Process mapping, is an essential step for any agency looking to integrate technology in to their day to day business. Here is our five step guide on how to do it right.
Over the years we have seen agencies, and agency software providers, do amazing jobs of integrating technology in to their day to day business. We have also seen the opposite of this – solutions that don’t get off the ground or have no impact at all on any productivity measure. There are definitely patterns and similarities in the agencies that implement solutions well – and this is where agency process mapping comes in.
It may seem like a completely obvious concept – that you would need to understand your processes in order to manage them through a piece of software. The reality is, most agencies do know that having processes mapped out and understood by the business is important, some agencies may even recognise that is it critical to the success of a new system.
But we all know how things often go, we get excited by the prospect of shiny new software. We fixate on the exciting, value-adding features and how we can implement them as quickly as possible to get people using the program and feeling the benefits.
This can leave little time to spend on the more boring, obvious, and yet necessary system inputs and outputs needed to keep your business humming along efficiently. Which means we frequently miss critical, though far less exciting, basic requirements and foundational steps which are generally more important. Not just ensuring that the software can work properly in practice, but that it actually gets adopted by your workforce. Which lets face it, is the ultimate KPI of any implementation.
So, what really 'is' agency process mapping?
Process mapping is a tool that is used to understand, analyse and document workflows. It aims to capture every task that needs to be done, and by whom, in order to produce the output. It highlights areas that can be optimized or automated, or on occasion, areas that need fixing completely.
The very first step of an agency implementation, is process mapping. This is done by workshopping the tasks both inside and outside the system. It’s a collaborative, iterative and documented activity between the people that know the software and the people that know the business. Leaving no stone unturned: from the big picture changes to the mundanities of getting data from A to B.
Let’s take a look a little more closely at the main things you need to put in place to be successful in rolling out software aligned to your agency processes…
“A common misconception about Process Mapping, especially in the creative industry, is that it creates processes. This isn’t true – good business process mapping looks to remove unnecessary red tape and reduce admin for admin’s sake.”
Step 1: Be clear on your objectives
This may be obvious and yet, often agencies are not clear on this.
Not because they are mis-purchasing but it’s an easy trap to fall in to – to try and change the world. There are so many features dazzling you, it’s difficult for your objective not to be to implement EVERY feature and solve every single business problem with that red button. In truth, this may even be the end result. But for that to ever be the case then the objectives will need to be clearer.
There are 3 main types of objectives when implementing any agency tool:
These should be black and white and will usually relate to the key modules you will end up using. For example: “We want to implement SoWs, time-lining, resource planning and forecasting through the tool. Or we need it to hold a record of all of our jobs, estimates, third party costs, billing and revenue recognition.”
There may also be secondary objectives: “If we can find a way to replace our standalone collaboration tool this would be useful.” Make sure you have your priorities in order with your objectives – because change management is no small task.
These are linked to the transformation and business benefits you hope to see through the implementation of the tool. These can help you to plan and track a return on investment, so attach some metrics, and measure against these, to make sure you succeed.
An example of a strategic objective would be: More accurate revenue forecasting and recognition through integrating resource planning data.
This often ties in to either a strategic objective or a detailed functional objective: but on occasion they can be a standalone. We need to bill overtime for weekend work with one of our clients, and need a more efficient way of measuring it.
Step 2: Put the right team in place to map your process
Having the right team in place is critical. Don’t choose short sighted people – or people with little vision, or people without the stretch to understand all problems can be solved in different ways.
The right team should have the necessary skills to be change agents – but not change for change’s sake. They need to have enough gravitas and seniority to be able to drive change and make decisions, but they also need to have a good understanding of what the day to day work looks like.
They should be experts in their area, and of course, their area should be relevant to your implementation. And they should be people who understand and appreciate both how you work now and how you want to work in future.
Step 3: Agency Process Mapping
The actual process mapping is where you answer all of the questions. A common misconception about Business Process Mapping, especially in the creative industry, is that it creates processes. This isn’t true – good business process mapping looks to remove unnecessary red tape and reduce admin for admin’s sake.
