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July 15, 2017 - Comments Off on Killer Ops: The Tech Stack

Killer Ops: The Tech Stack

About the Killer Ops series:

How can creative teams increase their Value Proposition? How can they become better strategic partners in the organization? Following the entrepreneurial model of Product Development, creative teams – and organizations – can learn to think and act like a startup, to develop a framework for continuous innovation, improved operations, and greater success.

What This is About: Analyze your creative Tech Stack by studying your current needs and existing tools, and mapping your toolkit ecosystem.

Why it Matters: A Tech Stack Canvas is a powerful way to analyze your core needs and evaluate your digital toolkit, using four quadrants. This visualization will structure your thinking about the Tech Stack you need to thrive — helping with your decision-making and your business case when the time comes to fight for better tools.

Virtually everything that happens in today’s creative teams is built on or distributed through technology. I’m mostly interested in the production process and our whole stack is digital —  work is digitally generated, approved, and distributed.

Wouldn't it would make sense for us to have the best digital tools?

Reality is a little different — and the tech is often straggling and struggling.

At present, my digital designer teams have blown past all the digital tools that support the work. I’m scrambling to replace a cobbled-together collection of tools that don’t work well, and certainly don’t work together. This is a challenge many of us face.

In most businesses, even creative ones, technology solutions are chosen and built out by the business or IT branches of the organization. These guys are very protective of their turf, and they are likely to feel threatened by other parts of the org horning in and asking/telling them what to do.

But we must try — it’s the only way out of this rut. You’ve got to make a persuasive business case — and the Tech Stack Canvas will show you a different a way of thinking that can help.

We’ll have to study both sides of the coin — the business needs we’re facing, and the current state of our tech. (NOTE: This is not about the basic things provided by your IT team, such as servers, email, ftp, Microsoft Office, or the Adobe Creative Suite.)

On the front of the coin is your team: What tasks and processes are you currently doing that are assisted by, or performed via, technology? Identify themes for the type of work being done, or the types of media or information being managed, and your distribution and communication processes.

The back of the coin is the current tech that you use: Identify every piece of the tech stack, including any enterprise systems plus cobbled-together tools, and DIY tools that your users have brought on board.

To round things out, do some research and survey the marketplace. A great place to find potential solution providers all in one spot is at industry events such as the Creative Operations Exchange conference, or the Henry Stewart digital asset management conferences. This takes work. But you want to create a short list of potential systems and solutions to streamline your workflow, improve communications and job tracking, or eliminate multiple third-party tools by combining their functionality into one system.

Areas where good tech can really make a difference include managing:

  • content creation
  • project management
  • review and approval
  • digital asset management
  • information such as creative briefs, communication and task assignment
  • channels of distribution

Now’s also a good time to go back and review what you learned from talking to people outside your company. Find out what else you should be considering — what works in situations similar to yours?

I developed a Tech Stack Canvas, utilizing a quadrant-based visualization, to examine four core areas of creative operations where tech plays a crucial role.

Four Quadrants of the Tech Stack Canvas

Content & Production: How do we manage our collaborative server-based workflow so that projects and files can be located and passed off from one staffer to another as needed? How do we manage the approval of the creative content developed by multiple teams during the course of every campaign? How do we audit our work for brand and campaign consistency? Do we have a linear approval process, or a fluid one?

Digital Assets: What types of digital assets do we have in our business? How do we make our selected video clips, logos, photography, and finished graphics available for use across all three teams? Are our assets just for internal consumption, or for distribution? How much do we need to worry about metadata?

Projects & Tasks: How are creative briefs managed — are they in a central easily findable location? Do we assign jobs as one-offs, as staffers become available, or is a campaign/project assigned in toto to an individual or small team? How are the mandatories communicated? How is the campaign style established and enforced? How do project managers and designers know when the umpteenth version of a thing is finally approved?

Distribution Channels: How does each bit of our content reach its proper destination? Where does it go, exactly? How is it delivered?

I know that this Tech Stack Canvas works.

The structured thinking that this canvas produced helped me twice — at both Comedy Central and AT&T — to provide a business justification for why we needed specific systems and tools. It explained clearly why I fought to develop internally our own digital content hub to manage our creative review and approval. By charting our business needs, and potential vendors, in the appropriate quadrant, it became clear what our needs were and the shortcomings of existing vendor solutions.

The sample Tech Stack Canvas below helped me explain the difference between digital media and information, and the internal production process vs publishing — and then I dropped in vendor names to show the ecosystem and bolster my argument for building a bespoke system.

Example Tech Stack Canvas

Link: Download my Tech Stack and Vendor Research worksheet


Create three tech stack models: The first shows your areas of activity logically grouped into as few clusters as possible; the second identifies your current tech stack; the third model identifies potential solution providers for these business needs and activities. The finished models are something you can show to your technology and business teams — and you’ll wow them by talking their language.

March 3, 2017 - Comments Off on Killer Ops: Empathy Maps

Killer Ops: Empathy Maps

Empathy Maps

by Kevin Gepford

What This Is Gleans the juicy parts from your interviews to show what challenges your team, and what they see, think, feel, and hear.

