Understanding Agile; The Big “A” and the Small “a”

When we think about Agile, we tend to only think about it as method for development projects. Agile at its core is really about ways of working adapting quickly to changing requirements, environments, client requests and new learning.

It is about flexibility, the ability to respond to change and an agency culture where people are encouraged to collaborate and work at the highest level possible. Agile depends on capitalizing the value of the people on the team, to accept and react quickly to change.

Agile: Shifts in Thinking

Agile is a big shift in the way we work and tackle creative...

(It’s about ditching “the big reveal.”)

Well, agile is more than that, but that’s essentially the mind shift. Traditional process often involves a process where the agency is briefed, then the creative team goes away and works for a while. Then the agency sets a presentation day, and shows the clients the creative work they’ve been doing for the past couple of weeks. 

Why go the Integrated Producer Route?

Integrated production in creative land started out as merging the production of digital, broadcast, print and almost all other production into production department in the agency. This happened because many agencies shifted their creative philosophies, talent and structure to better orient themselves to create ideas unencumbered by specific media; agencies shifted their core principles to being media agnostic.

As agencies began to tear down silos, the transition to having one hub for managing production and project management made sense. Creative firms rarely find themselves working on one type of project anymore, and having one producer manage the content helped to coordinate the larger creative campaigns. 

Using Waterfall Methodologies to Manage Creative Work

Traditional project management is most commonly known for using what’s called “waterfall” to approach work in phases. It’s a pretty common way of working, you start with an ask, then you work from the top phase down to complete the project. This approach works pretty well in a number of different fields where processes are repeated. It’s also easy to understand, you start with one step, then you go to the next when you are ready. 

We’ve used waterfall methodologies for decades, because it works, it’s not the most adaptable way of working, but when you have a lot of sets to get through with set deadlines it is a manageable way of working for most people.

Building Cross-Functional Teams

A cross-functional team in an agency can take many forms. 

These teams are small groups of individuals that cross formal or informal functional departmental boundaries and levels of hierarchy. The group is created to commit to a common purpose or goal, typically formed for a project, program or by client; the team acts and works as one unit. They communicate frequently, cooperating and providing mutual support, coordinating activities, drawing upon and exploiting the skills and capabilities from each other, while considering the needs of individual members.

Traditional Creative Project Management

Before we look forward, we should take a look back at how traditional project management has worked in agency models before. This chapter walks through some of the ways project management has grown into providing layers of gates and levels of control. 

At the core of the creative agency is an understanding that you make stuff, you get your hands dirty, and you step out of your comfort zone in order to make things happen. Traditional project management does this by developing a plan that tackles the creative problems in phases. 

Advertising Agency Organization

There are many different ways to staff a creative agency or firm. No two agencies are the same, and almost no powerpoint chart can show the real complexities of how an organization reports. If it did, there would be dotted lines running all over the place. The charts below are simplified organizational charts that attempt to show a few structures. To be honest, there are as many ways to staff an agency as there are agencies!

So, stick with the article, as the second section helps explain some terminology and organizational definitions. They may help you understand and identify what type of structure you may have or how to expand or contract it.

The Creative Brief as a Strategic Process Diagram

This diagram details out the creation of the creative brief as seen as a strategic process. This diagram does not show the full strategic ideation & planning process, other variations of this chart could show; 

  • Strategy as its own stand-alone deliverable.
  • Strategy and creative concepts presented to a client at the same time.
  • Strategy and creative concepts presented as part of the new business process.
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Strategic Creative Brief Process by Ed Burgoyne is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
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How The Agency Works 2.0

This booklet shows generic workflow in an advertising agency and is part of the development process of a larger book I'm writing on integrated project management. 

Click here to download the file.

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Agency Workflow Book by Ed Burgoyne is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
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Project Manager Workflow Diagram

This Diagram shows a generic project workflow, after the client kick-off meeting. The chart shows the functions of account services, project management and producer as seperate.

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Generic Project Workflow Diagram by Ed Burgoyne is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
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The Creative Brief as a Living Document Diagram

In this chart for the strategic process (overly simplified btw) we see the creative brief is used as a living document or concept.

Agency Basic Strategic Process

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Agency Basics, Basic Workflow Within the Agency

The following article goes through some generic agency workflow processes as seen through the eyes of an agency project manager. This condensed version of agency process is just meant to show "the basics." All agencies have different and unique steps in their own daily routine and in the life of an an agency project.

