Let's face it, managers who lead in-house agencies have a lot on their shoulders. They're tasked with delivering high-level creative, providing value, and being responsive - all while keeping teams happy, motivated, and loyal members of the organization. Assigning the right talent at the right time for the right job has a huge impact on the success of all these sometimes-competing priorities. Here are 10 tested and trusted steps for making just-right assignments.
1. Know the client
When possible, it makes sense to assign the same team to work on a specific account. This helps team members gain a deep understanding of the client's business issues, exercise close familiarity with the branding and support the messaging with clarity. The practice can also lead to more accurate estimating (e.g., "Remember, we should assume that this client will require more approval/revision rounds."). Plus, a team's repeated experience with the same client can also inform needed workflow steps (e.g., "We have to provide wireframes for the client's approval before we kick off the agile development for this website.").
2. Hone the project discovery process
The discovery process produces a sharp, up-front understanding of the project, and the sooner there's a clear picture of the scope of work, the earlier the right talent can be assigned. Intake forms, a creative brief that's succinct but comprehensive, and account managers who are skilled in asking the right questions go a long way in speeding up the knowledge transfer. (And needless time won't be spent selecting resources to deliver 6-second video clips for social media when infographics for a print campaign are what the client actually intended.)
3. Define tier requirements
A clear description of how incoming work will be tiered, and which roles/ type of talent will be used for each tier, provides a great blueprint for building out team assignments for specific projects. For example, Tier 2 work will require a graphic designer to implement the project and an art director to review it. Tier 3 work requires extreme attention to detail and speedy turnarounds, so an experienced production artist should be assigned. And so on.
4. Develop accurate job descriptions
For each role on the team, create a full list of tasks, responsibilities, and skills specific to that position. In addition, make sure the job description includes personal characteristics and aptitudes that are most important in this particular role. These are vital factors to consider--not just when recruiting, interviewing and hiring new employees--but also when assigning talent to projects after they join the team. Does the work call for strong conceptual thinking? Close collaboration with others? Self-motivation? The answers can have a big impact on performance and client satisfaction.
Identify your in-house agency's improvement opportunities.
5. Create a team skills grid
In-house agencies can benefit greatly from talent who can wear multiple hats or possess multiple skills, such as graphic designers who know PowerPoint or content strategists who can also write copy. Developing a grid of the group's various skills is both easy and helpful. Simply list each individual team member in one column on the left. To the right, include a column for each of the various skills, and check off the ones performed by each person. The result is a ready reference guide for making productive assignments.
6. Support talent's path to full productivity
It's only natural to want our team members to feel confident and comfortable. That's why some in-house agencies are devoting a good deal more attention to beefing up their onboarding and ongoing training programs, making them complete and consistent across the organization. One way to help new talent gain the assurance to act autonomously is to make numerous reference documents easily accessible after the initial onboarding period. Also, assigning new employees a buddy, right from the start, gives them a go-to resource so they can quickly achieve and maintain high performance--as opposed spinning their wheels trying to figure out studio processes, policies and structure on their own.
7. Specify process handoffs in writing
At times, clearly delineated skills may be needed from different groups for one project. For example, a single campaign concept may call for print and digital executions, each supported by different talent or teams. In such cases, the hand-offs of work from person to person should be as smooth and painless as possible. Operational Level Agreements (OLAs) can serve as ideal hand-off documentation. Created at the project's inception, the OLA should include the creative brief and a list of available assets together with their locations, as well as the responsibilities of the various personnel supporting the project. This documentation relieves the stress of ensuring that appropriate team members collaborate efficiently and effectively with their peers at the appropriate times.
8. Fully document workflows
This task can be a big lift the first time it's undertaken, but it is well worth the effort to define the entire work process, noting where and when each hand-off occurs and which roles are involved. For example, the art director might hand off to the associate graphic designer after the client approves the concept, or the account manager would hand off to the project manager right before the execution phase begins. Documenting workflows from start to finish provides a huge benefit to managers and team members alike; the right person knows that they will join, or transition out of, the project at the right phase.
9. Fit the vibe of the agency
No manager can make the right assignment if they don't have talent who can work with the rest of the group. Processes and techniques can be taught, but employers can't change a person's fundamental personality. If the goal is to fill the team only with hard-working, smart, nice people, avoid hiring a candidate who isn't a good culture fit--event if there's a lot of pressure to make the hire. Bending criteria on this point never works out; eventually the deliverables and the rest of the team will suffer.
10. Have the team member's back
It's not always possible to get assignments absolutely right. Projects morph. Clients get swapped. For those situations when things seem to be going downhill, or a less-than-ideal decision was made in the first place, team members should feel they can approach their manager and be honest about their concerns for a given project. The manager can then make an adjustment in the moment, or at least get it right the next time.
A team lead who makes these 10 practices a priority, establishing loyalty and great communication with their group of amazing and gifted individuals, will not only be able to resource projects properly, they will have a team that works so well together that it consistently meets and exceeds client expectations within a supportive and nurturing environment.