It seems like an almost unreasonable demand: your agency is given a job, the deliverable is established, a deadline has been determined. Then suddenly your time is cut in half, and your best copy writer is out sick this week. Yet the content you deliver still has to be perfect.

In today's world "not enough time" is always the case. How do creative agencies maintain high quality when time is crunched even more than usual?

Although an agency's creative development path is rarely a straight line, there are still ways to minimize the impact to quality when your life cycle is condensed. Here are 4 ways every agency can improve their chances of coming out on top when time is even less of a luxury.

1. Understand how creative fits into the "big picture"

By realizing you're part of a larger life cycle you begin to appreciate the many factors that can influence deadlines. Agency work often originates from a client initiative, which has its own life cycle. Like all businesses, you can't always predict what's coming your way. An unanticipated snafu or change in a client's original initiative often leads to a change in your deadline.

Need some examples?

An email server issue can delay delivery of a creative brief. A national holiday, not taken into consideration early on, can push up a mail date. Or, a vendor's delay in producing a proof for you to distribute to your client can shrink your already diminished timeline. In any case, you're either forced to deliver your creative content before your deadline or on the original due date--but with a much later start date.

Wherever you are in the larger lifecycle, understanding where you fall in the big picture can give you a more realistic view of what to anticipate.

2. Establish Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs)

When you think of the creative process, "Operating Procedure" is probably not the first phrase to pop into your mind. However, SOPs aren't there to hinder creativity, but rather to manage the logistics of developing and delivering creative content.

Documenting and managing to the steps required to produce creative content is the first stage. Assigning roles and estimated durations to those steps is the second. Finally, you can set up rules of engagement. By establishing SOPs you can determine where in the life cycle time is being crunched, who it will impact and how to address any changes more quickly and effectively.

Standard operating procedures are great for when you're operating in standard mode. What about exceptions? Disasters that truly impact business are few and far between (thank goodness). Nonetheless, they do occur (we all remember Hurricane Katrina, 9/11 and our recent recession). More often, changes in a client's business strategy or personnel can force you into a creative about-face as they task you to focus efforts on something other than what was planned.

In the event of these unforeseen events, you want a way to quickly tap into established work and circumvent longer drawn out processes. This is where protocols come in. They are "In case of Emergency" instructions. Most industries adhere to the 80/20 Rule. In this case, it's 80% standard process and 20% exceptions.

Some jobs start off as typical work that mid cycle can fall into the 20% category. Having processes established and knowing how to transition to exception protocol can save critical time and help maintain the integrity and quality of work.

3. Stay Organized

Simple things like maintaining creative brief documents, tracking progress and assigning accountability are key components of any creative development process. However, organization becomes critical when a job shifts to a fast track. Keeping information cataloged and organized means less time spent hunting down briefs, proofs, approvals and other details. The ability to access information or content previously developed can save precious time when your deadline is closing in.

4. Leverage Your Experience

One of your vendors is always out of a particular paper stock during the holiday season. A client is notorious for post-production script changes for their radio ads. The person in charge of capturing brief information on your jobs always leaves out vital material. All of these scenarios can eat up your already scarce time. By learning from these experiences and incorporating workarounds--or preferably--permanent solutions, you'll be better prepared for the next time you're blindsided.

Even when time isn't an issue, it's easy for quality to take a back seat to the "get it out the door" mentality. However, by understanding how outside influences can impact your timeline and having strategies in place to deal with them, you stand a better chance at delivering high quality work--regardless of deadline.

We still have seats available at our DC/Baltimore (May 17th), Northern New Jersey (June 7th) and Philadelphia (June 8th) CreativeExecs Roundtables; we'll be discussing "affecting client behaviors." Learn more, including how to reserve your seat, at http://www.cellaconsulting.com/CreativeExecsNetwork/CreativeExecs_Roundtables/.

Cella consultant Marisa Scorsone has extensive experience supporting designing and implementing improved processes and SOPs for in-house creative agencies. She feels strongly that for processes to be most effective, they must be supported by a strong organizational structure with qualified talent, clearly defined roles and responsibilities, and technology (as appropriate). Marisa is an industry expert in the selection, customization and implementation of marketing applications and operational procedures--successfully integrating the two so that technology and company best practices have a synergistic relationship, rather than an opposing one. Marisa has worked with numerous Fortune 500 and other leading companies, and with creative teams as small as ten and as large as 300+.