Why it Matters Brings home the pain and aspirations of the people you work with and shows you the things that your Future Creative Ops might be able to resolve.

You’ve done the same during your interviews and persona development — uncovering numerous pain points within your team. Product Managers put a lot of effort into learning more about their customers to glean insights about their pains, needs and problems. This brings focus to the development of their product or app.

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January 18, 2017 - Comments Off on Killer Ops: The Power of Personas

Killer Ops: The Power of Personas

Power of Personas

by Kevin Gepford

What This Is: User personas are composite profiles that represent clusters of users.

Why it Matters: Personas humanize the key themes across our creative work group, while stripping out the distraction of real identities. Personas capture the needs and behaviors of the people in our team, and also help inform your department direction and strategy.

Our journey of applying the methods of Product Management to Creative Operations continues with personas. Every app developer on the planet does this. I’m using personas during my current development project to create a centralized workflow system for the digital marketing group at AT&T.

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December 19, 2016 - Comments Off on Killer Ops: External Interviews

Killer Ops: External Interviews

Series - A Farther Look

by Kevin Gepford

What’s Special About External Interviews? We’re getting the expert views of people outside our business workplaces.

Why External Interviews Matter An outside perspective will help give us context, inspiration, and confidence.

Research conducted within your team and organization will reveal a lot of great insights about how the place is actually functioning, and what your team thinks about ways to make things better.

Now, you need to get out of the building!

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October 4, 2016 - Comments Off on Killer Ops: Internal Interviews

Killer Ops: Internal Interviews

Series - A Closer Look

by Kevin Gepford

What’s Special About Internal Interviews? The focus is inward — a deep dive with your team and people from the groups you serve and support.

Why Internal Interviews Matter These help us get a clearer picture of our team’s workflow, environment and needs.

There’s a ton of reasons why start-ups and new products fail. But a big one is a poor understanding of the market and the needs of the potential users. Creative Operations teams needs the same level of attention, and research, rather than just running on autopilot.

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September 18, 2016 - Comments Off on Killer Ops: Minimum Viable Product?

Killer Ops: Minimum Viable Product?

Series - Minimum Viable Product

by Kevin Gepford

How does Creative Ops define MVP? Validating an idea by identifying the smallest things that could be done to get results.

Why it Matters By starting small you test your ideas, as well as gain momentum, experience and credibility in your quest to make a bigger difference.

Product Managers talk about Minimum Viable Product as a way of building a prototype with just enough features to gather validated learning about the product and its continued development.

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July 13, 2016 - Comments Off on Killer Ops: Your Business Model

Killer Ops: Your Business Model

Series - Business Model Design

by Kevin Gepford

What’s the Business Model Canvas? The Canvas is a one-page template that lays out both what you do, and how you go about doing it. It documents existing business models — or helps develop new ones — and provides a framework for you to design, challenge, invent, and change.

Why it Matters The canvas forces you to distill everything you do down to its essence — and create a document that visually explains it. The template works for businesses and start-ups, and also for teams and departments within larger organizations.

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June 16, 2016 - Comments Off on Killer Ops: SWOT Analysis

Killer Ops: SWOT Analysis

Series - SWOT

by Kevin Gepford

What’s SWOT?: SWOT analysis is a framework for doing research and formulating a business strategy. It analyzes strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats, and can be applied to existing businesses, teams and departments, and new business ideas.

Why it Matters: This is essential for developing your group’s Value Proposition. Insights from your internal research are synthesized to map ways to improve operations, use resources more efficiently, and anticipate risks to your group and its success.

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May 7, 2016 - Comments Off on Killer Ops: How to Make a Plan

Killer Ops: How to Make a Plan

Series - Make a Plan

by Kevin Gepford

What This Is: A results-oriented series of steps to flesh out an idea and carry it to the finish line.

Why It’s Important: Winging it is not a business plan.

Let’s take a look at each step from a Product Management perspective, and apply it to Creative Ops.

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April 30, 2016 - Comments Off on Killer Ops: First Steps of Discovery

Killer Ops: First Steps of Discovery

Series - First Steps

by Kevin Gepford

What This Is: Put on the thinking cap and come up with broad ideas about how to improve Creative Operations.

Why It’s Important: Without a plan, we won’t know where we’re going.

The opening act for Product Managers is The Big Idea — to conceive… to dream, to imagine, and to form a plan.

It’s also the first step for Creative Operations managers who embrace the challenge to improve the productivity of their creative staff through better tools, systems, and methods.

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April 25, 2016 - Comments Off on Killer Ops: What Can We Learn from Product Management?

Killer Ops: What Can We Learn from Product Management?

Series - Creative Ops Can Learn from Product Management

(This Article is First in a Series)

by Kevin Gepford

As a Creative Operations leader you see your team struggling on a daily basis to get the work done, in an environment that sorely needs a makeover.

The creative workplace is largely reactive — lurching from crises to crisis, shooting at everything in sight, rushing to meet deadlines, and driven by creative visionaries with their mercurial ways.

We need to make some changes in our approach. As the Grail Knight said to Indiana Jones in “The Last Crusade”: It’s important to choose wisely.

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