I hope those of you who came to your leadership roles by way of design appreciate the wordplay of this post's title. In this post I'm going to speak not to the alignment of text, but rather "justified" as in business justification--a critical practice we creative team leaders must engage in more and more frequently.

As the organizations for which we work become leaner, meaner and more marketing savvy, an increased number of departments are taking an interest in creative services' bottom line. The team's value proposition, requests for additional resources, productivity, efficiency, staffing and operational infrastructure are being scrutinized and often challenged. Whether it's Procurement, Finance, HR or the C-suite who want to peek under our hood, we need to be prepared to offer business rationale to validate not only our proposals, but also our very existence. And said rationale needs to be detailed but succinct; objective but compelling; and, most importantly, quantifiable but qualitative.

To position yourself to be able to provide justification you absolutely, unequivocally and positively MUST CAPTURE TIME--and do it in a way that affords you the ability to parse exactly who worked that time, how that time was used and on what that time was spent. Only then will you be able to identify operational successes that validate the value your team brings to your organization as well as highlight gaps that need to be addressed to increase team productivity and efficiencies.

While the primary quantitative metrics that include revenue, overhead, productivity (man-hours per unit of a deliverable), utilization (billable or functional hours per team member) and duration (the time it takes to pull through a deliverable from initiation to close) are critical, it's equally important that you gather client and peer group feedback that captures the quality that your team delivers on--both in terms of the actual deliverable and customer service.

Once you have the data and a request that needs to be backed up with rationale or a challenge posed by upper management that must be addressed, you need to "package" your justification in a way that resonates with your audience. The medium might be a PowerPoint deck, Word doc or Excel spreadsheet (or a combination of the 3) and the data might be presented as charts, graphs, spreadsheets, bullet points or in paragraph form (and again a possible mix of these formats).

The structure of the justification typically should include (in this order):

  • An overview that captures the reason for the justification of what you're asking for and why, or what you've been requested to justify and why
  • An assessment--a reporting of the data captured through and audit or report
  • An analysis of the assessed data
  • The final proposal for a request or answer to a request or rebuttal to a challenge

There is value in engaging in the practice of providing business justifications and rationale as it gives you insight into the value your team brings to your organization so that you can strategically build on that value. It also provides you a window into operational and structural gaps that need attention and resources devoted to them. But with the benefits the practice of justification brings comes the danger of over analysis and an excessive unreasonable need for justification that is inefficient, arbitrary and can strangle you and your team's productivity where you find yourselves spending more time on providing rationales than actually executing on improvement initiatives and the actual deliverables and services your teams are tasked with providing to your clients.

Proactively engaging in ongoing detailed time capture and the templating of justification documentation is the best course to setting you and your team up to efficiently and effectively meet the ever growing need for business rationale without sinking into the quagmire of analysis paralysis. That's the "justified right" that will set you and your team up for success.