Creative agencies are working harder and being paid less than even a couple of years ago, a situation that has only been made worse by the pandemic. In these challenging times, making the most of every hour of work is more important than ever, with higher productivity offsetting some of those income reductions.
However, as anyone in the creative industry knows only too well, the reality of working for clients, whether as a freelancer or within a larger business, is that things don’t always follow a smooth path from start to end. In fact, creative processes are particularly prone to reworks, where the end result doesn’t quite match the client’s expectations or things don’t go as planned in other ways. This is the nature or the creative process, and something that to at least some extent, will always be part of it.
However, reworks by their nature can be a challenge for project management, adding working hours to a project without advancing it, and must be managed as any risk to the business should be. Without being able to see where reworks are occurring though, it is almost impossible to effectively manage the situation in-house, which is why being able to identify them is so important.
Why do reworks happen?
Before looking at ways to identify and manage reworks, and ultimately reducing their occurrence within a creative agency, it is important to understand why reworks occur in the first place. A rework covers many aspects of a creative’s output, it could be a minor adjustment to a design that takes an hour our of a professional’s day, but it could require a complete reimagining of an entire project and causing weeks of work. As a case study, think about a digital marketing campaign that a client finds design issues with weeks into the project. Not only will the marketing strategy require adjustment, but much of the creative work could need reworking. That may add hundreds of work hours to a project costs and cause issues with deadlines, even turning a project into a loss-maker. Most industries will have some level of rework occurring, in fact the construction industry is particularly well known for it, however creative agencies have unique circumstances that drive the frequency of reworks.
The first reason that you may have reworks is simply down to errors. This can never be completely eradicated, as people are not infallible, and whether you are a freelancer working as an agency on your own, or a larger agency with employees, creative professionals are no different and will eventually get something wrong.
Creative Differences/Client Requests for Reworks
Creative work is built on an iterative process, where design, style and so on are refined with input from clients until a satisfactory outcome is reached. Here is where the majority of reworks will occur, and it is a situation unique to creative work. No matter how tight the brief, how clear the vision, every project a creative agency takes on requires interpretation by the creative professional working on it. This is the reason clients turn to creative agencies, and it is also the cause of most of the problems they face.
With most work, including creatives, there are objective goals for work, often measurable goals that make it easy to ascertain whether the client’s request has been fulfilled. However, there is always an element of creative work that is subjective, and it must always be so, it cannot be eliminated. It is here where the need for reworks most often appears, as clients will often ask for changes due to them simply not liking a specific creative choice, or simply preferring something else. It is unlikely to change, but that does not mean the reworks should be ignored, or that in such challenging times, minimized as much as possible.
Why is it important to have visibility of Reworks?
Creative agencies have many challenges today, but after we have established that the nature of the creative workflow means that reworks are inevitable in at least some quantity, they are a challenge that must be overcome. Whatever type of creative agency you operate, from graphic design to a marketing agency, a copywriter to a full-service digital agency.
The first step in overcoming the issues of reworks is to know when they are occurring.
Visibility of reworks is essential firstly for knowing the scale of the issue. As a manager of a team, before you can deal with a problem you need to know the scale of that problem. For reworking, this means not just knowing what reworking is being done, but the kind of reworking that is taking place too. For instance, if your team are spending significant time doing reworks caused by errors, that is a very different challenge to overcome than if they were mostly reworks due to client requests.
Too many errors are a team problem, either requiring additional training or replacing of team members, additional quality oversight or other management choice to create a more focused approach to the work. A high volume of client requests for change may need to look at the way you onboard projects and manage client expectations, or other solutions for improving the way project outlines are interpreted by the team. It is crucial then, that management understand both the extent and causality behind reworks.
In addition, the need for visibility of reworks is essential for scheduling and work assignment too. With more and more demands placed on creative agencies of all kinds today, and clients expecting so much more for their money, one of the key areas of pressure is speed of delivery. Everything is expected quickly, even complex projects are demanded to be delivered in the tightest of schedules, and rework has a significant impact on this.
Rework is, after all, repeating a specific task within the project. The tighter the delivery schedule is, the less spare working hours there are in the project to allow for those reworks. By having real-time alerting for visibility from software solutions such as COR, project managers and other leaders can see scheduling issues arising before they become a problem, giving time to adjust assignments and ensure the project remains on track.
As the business model for your agency has to adapt to the new paradigm of increased competition and greater expectations from clients, like other creative and digital agencies across the United States, you need to adapt to maintain market position and enjoy continued success. While there are many areas where changing strategy may be needed, the issue of reworks is at the core of operational effectiveness and as such, an essential focus for any business, whether established or startup.
