How can creative teams manage feedback efficiently without stifling their creativity?
3 May, 2019
From client feedback to in-progress notes, your team needs to collaborate and communicate throughout every stage of the creative process.
However, creative teams (and the software that supports them) often use workflows that are designed for non-creative projects. For the most part, these non-creative processes can work well enough to get by. Goals are outlined. Mileposts are defined. Communication channels are established.
But as soon as a big media project, with various types of multimedia, is in the throes of production, conventional solutions begin to show their fallibility.
Traditional project management methodologies and tools cannot keep up with the pace and volume of communication and number of channels. Have a think about all the different ways that sound engineers, film producers, photographers, marketers, designers, developers, etc need to provide and process feedback.
So many media formats. Some formats are static (photography, illustrations, etc), some have timelines (video, audio) and some are interactive (web, apps, etc).
Added to this complexity is the number of professions that need to be involved in such a big media project. There are different skills to consider, different ways of working - and of course, differences in opinion. They are creative projects - nothing is 'clear cut' so to speak. Creative projects generate debate!
While software developers tend to stick with agile processes focused on product delivery, creative teams use what has been described as an "assess and refine" approach. This means files are constantly uploaded, edited and shared.
Just managing the feedback and collaboration internally is bound to give production managers a headache. Then add a client's feedback to the mix - and you can begin to see how complex this can really get.
First, get the foundational software right
As recently as three years ago, the lack of access to updated technology was a major obstacle for remote creative workers. That's all changed with the rapid adoption of software-as-a-service apps.
One of the realisations we had with our marketing team is that trying to find one tool, for every single large project is impossible.
And when we found the closest thing to a 'Swiss army knife' for managing creative projects, it inevitably didn't do everything well. In fact, in handled CRM, collaboration and feedback, customer service, and about 3 or 4 other things. All of the components were sub-par, when comparing it to individual tools that do one thing really well.
So the first lesson is you need to build a 'software stack'. You want best-in-breed software and you want them to work together, where appropriate.
At the heart of the stack should be two platforms:
A communication and alerts tool. By a country mile, Slack is the leader in this field. It's not only good for discussing work with the team, it integrates with so many other tools - that allow feedback for their respective media formats.
A project management tool. Whilst Slack is awesome at managing real-time collaboration and alerts, client feedback and internal collaboration should all be collated into one centralised platform. Our tool of choice is Asana.
Traditionally, client and internal feedback has been given in-person, over the phone or at its absolute worst - email.
That brings us to our next point.
Then, focus on the tools for the type of media
Can you imagine asking a tradesperson to put a hole in the wall with a saw? Of course not, they need a drill.
You need the right tools for the job.
But for some reason, creative professionals are often forced to cope with tools that weren't built for purpose.
Email is awful. This is how it often looks:
For video projects:
0:45 - 0:49 - I don't like the sound effect you have used there, can we try something different?
1:05 - Please edit out the person in the background
1:12 - The contrast is too dark, can you please brighten up the person with the red t-shirt on who is holding the sign.
1:38 - 2:12 - Can we replace this whole scene with the scene we recorded on Wednesday?
And then another person, comments with their feedback... and another, and another...
It's horrible for the provider of the feedback. It's horrible for the team who have to interpret it all.
Audio projects are similar in that they have timelines.
For web projects, it looks more like this:
On the About Page, please make the following changes:
Line 3 - edit this text...
Line 5 - please change X to Y.
On the Service pages, can we please go back to the original layout. I feel this new layout doesn't work.
On the mobile version of the site, the home page, below the fold, has an arrow that's kind of cut off. Can you please correct this and change it to a bolder icon?
And on it goes...
You need the right tools for the job.
Here are some tools we recommend (and yes, we've included our own!)
Invision - for most design projects, mainly web
Predominantly used for web design projects, Invision allows internal users and clients to provide "point and click" feedback directly on a website, prototype or even a static design. Feedback can be sent directly to Slack in real-time.
Bugherd - For built websites
Similar to Invision from a feedback perspective, Bugherd (fellow Melburnians!) allows teams and clients to make pinpoint feedback on live and staging websites.
Miro (formerly Real Time Board) - for strategy and workshopping
Think of Miro as like a live whiteboard with post it notes. Seriously, check it out. It's fantastic.
And yep, it integrates with Slack as well!
Digital Pigeon - for video, audio and image feedback
Clients and team members can provide marked up, time-stamped feedback on video and audio files. Clients don't even need a login - and there is no cap to the amount of users who can provide feedback.
For still images, users can mark-up and comment like they can with the video. A really nifty feature is one-click approvals and rejections. A very handy feature for photographers with long contact sheets.
A 'traffic manager' or 'production manager' is essential
Someone still needs to bring all the client feedback and internal collaboration together.
This is where a person or team dedicated to managing the traffic of feedback and collaboration is vital.
Here are some of the tasks a traffic manager or production manager needs to monitor, dissect and communicate:
Alerts in Slack. Production workers need time to produce work without interruption. It's the production manager's role to collate the feedback, prioritise it accordingly and delegate.
Communication in Slack. With the advent of remote workers, freelancers and contractors - more and more communication is done online now as opposed to face-to-face. The production manager must monitor all communication to ensure the results and decisions of conversations are documented in the project management system so that all parties are across it.
File Sharing. For creative teams, file sharing is high-priority. Files must be accessible and ready for interaction. Clients do not want to have to download special applications to review work and want to be able to access it on any device and in any web browser.
Tracking client feedback. Client responses rarely arrive from a single entity. A video or music selection must meet approval from a variety of departments: legal, accounting, marketing and branding, to name a few. A project manager must create a feedback system structure that parallels the client's structure. This can be done through tagging responses, assigning specific team members to specific feedback tasks and incorporating daily notes and summaries into the product review workflow. This is where Asana excels.
Feedback from media-specific tools. In-progress notes and time-stamped feedback should be shared with the production manager in real-time. Annotated comments are added to video, audio, visual and text files. Team members and clients should be able to highlight or tag audio waveforms, video frames or photo segments that production managers can collate and communicate to team members.
User Management. User management tools help team members stay on task. The tool allows project managers to tailor file access as needed. The tool also assists in assigning and tracking tasks. This is especially helpful when working with freelancers and remote workforces.
How do we know if the feedback process is working well?
Research indicates that fast access to feedback during collaborative work results in a 64% increase in concentration on a task. It isn't a jump to realise that when necessary information is delivered swiftly workers will stay on task. This increases productivity and project turn-around time. It can also help keep morale high throughout complex and lengthy projects.
Drill down a bit deeper and to find the true reason why creative teams need to stay on task at higher rates than their less creative peers. The answer is revealed in the form of currency. Clients measure success in objective ways. Creativity is subjective. When it comes to client satisfaction, quality and innovation are frequently measured using time and money.
Clients use key performance indicators like how much time each creative professional spends on a task. They may also measure the time it takes from project proposal to fulfilment. Then there is the rework metric. This metric tracks how much time is spent on revision. Revision is expected throughout any workflow cycle.
However, revision time increases when there are lapses in communication and unclear expectations.
Collating feedback, organising notes and speeding up the communication process should result in quicker turnaround metrics without sacrificing creative time. It keeps creative teams and client teams happy - it's win-win.
Streamlining Creative Processes helps improve your margins
All of these tools save time. The most sought-after creative teams are able to complete quality projects in tight timeframes. Doing so requires optimal communication and organisation. Swift collaboration tools and file transfer options support successful creative workflows and power timely project outcomes.
If you charge fixed project fees, this only helps improve your margins and deliver value to your client relationships.