It all started with some grunt work that landed on my team, in the downdraft of a corporate downsizing that wiped out the old group doing the work. Suddenly, I was responsible for producing masses of product images (think: cellphones and their accessories) for AT&T’s e-commerce website. To deliver the work, I had to take three designers away from high-priority work… at the worst possible time.[Read more…] about I automated Hidden Factories out of existence, but no jobs were lost
Brilliant creative work starts with the germ of an idea, built out by a great design team.
But ideas don’t just emerge, fully expressed, into a welcoming world. Success hinges on brilliant execution— a good battle plan… how the great work gets produced, to ensure top-quality execution and a smooth landing.
I love the creative process, and I love seeing ideas being brought to life. But what I’m truly obsessed with is the middle part — how the work-in-progress happens. To be sure, success in this realm depends a great deal on a talented and dedicated team, and also discipline and good processes.
But a major facet of execution is also the tech — the tools used in the process of producing the work, and how they enable the flow of ideas and design and content iterations during the creative development process.[Read more…] about Improvising with Digital Tools is not a Strategy
Summary: There are many reasons why today’s digital workforce don’t always have the right tools or systems for their jobs. But in the end, it’s the work that suffers. Baked-in friction makes tasks harder, not easier. And there’s lost opportunity along every step of the way — distorting not only the process, but also the outcome.
I’ve been the dismayed observer of workgroups being gifted digital tools that are totally wrong for their jobs… and I’ve watched in amazement at the lengths these same users will go — out of frustration — to create clever hacks and workarounds.
One cause is a lack of structure… actually, no structure at all. Users confront a mess of scattered applications (email, spreadsheets, files on a network drive) that evolved and mutated over the ages. I jokingly call this a grassroots tech stack — cobbled together by people just trying to get through the day. Definitely not the result of any systematic approach.
Another cause might be a tool that simply has the wrong focus. Software systems acquired for some specific original purpose are then deployed across the enterprise in ways that would make even the creators of the system cringe.
At my place of work, we use an industry-standard software bug tracking system to manage our creative projects — from intake, project management, and task assignment, through creative development to stakeholder approvals and delivery to the offshore content integration team. Across town at one of New York City’s most esteemed museums, my friend there tells me that the exact same software is used for all kinds of amazing things including… when you need to ask for a new light bulb. And also sometimes for bug reporting.
(Check out my post on configuring Jira for creatives.)
I witnessed an accounting system that was designed for tracking inventory in a factory environment dropped onto an entertainment organization where nothing happens in a straight line — and especially not in the content production arm of the business where chaos reigns. The system didn’t just land with a thud. Howls of rage were registered on the far side of the Hudson River. Peace was eventually restored once Stockholm Syndrome set in.
We got here… how, exactly?
The reasons for a mismatch between whatever digital tools a company takes on, versus actual user needs, are many and varied.
Legacy systems: Software systems or tools have been in use for so long that the working teams accept it as normal or even think it’s great. While the business changes around them, the downtrodden users clack away at these legacy systems, falling farther and farther behind the times.
The False God of Standardization: Desktop software is sometimes viewed as a fixed one-size-fits-all tool or suite of tools. In reality, software designed for one business purposes might not be so awesome for other specialized tasks. Isn’t it obvious that there’s virtually zero overlap between the power users of Microsoft Office and the power users of Adobe Creative Cloud? Meanwhile, the organization erects obstacles against anyone who might want to explore alternative tools to find different and possibly better ways of working.
When IT and Biz Go Shopping: The groups in charge of technology or budgets can be isolated from the front lines of the business. As a result, they don’t understand the users’ unique needs or idiosyncrasies of the working groups. In the name of “single platform” or whatever, they’ll deploy a system that’s 80 percent good enough. But totally miss the 20 percent causing all the headaches for the end users.
Scope Creep: Tech systems can be acquired for one specific initial purpose and then spread across the company becoming adopted by unrelated teams. The new teams have to adapt their processes, and hack the tool, just to make it barely functional.
My grandfather, a master craftsman and cabinetmaker, said: “Never use a wrench if you need a hammer.”
The right tool for the job
Digital tools, whether desktop or server-based software, need to be purposefully designed for the activities and needs of the business units and working groups.
This reminds me of a bit of advice from my grandfather “Mac” Gepford — master craftsman and cabinetmaker: “Never use a wrench when you need a hammer.” (And he always took care of his tools, carefully brushing and oiling each one before putting them away at the end of every day in his workshop.)
In other words, if the tools don’t help… they hurt — dragging the work down and adding friction and distortion to every process. This was true in cabinetmaking. And it’s doubly true of modern digital tools.
End-users, rise up!
Business units and working groups must learn to exert their influence when it comes to the digital tools they use. They need a seat at the table during the discovery and evaluation phases, before the software or systems are purchased. In a better world, they would be able to go out and acquire their own tools. But the best way to make this shake out in your favor is if you have the means and the fortitude to develop tools of your own. This is the hard but also the glorious road.
(By the way, I’m a big champion for building such tools — because so often the use case is unique, or the available vendor solutions just haven’t caught up to the needs.)
Do you want a fighting chance at getting the tech you deserve? Then you’ve got to understand the players within your organization — find out who acquires the technology, and why. I’ll be sharing a few thoughts about the dynamics in this space, in an upcoming post.
Bottom Line: Technology that’s foisted on users can lead to a culture of disempowerment and acceptance of baked-in friction. Hacks are invented just to get the work done — but it distorts the process. Do I have to say it? This is not good.
Summary: After jumping in to salvage a crash-and-burn 80-hour production job, I spent six months reinventing a complex digital pipeline that spanned multiple creative and business units. With new processes, organizational change, and automation, the results were off-the-charts amazing.
Sometimes the Pipes Will Just Burst. Without Warning.
Last March I found myself halfway across the country buffing my brain at the Adobe Summit in Las Vegas. The conference was pretty much over for the day, and just as I was getting into happy hour… a panicked call came from the home office in New York.
My team had just received the Mother of all Job Requests — at the end of a grueling week producing digital marketing and web pages for a new iPad on att.com. Then, WHAM! Out of the blue, another device manufacturer decided to make a major product launch of its own — and my team was called back into action.
The upshot was that we had six working days to produce about 2,750 product image assets for our e-commerce catalog. One of our in-house client/partners had placed the order, with a hard deadline. They would not give us more time to do the work, even though I begged.[Read more…] about Here’s How I Fixed a Broken Digital Pipeline at AT&T
In just a few weeks the Creative Operations Exchange East conference comes to the Big Apple (Sept. 25-16, 2017).
I’ll be participating in a couple of ways. First, I’m on their Executive Roundtable on Day 1, talking about the state of the industry. I love the diversity on this panel — I’ll be sitting with Dickson Bueno from HH Global, and Carrie Roberts from The Body Shop, with moderator Gary Clinger from Workfront. Each of us is on the front lines, representing a wide range of experience and differing points-of-view.
Then, I’ll be sharing my point of view on digital tool selection, on Day 2. For anyone shopping for a digital tool or solution partner, it’s just overwhelming how many vendors and systems are out there offering a wide range of possible solutions. But the journey of a thousand vendors begins with a single… chart. I’ve got some fresh ideas for that first step — which I think will make for an entertaining and informative session.[Read more…] about Conference Talks: Tech Tools in Creative Ops
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.[Read more…] about Creative Ops and the Tech Stack