The client briefs the agency
• The account team creates and issues a meeting call report.
• Account begins to develop a creative brief.
• The account executive requests a job number from traffic.
• The project manager issues a job number.
• Once the creative brief is approved by all parties, a start-up meeting takes place.
• The account group requests an estimate from production.
• The estimate is routed & approved internally.
• The client approves the estimate, work begins.

• Project Manager prepares the schedule and gets approval by the creative & production team before presenting to the Account Group.
• The schedule is then approved by the AE and presented to the client. Once the client has approved the estimate and schedule (sometimes called T&E, for "Times and Events"), work begins.
• The project manager then updates the master schedule to reflect the changes.
• The project manager is then responsible for updating and maintaining the schedule.

The Weekly Status Meeting
• The account executive updates their weekly client status report.
• Weekly agency status meetings are held to review client status reports.
• The project manager then updates a master schedule to reflect changes given during meeting and distributes.
• Account team updates their status reports.

Daily Hot List / Status
• The project manager should distribute and maintain a daily, “What’s Hot for Today” and current "status report" either digitally or in a project management program updated each morning to the agency. The night prior to the day the hot list is issued, all team participants, i.e. the account teams, creative director, production, should provide input to the project management department with regard to work needed for the upcoming day.
• Although work is scheduled based on the master status report, the hot list reflects any changes that occurs during the week. Team members can use it as a guide to what work is being assigned to them. If there is work that is not on the hotlist for that day, the account manager should be required to meet with the appropriate department managers and assigned traffic person before work begins. No account management team member should give out work without notifying the project manager.

Client approval of the estimate
• When the account group gets client approval of the estimate or a signed media schedule accounting should be notified to begin the invoicing process.
• The account group fills out a start work - job plan form and initiates, if necessary an internal start-up planning meeting.
• The project manager should schedule all internal work related meetings. An agency master calendar should be kept to manage all meetings scheduled.
• Any jobs not covered under a fee based arrangement,  should not be started without signoff of an approved estimate and/or media schedule.
• Signed estimates should be distributed to the production staff and the CSD.

Project management
• The project manager tracks all work internally, making sure deadlines are met within in each department (creative or production) in order to accommodate the master schedule.
• The project manager should work with the CD to determine availability of the account’s assigned lead creative team or assign alternative creative team if necessary. 
• The project manager should maintain a digital “job bag or jacket.” Each round of changes should be tracked and placed back into the job bag so a job “history” can be created.
• Upon job completion, the digital manager department should create a final digital copy example of the creative and manage a post project process.

Internal approvals
When routing the agency work, please keep in mind that it takes time to circulate the work through out the agency. If a key person is not available to sign off on the work, notify the proper supervisor or account team to ensure that their is a replacement signature.
Key signatures for routing work:

Comps for internal presentation:
• Art Director
• Copywriter
• CD

Comps for external presentation:
• Art Director
• Copywriter
• CD
• AE
• Partner / VP

Production - Round 1
• Production Artist - or Interactive roles.
• Art Director
• Copywriter
• CD & or ACD’s
• Production
• Proofreading
• Account Services

• Studio - interactive or traditional 
• Art Director
• Copywriter
• CD & or ACD’s
• Production
• Proofreading
• Account Services

Final Release:
• Studio Artist
• Art Director
• Copywriter
• CD & or ACD’s
• Production
• Proofreading
• Account Services
• Client

The New Creative Stage
• The account group meets with the team to discuss the creative brief, the project, and to discuss the timelines if necessary.
• The AE is responsible for all client copy and art approvals. The AE sends the client the artwork for approval keeping in mind the client submission guidelines. Although work may be posted to the agency site, the AE must view the posted work before notifying the client.
• Internal reviews are required prior to presenting work to the client.
• The project manager keeps a copy of all the creative presented for the job bag.
• Production meets with creative before presenting creative ideas, to confirm production costs would remain within budget. This can happen at the creative review stage as well.

The Copy Stage
• The AE provides the copywriter (and other team memebers) with client materials, holds a start-up meeting if necessary and notifies the project manager of client changes.
• Copy should be proofread and routed internally before circulating to the client.
• Upon internal approval, (in an editorial environment), copy should provide text to traffic and would forward to the art department. Usually the copywriter and art director work together as a team.

