When I'm looking at the efficiency of creative services organizations I try to look beyond process details and technology tools to identify those conditions that may be impeding the organizational performance. It's amazing how many different ways it's possible to "gum up the works." Usually these things come to light during interviews with creative staff as we talk about process and possible bottlenecks. Most often they are things that either interrupt work or cause work to be redone. Some examples I've heard are:

  • Clients don't get us all the information we need to do the project
  • High priority, rush jobs are always interrupting our work on "normal" jobs
  • Legal (or some other department) takes way too long to get approvals back
  • It takes more time to put everything in the workflow system than to do the job
  • The client is always making last-minute changes

If you can identify the one or two things that consistently cause disruptions in work, missed deadlines, or superhuman effort, you have a great opportunity to improve your organizational efficiency.

So you've identified your "Achilles' heel," and it's probably not a big surprise, since people have been complaining about it for years. Now what? If you've been trying to fix this issue, but without success, it is likely because you've been focusing on symptoms and not on the true cause of the problem. There is a great simple technique from Lean Six Sigma that may be just what you need.

The "5 Whys" is simply asking why repeatedly until you arrive at a true root cause of the problem. "5 Whys" is particularly useful in processes that include human interactions and can be easily applied by itself, without using any other Lean or Six Sigma techniques. There is nothing magic about the number 5, but it's a pretty good rule of thumb to remind us that it's usually necessary to work through multiple layers of symptoms before we get to the true root cause of any problem.

Let's take the first example above where clients are not providing all of the information needed by the creative team. The problem might be, "We don't have enough information at the start of the project."

  • Why? Well, they aren't filling out the brief correctly.
  • Why? The brief doesn't specifically ask for the information that is missing.
  • Why? The brief was developed for a different type of project and repurposed.

  • So now after 3 whys, you've got a pretty good idea what the root cause is. Now you can brainstorm solutions to a specific problem. In this simple example, the brief is the problem, not that your client just isn't doing their job. And the solution is pretty obvious.

    It's not always as easy as this example but this technique is often all you need to make an impact on a specific problem. The three steps to remember are:

    • Clearly identify a specific problem
    • Apply the "5 Whys" approach until you identify the root cause of the problem
    • Brainstorm, and then try, a solution to the underlying root cause

    • This technique isn't going to help you rework your process workflows or apply industry best practices, but it can be a great way to deal with that irritating issue that seems to always be getting in the way of your efficient operation. For the rest of your process work, call us at Cella. We're anxious to help.