such as ticketing systems. Regardless of size, the key principle here is consolidating the places where you receive requests down to one.

In the long run, the more integrated your request management software is with the software you use for managing work, the better your visibility, as a creative manager, will be into your team’s work.

2. Your team’s workloads

As the creative manager, it’s your job to assign tasks based on who has the right skills – and the bandwidth – to handle the work. But, when creative managers can’t see who’s working on what, it’s easy to pile on too much – or too little. Interestingly, the Workfront study found that more than one in ten creatives felt that they were chronically under-loaded at work. And where did their would-be work go? To their peers – 77 per cent of creatives reported being overloaded. Obviously, the under-loaded few have a huge impact on the team as a whole.

In order to balance team members’ workloads successfully, a creative manager needs full visibility into who’s working on what, due dates, and project status. For smaller teams, this might take the form of a self-reporting spreadsheet or a project manager who follows up regularly with team members. For larger teams, however, the best solutions will automate this process, hopefully in real time. In this situation, rather than focusing on the often-monumental task of gathering data, the creative manager can focus on the more important task of spotting overloaded individuals and shifting their assignments to less busy team members.

3. Planning for ad hoc requests

Packing your team’s available bandwidth at 100 per cent capacity is a mistake. Failure to leave room for the inevitable unexpected requests sets your team up for failure: when ad hoc requests come in, they throw off the entire work plan and timeline.

Instead of committing yourself and your team at 100 per cent, the savvy creative manager will leave a little “wiggle room” – 10 or 15 per cent – for ad hoc requests. This way, when they do come up, it won’t set your entire workload and deadlines off course. And, if you get lucky and no ad hoc work materialises, fill that time with professional development, team-building, and other activities that seem to always take a backseat when the pressure is on.

Seeing Future Challenges and Opportunities

Every creative manager wants to be able to tell their boss exactly what the future holds for their team. One often unforeseen benefit of this advanced forecasting is that creative managers than have the time and visibility to improve how their team works and to foresee challenges before they become serious. Suddenly, you’re not just planning for the future, but actually improving it. That’s far better than giving your boss the deer-in-headlights look the next time he or she asks, “So, what will your team be working on next month?”

Jada Balster, marketing director EMEA, Workfront, emea-enquiry@
workfront.com

Studio Sense is CR’s sponsored series of expert opinion pieces. If you would like to contribute, contact emma.underhill@centaurmedia.com

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