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Creative Week: Maintaining Efficiency in a Small Team

Published: February 23, 2018

Author: Mandy Kline

How do you design creative that drives high engagement on a tight budget? How can you manage your design team efficiently without blunting creativity? This week, experts from the 3Q Creative and Social teams will be answering these questions and more by sharing tips and tactics they’ve learned over years of running high-impact campaigns with engaging creative.

Efficiency is a piece of pie, with a few proactive measures.

When working in a small team with limited resources, it’s common to feel stretched for time. As workflow ramps up, time becomes more valuable. To make the most of every minute, it’s useful to have some efficiency tools set in place to help your team continue to roll out quality work while also avoiding burnout.
As a Jr. Creative Producer at 3Q, I deal with project management every day. I’ve found that putting in the the effort and time up front to establish these measures for efficiency has paid off for our team and been conducive to our success.

1) Establish a process and stick to it

Building a framework for the way we handle requests has provided stability and consistency as we work across various channels. By funnelling all requests through the same sequence of steps, we are able to do away with ambiguity and keep tabs on the status of all projects.
We’ve built our process out in Asana, a project management app that keeps us sane. For each project, our process follows roughly these steps (with alterations made, as needed, by project type):

  1. Creative brief submitted to PM team via email
  2. Asana project initiated; all pertinent info added to our pre-existing template
  3. Designer assigned
  4. Requester informed of timeline, link provided to Asana project
  5. Design assets created
  6. Review rounds
    • Creative Director review
    • Account review
    • Quality Assurance
    • Client review
    • Quality Assurance
    • Delivery

Being systematic with our process, while coming across as rigid at times, is what allows us to provide consistent quality work to account teams and clients alike. Being a stickler for process isn’t always the most fun position to be in, but for us it’s 100% worth it.
And while on the topic of Asana:

2) Choose a project management software that you love

Choosing an effective project management tool is critical to maintaining order on a day-to-day basis. Once a creative request is received, there should be an automatic process in place (see #1) that moves the request into the hands of a designer who can execute in the shortest amount of time possible.
Utilizing templates and shortcuts has been pivotal to our success. We’ve templatized our process into three main buckets, corresponding to the types of projects we most frequently encounter:

  1. Minor requests, such as image resizes or copy changes
  2. Complex requests, such as creating new banners or videos
  3. Internal marketing requests, such as formatting case studies and white papers to our templates

By creating various master templates, we are able to more quickly customize projects based on predictable/anticipated requests.

3) Be respectful of your team’s time

When resources are tight, there is little room for superfluous meetings. Schedule what is necessary – with who is necessary – and nothing more. Doing away with meaningless meetings keeps motivation high, as team members will enter into a meeting knowing that the information is going to pertain directly to them. Meeting agendas can also help keep meetings relevant, as attendees will arrive with a clear idea of what is going to be discussed.

Regular meetings

We keep our scrum meetings to three times per week, which we’ve found to be the optimal frequency for check-ins; it’s often enough that we know what is moving through our queue each day, but not so often that the meetings become a burden.
These meetings typically last no more than 10 minutes, and consist of each team member answering the questions:

  • What are you working on?
  • Is there anything that is keeping you from accomplishing what you need to do today?

4) Understand that work styles vary by person

Adhering to a strict schedule has never been conducive to creativity – inspiration and energy may come in waves, and strike one person at a different regularity than the next.
Having a flexible work-from-home policy has afforded our team the ability to build our own schedules in a way that allows us to optimize our productivity. As a team, we start with a clear set of goals, then each find our own way to meeting those goals.
The route I choose may be entirely different than another teammate. And that’s ok – as long as the work is getting done. This allows everyone the autonomy to manage their own time. Which leads to my next point …

5) Avoid micromanaging

As a project manager, it’s easy to fall into feeling that you need to micromanage, sticking your nose into every task to get an exact pulse on where everything is. A successful project manager is predisposed to do this kind of thing; it just comes with the territory. But in my experience, it’s also healthy to be able to step back and trust your team, once you’ve helped put the wheels in motion.
Make an effort to allow your team some space once goals and benchmarks have been clearly defined. After you’ve communicated the deliverables and deadlines, it’s time to step back and let your team go to work, doing what you trust they do best.
Allowing this space for teammates to breathe and work on their own terms builds trust and fosters a low-stress work environment, where your team can succeed on their own terms.

6) Schedule break time

Being part of a small team means that sometimes, no matter how much work you accomplish, there is always going to be more coming in. To avoid burnout, schedule in some time away from your screen to get outside, get some fresh air, or read a chapter in a book (preferably one that’s completely unrelated to work).

Blocking out time on your calendar is a helpful measure, so you can count on having that time/can be sure meetings aren’t scheduled over it.
On a grander scale, plan some time to get away from work entirely. If you’re lucky to work for a company like 3Q that offers a generous PTO allowance, take advantage of it! The data is there to back it up: taking time off improves productivity, overall job satisfaction, and … well, it’s just fun, you know?
Changing up one’s environment is also a great way to find creative inspiration, which, in turn, you can bring back to the workplace and put into action.

So those are a few tips that I’ve found helpful in maximizing efficiency in my small team at 3Q! What tips and tricks do you have to share?

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