Having a clearer process, also makes it much more likely it will be followed. This is critical even more so when it comes to systems, because you rely on the data they produce to make key business decisions. Our industry is already overworked – so why not reduce administration effort and focus on better data at the same time?
Now, in order to find the right process, the key of course is to ask all of the questions. No detail should be too small to raise. So let’s look at the questions people ask when working through a process:
What are all the steps involved in achieving an output?
This is where we capture every task and make sure the dots can be joined up logically.
Asking why we do these tasks helps, especially when we have different departments in the room. Often there is duplication the agency didn’t even know was happening, or software limitations that have been habitually worked around since 1997 and haven’t been challenged since 1998.
What are your objectives?
People are rarely implementing a new solution to work in the same way the last one did. We need…
Simple and important – people need to be clear on their piece of the puzzle
This is where we can see if the dots join up. It’s where we ask – what triggers me to do this task?
We look at configuration and apply the user case to the system
Where could this be improved?
More often than not, the dots don’t quite join up or there is duplication. Now is your opportunity to solve this, whether inside or outside of the system.
When does the process need to differ?
This is your out-of-the-norm retainer agreements, legacy client reporting requirements, your rapid turn around service level commitments, deliverable based rate cards. Aim to capture all of the “out-of-the-normal” requirements from your teams.
Exceptions to the rule
Last of all, we need to make sure we have covered off the exceptions to the rule. Every last legacy client contract that has its quirks or needs, different to the norm. The process needs to make sure it has the edge cases covered off. This may not even be a system solution, but it still needs to have been discussed and agreed in this context.
Step 4: Visualize & Document
The output of the agency process mapping workshops provide the foundation to move forwards. They are a visual and detailed record of how your business will work with the new tool.
We find that the best way to make sure you have something that makes sense, is to visualize it simply – to help articulate what should be done, when and by whom.
Underneath these visualizations is the meat on the bones – detailed notes, for each and every step, of how it will work, what fields need to be completed and how it is configured to meet your needs.
This documentation can be shared with stakeholders to double check it is correct and also to help identify any further edge cases or even any further inefficiencies that may not have been picked up earlier. The underlying notes will provide a basis to configure and design your tool.
Last but not least, this documentation also provides a critical tool used for testing the system and training your teams.
Step 5: Refine & Agree
At the beginning of this article, we described agency process mapping as an iterative process. Similar to any good creative concept, it needs to be crafted and refined. There is no better way of doing this than getting your subject matter experts involved.
Review the documentation and visualizations – run the ideas and workflows by different people across the business. Seeing something in black and white will help people to assess whether this will really work for them in practice. Out of this will also come questions, refinements and edge cases that may need some further digging in to.
The critical thing is that people aren’t afraid to ask questions. If your teams involved so far can’t make sense of the decisions, it is unlikely that the rest of the business will be able to when it comes to training. So encourage people not to leave critical details to be worked through later – ask the questions now so a solution can be found.
Work with the original agency process mapping team to gather this feedback and workshop any additional items.
Expand and Amend
Expanding or amending the process (or sometimes both) to ensure every requirement is resolved. By refining and agreeing the outputs you are also improving buy-in and helping teams reaffirm the decisions made.
At Tangram we partner with agencies and agency business solution providers across the world, to get to the right system design and workflow to meet all of your needs. We approach agency process mapping through collaborative workshops that are designed to be held with key stakeholders from across agency businesses teams.
For each topic we talk about how it relates to your strategic objectives, we map your process today and talk about where it works well and where it could be improved both generally and through your new system.
Once we understand your needs we facilitate a thorough review of the relevant functionality in the software. At this point we have an understanding of how you work, and you have an understanding of how the system can work for you.
Then we can work together to find the best way of your agency using the functionality – taking in to account your needs as well as new features and the opportunities the software brings, and of course industry best practices.
We will repeat this for each system area throughout the workshops – making sure we are tying everything together in the system, as well as tying this in to your objectives to make sure we are going to meet them.
This accelerated workshop approach means that we can usually establish the overall and detailed design within just days or weeks – maintaining the urgency required to effect change. Good implementations without exception have both momentum and focus.