Growing your business? Evolve your process. Don’t be a dodo!

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Growing your creative business is good, right? But while you are adding clients and staffers, your process and workflow is probably not going to survive intact.

“It’s like watching the evolution of a small society,” says Anthropologist Krystal D’Costa – who also happens to be Production Director at digital marketing firm Tenthwave. From a start of 35 employees who came together in a merger of three firms in 2011, it has swelled to well over 100. “As we grow, social norms change, people are learning to adapt,” says D’Costa.

“When we started, everybody was pretty much involved in everything” according to Tenthwave Partner/CD Mike Mazar. “At first we didn’t believe in teams that stayed together: people moved between projects. But this kind of flexibility did not lend itself to process.”

As they grew, there wasn’t just the one big team any more; projects were staffed on a one-off basis, putting the right group together for each one. But it soon became clear to leadership that teams that regularly worked together were stronger. “People respond to consistency,” says Mazar. “They learn from each other and the support each other in a more powerful way.”

Physically, the Tenthwave office is divided into two: the North where sit the creatives: CDs designers, writers, social media people and so on; and the South , where sit the business managers, the account guys. “We have to cross a chasm,” says Mazar. “Within departments people move around and speak with each other, communication is phenomenal,” says D’Costa. “The challenge is to get more team building between teams.”

They are experimenting with agile systems – flatter groups where team members take clear ownership of the project – but this works best if everyone is equally able to express themselves. Says Mazar, “It’s relying on everyone to have an equal voice.” D’Costa points out that there are introverts who don’t always work well in this structure.

“Process comes up every day,” Mazar told me. “No two projects are the same, which makes it really hard. There is no magic bullet. We do a post mortem after every job to find out what the challenges were.”

A constant headache for creative service firms is how to control the time/cost contributions made by staffers to a project. It is one thing to want to have lots of talent involved all along, but that adds hours and dollars to the project total that the budget likely can’t sustain. “We like to over-deliver, so we have to be efficient with the management,” says Mazar.

Process in any creative business will always be a combination of structured systems and human interactions. The nature of projects is constantly evolving, as are the people and the social norms. At Tenthwave, senior management is figuring it out. The door is very much open to suggestions from their staffers: if you can sell a good idea to management, then it is likely to be implemented. This participation is encouraged.

Whatever your growing creative business, you should always be evaluating process to adapt to change. The company that says, “This is how we do it because this is how we’ve always done it” will go the way of the dodo.