How to improve agency efficiency
In this article, we’re going to look at how to improve agency efficiency with TIM WOODS. You would be forgiven for thinking TIM WOODS is a new member of the Beyond Noise team. Things are not always what they seem.
Every agency owner wants to increase the profitability of their business. The easiest way they think they can do this is to increase revenue.
Did I say easy? As we all know winning new business is the lifeblood of all agencies, but it’s far from easy and far from predictable. Improving profitability can be delivered not only through incremental business but improving your agency efficiency.
When my agency clients ask me how to improve agency efficiency, I introduce them to TIM WOODS.
Sadly TIM WOODS is not a colleague of mine. Neither is he the good-looking guy pictured at the top of this article (that’s a stock image). TIM WOODS represents the 8 wastes of Lean.
My own agency was a big operation. We employed 175 people across 2 offices. Although we grew it to that size, the business was established well before I was involved. We acquired the agency in a MBO in 2002. Despite being a creative agency, it was a business that thrived on process. It had to, as the volume of work my team produced in a year was quite staggering. The small number of errors that were made was equally impressive.
Having lots of processes in a business brings lots of benefits. However, it can also create some challenges (particularly where processes evolve, develop and are added over time).
My business was a successful agency and we ran a very effective and efficient operation. Nevertheless we were always thinking about how to improve agency efficiency.
We wanted to become more profitable of course, but we also wanted to be faster and more responsive for our clients> W wanted to make things simpler and easier for our people. In order to achieve this, we invested in deploying the principles of Lean.
Lean process thinking is a systematic approach to improving efficiency developed in the Japanese manufacturing industry. Lean is a huge topic in its own right. A key concept in Lean is the pursuit of reducing or removing waste – or Muda as the Japanese call it – in the process.
Who is TIM WOODS then?
Lean is a large and multi-faceted subject. As a concept developed for the manufacturing industry, some of the principles and applications are not totally suited to marketing agencies.
However, I found the focus on identifying and removing waste in an organisation to be extremely useful when we were considering how to improve agency efficiency.
As you may have already gathered TIM WOODS is not a person but an acronym. TIM WOODS represents the 8 elements of waste:
Transportation, Inventory, Motion
Waiting, Over-Processing, Over-Production, Defects, Skills
When I utilised Lean in my own business, there were only 7 wastes, but the eighth (Skills) has been added since. It’s a good one and particularly relevant for people based businesses like agencies.
How can TIM WOODS help agencies?
You might be forgiven for thinking waste is the preserve of manufacturing businesses or companies that work with raw materials, but waste has many forms.
Reducing waste in an agency improves efficiency. It increases the speed of delivery, productivity and profitability.
TIM WOODS helps to identify – often hidden – wastes in an agency and can be used as a principle to explore how to improve agency efficiency.
The biggest impact TIM WOODS has for me is how it can help to change our mindsets as agency owners.
When looking at how to improve agency efficiency, it’s common for agency people to want to add things. Additional reporting and adopting – more – software products are usually the first thing people think about.
The key to improving efficiency though is not to add, but to take things away. To reduce complexity not to add more layers. Complexity is the enemy of efficiency and wasted effort, resources, time etc all contribute to complexity.
Please don’t implement a new productivity app in your agency without first looking at the processes. Adding new software without looking at the process behind it may at best paper over the cracks, At worst it can add more complexity and added tasks to an already bloated system.
Let’s have a look at what each waste means…
This refers to the unnecessary movement of materials or information. In an agency, this could mean transferring information between productivity software, databases and or documents.
Most agencies don’t produce physical products. We do have inventory though in the form of tasks, projects, briefs etc. Work stuck in queues, inboxes or backlogs that are “in-progress” but not finished and delivered to the client can be considered as waste.
In a manufacturing business, this usually refers to the needless movement of people. This can apply in an agency setting (unnecessary travel to meetings for example), but it can also involve navigating numerous programs, databases and performing multiple clicks or actions to get to the desired result. Too much motion is bad for effiicency.
Often a source of waste in an agency. Waiting for information to start or finish a task. Waiting for approval from other people in the agency or waiting for the client can be a huge source of inefficiency.
Over-processing can be a result of too many processes in an agency. Often agencies accumulate processes over time. People may be doing things that are unnecessary because they are told: “that’s how it’s done here”. It might have been required once, but maybe not now?
Other forms or over-processing include producing elaborate and detailed reports when raw data would suffice, or producing numerous options or polishing creative work to a high standard (when simple concepts would be acceptable for now).
Producing work or completing tasks that the client either hasn’t requested or doesn’t value are often examples of where an agency can be creating over-production. On many occasions, this is unintentional or done in the mistaken belief that the client appreciates it.
Perhaps the biggest source of waste in most agencies. Amends, rework, iterations, revisions are all ways we use to rectify defects. They directly cost the agency both time and money as well as being a huge opportunity cost.
At some point, the 7 wastes of Lean became 8. Wasted talent is a vital one for agencies though. You may have people doing tasks or work that they are not suited to. Other people could be performing and producing for you to a much higher standard of quality or output in a different area, if only they were given the opportunity to do so.
You don’t have to be a certified Lean process Black Belt (yes that is a thing), to apply some of the principles of Lean. Just take a deep dive into your processes and ask questions. Lots of questions.
How can we do this simpler? Do we really need to do that at all? Why do you do it that way?
We talk a lot about code bloat in agencies. When you’re looking at how to improve agency efficiency, think about process bloat. How can you reduce waste and friction in the system to make your people, clients and accountant happier?