Sludge. Is this how your creative approval process feels?
The creative engine behind your brand is likely suffering from a slow buildup of inefficient and confusing processes. The source … email. That wonderfully easy and flexible go-to form of communication. You can message multiple people at once, attach files, and embed funny animated GIFs of goats. What’s not to love?
It can do all those amazing things and everyone’s already using it, so why isn’t it working for the review and approval process? The reason: creative operations teams are growing. Requests are coming in from more teams. Deadlines are tight. The flexibility and ease of use of email creates inefficiencies. So how can we improve this process and become less reliant on email for creative approvals?
Why is email bad for managing the creative review and approval process?
We’ve already recognized that email isn’t bad, it just doesn’t provide the framework needed for streamlined processes. Email is simply a communication channel. So it puts 100% of the process tasks on your team, making it an incredibly manual approach. And who has time for that? Here are some common challenges we see from teams that use email as a workflow tool.
Who’s responsible for what?
If your team is small, you might know who is responsible for each task and project. But for teams with more than a few people, it’s next to impossible. And that doesn’t take into account when team members take vacation.
When you receive an email to review a piece of work, is it clear:
- Why you’re being asked to review it?
- What you’re being asked to review? (Grammar? Tone and voice? Visuals? Layout? Something else?)
Tracking asset and review history
Email threads can provide some context, assuming everyone replies all to every email — and everyone reads every reply all. But every piece of feedback, clarification, and question adds to the entire team’s inbox.
There could also be different reviewers needed at different stages of the process, further complicating the consolidation of feedback. Email doesn’t allow for reviewers to easily locate or comment on past versions of the project, so it can be difficult to determine if any changes have been executed as requested.
When you’re bringing multiple teams into a review process, you might have some added email clutter due to the differences in language being used. People will likely ask more clarifying questions, resulting in more emails. With email, there’s no easy way to get to information quickly by searching for comments, reviewers, or past versions making any quest for clarification tedious.
Understanding where the design is at in the review process
With an email-based workflow, knowing what stage the project is at can be confusing, to say the least. You’ll have to dig through the email chain to confirm if everyone who needs to review it has and that all of their comments have been resolved. It’s nearly impossible to see, at a glance, if everyone who needed to review the project, actually has.
Moving the review and approval process out of email
If you’ve been using email as the main tool in your review and approval process, it’s likely you’ve felt all of these pain points and more. So what can you do about it and, more importantly, how do you prevent it from slowing down future projects?
Talk with your team about your current processes
If you gather feedback from everyone in your review process, you could be surprised at the pain points you uncover. While it might seem tedious, talk through the specific processes for your various deliverables. The steps needed for infographics, emails, videos, etc., are different and it will save time in the end if the full team understands how and why.
Things to consider about your current process:
- Who’s requesting the project?
- How do people request projects?
- Who creates the deliverables?
- Who manages the project to ensure it is completed?
- Who’s reviewing the deliverables, when, and how are they being notified of updates?
- When is the deliverable done, and what are the next steps?
Identify what’s helpful at each stage of the review
One of the most common challenges teams face is determining, and following, the order of operations for tasks. Instead of sequential tasks that keep progress moving forward, the process often ends up being a bunch of concurrent tasks. This can lead to confusion, rework, and unnecessary noise — via email and otherwise.
Another challenge is feedback overkill. If you have too many voices reviewing, it’s much easier to fall into opinion-based feedback instead of quality feedback.
Keep your teams focused on the right things at the right time. For example, your designers shouldn’t be receiving feedback on the tone and voice of the body copy during the final review stage. That could have been much easier to resolve early on in the review process.
Establish a notion of priority and timeline
There’s a big difference between identifying a timeline and sticking to one. You’re probably thinking, “yeah, it’s six weeks.” But as everyone knows, those six weeks will fly by.
One major cause of stress in creative and marketing teams is short deadlines and unrealistic turnaround times. We’ll admit, there are projects that require this amount of prioritization and speed, but not everything can receive this treatment. If everything’s important, then nothing’s important, right?
Planning in advance, creating a process, and establishing the priority of work will help reduce some of that stressful, end-of-deadline work.
Research tools to meet your new review and approval process
As you can probably see, a lot goes into the review and approval process. Even after you’ve established the necessary processes, it can all fall apart without the right tools — and email will clearly only get you so far. Identifying tools that can keep processes on track, people informed, and projects streamlined will be your best bet.
A workflow tool to consider
Widen is a leader in digital asset management (DAM), helping brands centrally manage and consistently leverage all of their rich media and product content across the customer experience. Our Workflow app allows teams to collaborate on, review, and approve project work then seamlessly upload it to the Widen Collective® for secure use.
Note: This article was originally published in June 2017 and has been updated to remain current.