August 04, 2014

The Process People

I retired from the agency business with one unanswered question: Why does it take 20% of the people in an agency to make the ads and 80% to make the arrangements?

Even as the ceo of two agencies, I could never figure that out.

In my last few years in the agency business a new variety of doubly non-productive people were gaining ascendancy -- "operations" people. Not only did they produce nothing of value, they stole time from the people who did.

They had meetings about meetings. They wanted to know what everyone was doing so they could... I don't know... know what everyone was doing, I guess.

They were process people. They wanted to be certain that rules were being followed, and lines of authority were adhered to, and flow charts were generously endowed.

They spent as much time tracking projects as the productive people spent working on them. They were less than useless. They were value-free overhead.

Certainly in the ad business timelines and deadlines need to be adhered to. But it was my observation that the process people consumed more time than they saved.

I think an agency functions best with a little bit of healthy anarchy. There's a component of creativity that thrives on operational chaos. It seems to be the job of these people to denude agencies of any illusion of chaos or anarchy.

I guess I am constitutionally averse to "process." Maybe it's just impatience, intolerance, or stupidity, but I believe intelligent people can do their work best when allowed to do it their own way -- without the interference of meddlers who know how to do everyone's job but their own.


LBarr said...

Agreed. It's not just your agency, it's happening everywhere in every creative field, even ones not thought of as creative such as education and sales. Big Data and the number crunchers think that past events mean they can administer the future. They forget that people aren't things and can't be controlled to that degree, especially the recipients.

Byron_Sharp said...

These well intended but productivity sapping process people thrive in Universities.

Cecil B. DeMille said...

The agency business isn't about making things better. Hell, it's not even about selling things anymore. It's about giving the client whatever they want - regardless of whether it will work or not. It's kowtowing to corporate masters on both sides. Creativity? You mistake this for the golden age, and it is gone long enough that barely a twinkle of its brightness now remains.

Perhaps I'm just not being micromanaged enough.

Stephen Eichenbaum said...

I actually think i know the answer to this one.
The ad business--and most others today--is about covering your ass.
Every day, people have one objective: Don't get fired.
Best way to do that is with a mountain of paperwork and recorded meetings so everyone can remain blameless when the shit-by-committee
creative doesn't work.These useless fucks help in the CYA dept.
They're the same folks who are supposed to listening in when your consumer phone call "is being recorded to serve you better." The whole lot of them should be slapped and sterilized.

timorr said...

Once, a boss of mine bought some project planning software. After days of doing nothing else, he was able to prove conclusively that we would not be able to finish the work by the deadline assigned. Trouble was, the deadline had already passed and we had already completed the work – on time.

It's the tyrrany of some traffic departments, where too often, they know the price of everything and the value of nothing.

Charlotte Blauer said...

Holy cow Bob! You just cut me deep. This is my area. My hood.

I had a creative director once tell me, “If I hear the word process one more time, I’ll kill somebody”. (Sound familiar?)

I get it.

I will never defend the “blinded by process”, PMP-card-carrying, agile / scrum / waterfall techno-spouting BS, six-sigma-black-belt, individuals.

That is because they have never actually done the job. Performed the work. Written a line of copy. Pasted-up (oops shows my age), designed a project.

I have. There are two things I know for sure: There are far better designers than myself – and – there are PMs / operations folks who are clueless about the creative world.

Process is just getting from point A to point B and having some sort of routine. My job, as a process person or a PM is to make it invisible. It is not supposed to be punitive.

Shit gets done because there’s a common understanding that some things have to happen in a certain order; we need to know ahead of time that a job is going to hit someone's desk when they’re on vacation, and I’m the person to re-direct it.

I am the facilitator. I am the housekeeper. I am the therapist. I am psychic – only because I’ve been doing this so long and nothing surprises me. I foresee potential disaster and do everything I can to avert it.

I walk that line between Account, who wants to give everything away to the client for free – today; and Creative who wants to develop “just one more iteration” by next week because it’s more awesomer.

And yes, I use software. I advocate software. It is only a tool that should be in the background so the PMs can get a grip on the whole world of fast-moving objects.

When process, and the software that augments it, becomes the star of the show, things are seriously out of whack. I absolutely love great creative, and I use process and the tools to manage work so it can happen.

So for all you guys who hate process and software who are reading this, remember: Process isn’t hard, it should live in the background, and hire PMs who understand creative.

Now it's time for a drink.

Charlotte Blauer said...

And I apologize for writing more words than you today. This is your show. Not mine.

bob hoffman said...

In every endeavor there are good ones and bad ones. I know you're a good one. I can tell by the last sentence.

Conor said...

I'd have to agree with Charlotte. I've worked - or rather endured - places where there was little or no processes involved and the result was chaos. And not a good kind of chaos. Having said that, I've also seen examples where processes were used as a weapon by vindictive managers and clients. They know that by 'escalating' a 'problem' in a company that uses Lean 6 Sigma, some poor bugger will have to spend the next 8 hours - usually after working hours - 'defining' the problem. Even when the 'problem' was something as stupid as nobody answering the doorbell when the courier tried to deliver something.

tore said...

After 30 years in the industry I can't figure it out either. As a freelancer now, one has to do it all. Although client handling, admin and "process" takes a bit of time, it's still the actual work that takes most of the time. Aside from that, my observation during my entire career is that the people who do the work, the so called creatives, are pretty good at meeting deadlines. They need no baby sitting. We may moan about the time lines we're getting but we always deliver. I have yet to miss a deadline, and I never saw any of "my" creatives when a CD at Ogilvy One miss a deadline. More than 50 creatives, all delivered when they were asked to. Despite all meetings taking away from productive time. T.

Ju said...

every time I try to talk to the creative director here about a job, he asks me: "is the brief in the system? (software, whatever)" if it is not, he doesn't talk to me. even the creatives are boring nowadays.

Vera Charles said...

Agree wholeheartedly oh wise one. Everyone wants to figure out the "process" because then there are no surprises and they can make everyone follow "the rules." Surprises are scary. You never want to surprise the client. Until you find out that all the client longs for is to be surprised. Creatives journey into the Land of Unknown everyday to come up with ideas. You never know what you're going to find in that land. It's always a surprise. That's our jobs as creatives. To put on our spacesuits, wnader off into Unknownland, and bring back the surprise. It's dangerous in that land and often the ideas we grab there and bring back to the office are scary! But that's the juice that makes the machine spin.