Revising Existing Creative
• The account group is responsible for client approval of additional costs, an accurate media schedule form, and the appropriate change order form(s).
• Prior to handing the change orders to the project manager the AE reviews the client changes, makes sure changes are clearly marked. The account manager should review their changes with the traffic manager prior to the hand off. The project manager would make sure all corrections are understandable before handing over to the staff for changes. Copywriter and Art Director,
• When the creative is received from the project manager, the copywriter / or AD reviews the changes and then gives the changes to the AD, who oversees the revisions.
• The changes are made by the art department then given to project manager for circulation.

Routing to the Client
• The client should be made aware of some important facts concerning their responsibilities in approving creative or media schedules. That they are responsible for approving the schedule, and should return the materials back to the agency in a timely manner. The agency should remind the client that if the materials are not returned by a designated time, that the projects deadlines could be in jeopardy. The client should also understand that the excessive changes could cause the schedule to be changed.
• The account management staff must get approval from the project manager or department managers for changes that effect the existing schedule. It is always more prudent to get back to the client with a realistic deadline than provide one that you are uncomfortable with.

Client approval of creative
• The Account executive is responsible for circulating the creative, layout, copy, artwork, storyboards,scripts and media schedules directly to the client
• Although the account executive does get a “final signoff” from the client. The account executive is responsible for ensuring that the client’s changes were made to the client’s satisfaction.
• Client changes and approval steps are repeated until final client copy/layout approval—at which point the account staff would notify the project manager to begin production.
• A “prepro” or preproduction meeting would be scheduled prior to the layout being turned into a final produced piece.

Executing the creative
• After client approves a creative concept, the art director designs the piece (or with a designer) makes final selects on execution style, selects the photographer or artist. The art director then discusses with the production and account staff the costs of the artwork if the agency does not have an art buyer.
• A production schedule is then created.
• Art director, production and art buyer coordinate schedule, costs, shoot(s) and/or illustration and inform traffic of status.
• Client approves additional costs if necessary.
• The shoot happens, post production happens, and the project manager keeps the account team informed of client approval needs, timing and changes.
• The production work is approved internally before presenting for client approval.

Scheduling the media
• The Media department produces the media schedule based upon the clients needs and the approved internal schedule.
• It is the AE’s responsibility to follow up with the departments to make sure you are meeting your deadlines. If the creative, copy or art materials come in late on your timelines, you must make sure that you change your media schedules to reflect a realistic
date to meet the publications’ closing dates.
• Media Traffic would call all media sources to review if the media schedule information is accurate.
• Traffic would follow up with the media to ensure that the materials have been received on time and would be inserted properly.

The Production Stage - Post shoot. 
• The AE gives project manager a signed off copy (or approval) of the creative.
• Production produces the work based on the production specs and the ad is circulated internally until all parties approve.
• The AE is responsible for releasing internally approved work to the client for final signoff. No work should be released by the agency without final approval from the client.
• Revisions to the work would be treated as with all client revisions and generate a client change order.
• The studio should not begin any work before unless there is a signed production estimate for any changes.

Final review of materials
• The project manager should circulate any final materials with the last client signed off for final internal approval, qa or proofreading.
• When the material is approved, the project manager makes a copy of the material and the proof is sent to the client for final approval and shipped to the vendor.
• The client must sign off on the material before printing or release.
• If the client or agency makes changes, a change order is generated and materials are corrected if necessary. If the agency is going to incur additional cost, the client must be notified and the costs approved by the client.
• Samples should be circulated within the agency for review before the materials are shipped to the client.

Workflow - a Definition

Workflow can be described as the flow of information and control in a business process. All organizations have numerous business processes, and some of these business processes are of crucial importance and key to the survival and growth of a business.

By managing these processes more efficiently, companies can reduce their costs and improve their product and customer service, giving them an important competitive edge.

Some basic examples of advertising business processes are estimating, purchasing, media planning, scheduling, time sheets, expense reports, production procedures.

Worflow is a plan that is meant to complete specific tasks that have at least two parts, first is the person or multiple people who perform the task or operation, the second is the mechanism, materials, software or hardware with which the activity is completed.

The combination of all these processes make up the ‘infrastructure’ of a company. Usually, this infrastructure is not documented, but just ingrained in the way people work. New people joining the company are simply taught the procedures and in turn when they leave the company, they (hopefully) teach their replacements.

Needless to say this is a less than desirable way of dealing with a company's infrastructure. To further improve and enhance the workflow process, it needs to be documented first, so that it can be reviewed and later updated and used for workflow management.

