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By Joshua Belhumeur

A Workflow that Works

How we keep our agency running smoothly.

BRINK has a bit of an uphill battle when it comes to managing its workflow. We are split between two coasts 3 hours apart, have a relatively large team acting as one unit, work on as many as 15 individual client projects at once and specialize in crisis communications and rapid response requiring frequent and immediate turnarounds.

With us, you can throw project management blueprints out the window. You can’t run a legitimate scrum workflow when the sprint is interrupted 3 times a day. And it’s hard enough estimating and budgeting development tasks without the uncertainty built into a lot of the projects we work on which are unique to each client. On top of it all, we are diligent about work-life balance and averaging 40 hours weeks with our team (something we think is abused in our industry).

So how do we make it work? It’s about accountability, open communication, frequent evaluation and flexibility. Like good jazz music, we have to improvise our way through it but work within a framework that ensures we produce in an order that makes sense and delivers on our clients expectations.

Here are 5 key lessons we’ve learned:

1. If it’s not in writing, it didn’t happen.  

Verbal instructions and decisions are easy to forget and lose track of. And when you need to loop others into a project, anything originally relayed verbally is almost certainly lost on them. For us, all tasks are logged and assigned in Basecamp, all meetings have notes and action items and all decisions are noted in discussion threads. We have to all be on the same page in order to work together effectively.

2. Know your priorities.

Given that it becomes impossible for us to budget everyone’s time, instead its important we assess priorities on a week-to-week and day-to-day basis. I think we are naturally motivated to do easier tasks first because it makes us feel like more progress is being made. It’s important we fight that urge and instead take on tasks based on importance and deadlines. Always be evaluating priorities.

3. Identify bottlenecks. 

It’s a standard cornerstone of operations management but it’s easy to overlook. Whenever there are bottlenecks (points where one person’s work holds up others) those tasks become the highest priority to keep us moving forward. If there are steps we can take to curtail bottlenecks, we do it. This includes the flexibility to allow different individuals to make decisions on their own to move projects forward. For example: a developer can make design inferences on pages based on established style rules and then go back to the designer at a later time for help in designing specific components.

4. Everything is a task.

We use task assignments for conversations and decisions, in addition to traditional to-dos. For example: a developer needs a missing element to be design. He assigns the task to the designer, the designer creates the asset and assigns it to the Creative Director for approval. The CD approves and assigns back to the developer. The developer completes the task and assigns it to the QA lead. They verify and assign to the Strategist who then marks it as resolved with a final quality control check. The same Basecamp task has changed hands 5 times, each step of the way with noted needs, files and discussions within the thread. There is a written record of what was done and full accountability and respect for everyone’s role with no confusion.

5. Insulate the production team. 

The client-facing members of our team (our Strategists) have a responsibility to filter client requests down to easy, actionable tasks. They have the expertise to identify and address potential issues up front and to seek clarity whenever needed with the goal of keeping the team focused on creativity and execution and not the intricacies of client management. Read more about our account management philosophy here.

Communication is the key to success. We just aren’t in a position to be able to have tight weekly sprints with burndown charts and incredible management dashboards that tell us exactly who has what availability. Yet we can still hit our deadlines, keep a sense of our total bandwidth and move projects forward rapidly, all while maintaining a good work-life balance for our employees.

What are some practices your agency follows to keep the machine moving forward? Tweet us about it.
By Joshua Belhumeur