When we're defining creative processes it's easy to over-complicate things. Sometimes this is due to the documenters not being familiar with the process, sometimes it's because we get bogged down in all of the exceptions that occur that seem to get most of the attention, and sometimes, it's because we've truly overcomplicated the way we do our work. If you're feeling that your processes seem more complicated than they need to be, or are taking longer than seems reasonable, maybe it's time to step back and take a new look at how you're managing your work.

The short answer to getting back to basics is pretty simple:

  • Eliminate waste--unnecessary steps, too many reviews, create from scratch when not necessary, etc.
  • Insure all steps add value--if it doesn't add value, why are you doing it? (This value could be for reporting data, compliance or other required steps.)
  • Define tasks simply with one verb and one noun--"Throw the ball." Often we create compound tasks that should really be explicit in the process definition. Recognize milestones that take the form of "Concept Complete" which is not a task, but a result.

Here are some more specific basics that can help when defining processes.


  • Be explicit at intake--It's important that the complexity of the process match the job. We often define processes based on doing new creative and forget that 80-90% of our work is modifying existing pieces.
  • Be explicit at intake (Part 2)--Make sure all the information needed to move forward is defined up front before starting work. Often, lots of time is wasted in going back to the client to gather additional information or to clarify points that should have been clear at intake.
  • Identify the value added for each task--This is usually easy, such as, 'an image is resized' or 'web page is updated with new content.' It can even be something like, 'enter time in tracking system.' This last one may not add value to the project, but it does add value to the organization.
  • Be sure each task has an owner--Particularly when there are collaborative steps like kick-off meetings or 'review with management,' it's easy to identify a process step without explicitly identifying the owner. If there is no ownership, there is no accountability.
  • Be clear when collaboration is needed--Sometimes processes have parallel activities such as 'write copy' and 'develop design.' If these activities require collaboration between the participants, call it out. You may avoid having the copy and design come together later and finding out that the design assumed headlines that aren't there, or the text is too long for the allotted space. Then you're back to rework that could have been easily avoided.
  • Identify appropriate task durations--It's important to develop task durations that are specific to the deliverable. 'Create Concept' will take longer for a brochure than for an email. Capture this in your processes and you will be able to estimate delivery times much more accurately (and deliver on time more frequently).
  • Identify the right reviewers (and the wrong ones)--Look carefully at why each reviewer is included for each type of project. It may be possible to eliminate unneeded reviews by empowering staff to a greater degree and also by recognizing levels of strategic importance. In other words, maybe the VP of marketing doesn't need to sign off on everything going through the department.

These suggestions are pretty basic when you're defining process, but they're often overlooked. Step back and look at your processes with a different perspective, and the result may be an organization that is more efficient and more effective.