We look at workflow to:

· Streamline how work gets done, and applying individual skills to where they would work best.

· Decrease the cost of doing business by examining repetitive or similiar functions that can be combined or eliminated

· Provide accurate and current information, where computerized systems can be substituted for manual processes.

· Speed up the work processes to deliver faster service, without overworking the system. Introduce effeciencies can be introduced to reduce expenditures of time, money or materials.

· How supervision can be applied more proactively.

· Track, control and adapt the system as the company changes. Identifying bottlenecks that can be eliminated.

· Identifiying key cross-training opertunities, so that missing employees do not let production come to a halt.

· Streamline inter-department relationships.

My approach towards reengineering workflow and how work gets created can be summed up with the creating a system that is stable (i.e. easy-to-use) and scalable. I believe that by creating a stable streamlined environment to create art and ideas and by combining it with a scalable workflow system companies can handle almost any situation profitably. The workflow system within the agency should be easy enough to use so that at anytime you can increase or decrease staff without affecting the performance of the entire agency.

While there are many project management systems (online), the truth is it doesn't always have to be über complex or complicated. (Heck, one of the best systems I worked with in over fifteen years just utilized a massive whiteboard that everyone contributed to).

Simple systems can work if they help you, track key variables (not just milestones, but profitability), it keeps the team informed, and you update your internal stakeholders and your client.

Looking to make changes?

We all know what it's like when the lines of communication break down. It may have been a simple message, or a missed email that caused a catastrophic event; in any organization there is a strong need for solid communications.

Depending on your approach, the effort to improve information flow within your company can be a smooth or bumpy ride. Don't be quick to make impulsive changes. Write down and flowchart your current workflow. Although your agency might have a "flat hierarchy", in reality, you do have employess who often fullfill very specific roles. Identify who is responsible for each step in the path as it moves along toward fulfillment. Search for the gaps in function, tasks and positions. You'll find that sometimes, simply adjusting a key position, can move a long way toward correcting or shaping an employee into an effective communicator. Examine the need for positions or tasks that your agency might be missing, or should do without.

Many agencies simply don’t take the time to teach their staff how things are done within the agency. Build a strong employee initiation program to make sure your new employees understand what’s expected of them. Take the time to train and update your current employees. At all times remembder that your agency has it's own unique existing culure, be mindful of how any changes you are going to introduce are going to effect the cultural norms within the agency.

With larger adjustments set realistic goals. Breakdown long-term milestones into smaller steps. Be dynamic in your approach and set clear guidelines and time-frames. Build a strong core of key communicators within your agency who will "own" the new process. Also, invest the time in studying your environment, what works in one agency may not work within your company's culture.

Although agencies are organic beasts, they can benefit greatly by adopting an improved, or at least defined, workflow. A strong commitment by everyone to adapt the company's culture will improve morale, the quality of the work environment and above all the agency's bottom line.

Here are some key elements that can make the restructuring ultimately successful.

- It must have the support of top management. Make sure they are committed to change and will support the process. Be certain they see the scope of what needs to take place; outline everything that needs to change clearly.

- If you haven't already, seriously look to move away from a paper based workflow system. An accounting system that has built in production, media and time-sheet systems are key elements in shortening the time it takes for your jobs to be completed. Up-to-the-minute financial reports at the lower project levels, mean greater profit and loss analysis earlier on.

However, when looking at workflow solutions you don’t have to stop there. Tie-in the agency's regular workflow to a central system in which everyone has access to the same information. Every agency has some form of job jacket, estimate, media schedule, purchase order, client change form and general ledger. Moving these forms to a computerized system is crucial to accurate information exchange. Although the technology can be an expensive undertaking, a computerized accounting and workflow system that is accessible to all departments can easily increase your profitability to cover more than just the cost of the new system.

- Information exchange on the creative side is also key in shortening the approval process. Is the agency using pdf files for client approval? Do you have an online client approval system or virtual workspace? Although these types of technology systems are sometimes more difficult to introduce into the culture of the agency, you'll find several agencies out there who could not live without them.

Remember, no matter what you do, take care of your core staff. These people will make or break whatever new systems you put into place. Know that when you implement new systems that there is a time period of adjustment, a little confusion and some uneven starts.

In many cases these new systems will also mean staff cuts or changes. With fewer people working the newer system, make sure they are well taken care of. Reengineering is tough enough, but much tougher without the good will of your staff. Keep everyone informed, set clear goals and the world of change will happen at a much smoother pace.