Reducing Reworks within Agencies
Earlier we discussed the different causes of rework, and how each requires a very different approach to minimizing the issue. With error-based rework, there are operational solutions to limit the occurrence that any freelancer or agency can introduce. While human error can never be fully eliminated, providing the support your team needs at every stage can provide a significant reduction.
This can be as simple as ensuring adequate oversight at each stage of a project, making sure that requirements are passed to each employee involved in the project clearly and accurately. This helps team members better understand what they are doing on a given project, preventing errors associated with misinformation of any kind.
Overall improvement in oversight throughout a project can help spot errors early too, reducing the cost of rectification and the time taken to accomplish it. This could include more management involvement with the daily tasks each team is working on, encouraging a higher level of collaboration, with more eyes on any task there is more opportunity to identify errors quicker, and again reduce the extent of rework and the time needed to carry it out.
For rework caused by client request, there are two scenarios to deal with. The first is the creative process itself, where iterations are presented to the client, who asks for changes based on their own preferences. This is by nature an operational approach built upon reworking details within the project. To minimize such iterations, the goal is to match creative work with the client’s expectations as closely as possible from the first attempt, and while this can never be perfect every time, there are some changes that can impact this.
That is why tools such as COR facilitate the brand’s participation in the creative process with the agency, seeking maximum alignment between the two.
Also, if you are finding that there are significant portion of reworks being caused by the creative process not reflecting what the client was expecting, then there could be an issue with the way the client’s vision is being clarified. By examining the way projects are onboarded, you can begin to refine the process to ensure that the client’s brand, values and vision are expressed, giving your creative team a clearer understanding of expectations. This will not eliminate the need for iterations, but by ensuring your team has the clearest understanding of a client’s vision, it does mean that the initial approach will be closer to the client’s goal and require less iterations to achieve the satisfactory result.
A more drastic approach to this would be to limit the number of iterations provided within the terms of the contract, a hard stop for the development process that all are committed to in advance. While this seems to the ideal answer, in competitive markets it could harm competitiveness if others do not adopt similar terms, and so this approach must be used with care when appropriate.
The other major cause of reworks in the creative industry is clients wanting something different. This is separate to having creative differences with your team’s output, but situations where they change direction on style or brief as the project develops. This is another situation that is somewhat unique to specific industries, with the creative and construction markets most affected. There will always be some level of change within a creative process for some clients, and here is where limiting iterations is perhaps a more acceptable approach, but there are other options too.
Encouraging a closer relationship with the client, providing more frequent updates may seem counterproductive at first, but can help them see things they are unhappy with at an earlier stage. This may not eliminate changes to the project remit, but it can prevent rework by allowing changes to be identified before tasks are worked on. Whether this is achieved by increased stakeholder meetings or the addition of daily progress updates or similar, by putting the work in front of the client more frequently, they have a better view of the developing project and more chance to express their ideas earlier.
How to gain visibility of reworks within Agencies
Those changes will all help reduce the amount of rework your team as a creative agency, or you as a freelancer will have to contend with. However, the reality is that projects that revolve around creative interpretation will always require some element of rework. No matter how careful you are in terms of outlining client expectations, how diligent quality control is, and how often you update clients about the project, at some point you will more often than not have to carry out rework of some kind.
You can reduce how often that is, and even limit the extent of such rework too, but it will always be part of the operation of any creative process. That doesn’t mean you should ignore it though, and so in addition to those efforts to reduce incidences, your business must also ensure that rework has visibility within your operational processes.
To bring visibility to rework requires a more detailed understanding of what each team member is doing at any given time.
Applications that focus on time tracking can be the perfect answer for this, especially those that allow granularity of data when tracking activities. There are numerous options for time tracking within your workflow, from a simple manual entry record for each employee to a more automated solution that records location and activity for each employee throughout there working day with Artificial Intelligence.
This will produce a record of all work, but it can quickly identify rework activity across your team and associate it with an appropriate project. Cutting edge solutions such as COR also utilize AI algorithms to analyze performance and give enhanced data regarding not just what your team are doing, but its impact on schedules and more, all in real time.
With this type of solution, a creative director will have complete oversight of the current work in progress, giving at-a-glance information about the type of work being done, and can easily highlight rework as it is in progress. For a digital marketer, creative team, social media creatives and more, this can enable rework visibility in real time across the organization. At any point you can access the data you need, assess the reason for the rework and adjust scheduling and more in response as needed.
With AI enhanced tools like COR, any creative team can have the data and insight to minimize the detrimental aspects of rework, and when combined with effective measures to minimize or limit the occurrence in the first place, they can implement effective strategies to address any impact of rework quickly and effectively.
For every creative business, understanding rework is crucial, especially in a Covid world with more competition and higher client expectation. But with adequate preparation, mitigating strategies and the right tools to monitor output, rework can be minimized, and the impact of any that is still required reduced.