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Order From Chaos - A Marketing Story

According to some parts of ‘the internet’ Nietzsche said “From chaos, comes order” or maybe it was “Out of chaos, comes order” Other parts of the internet say that wasn’t Nietzsche, but someone else, but we don’t know who.

I guess it’s just one more piece of chaos…

This story is about making order from chaos. It’s about making something that was very confusing and not at all efficient, easier to understand and use.

It starts with a diagram.

It claimed to be a workflow diagram, although how any work could flow through such a system was, at first, a mystery. It reminded me of a map of subsea fibre-optic cables through which all internet information flows.

The ‘workflow’ showed how marketing campaigns were created. How the assets were requested and routed to the various creative and technical teams needed to make it happen.

There were five official ways to request work and required those requesting anything to put the same information in two or three places, depending on the type of campaign and the target market. There were multiple routes through it, again depending on the type of campaign, which had to be managed by a team of coordinators.

The tool being used was more technical than the requesting stakeholders resulting in errors in the requests, which had to be followed-up and corrected. To mitigate that stakeholders would copy previous ‘correct’ requests with minimal changes, which resulted in work being done that wasn’t needed. There was no way for people to track the progress of the request or see what others had requested - other than asking the coordinators or those doing the work.

Looking more closely and going through the flow step-by-step it was apparent how this system functioned at all. There were several points where the action was “so and so does” - the whole system was almost entirely dependent on the heroic efforts of one person doing a lot of manual work. This meant that person was vital, overloaded and at risk of burn-out.

This system was not scalable. There was too much manual work, too much wasted effort and too much confusion.

To fix this three things would have to be put in place:

  1. A single request point

  2. A new more automated flow

  3. Improved visibility of requests

A lot of change would be needed.

Complicating matters there was little budget, or appetite for new tools in addition to the usual resistance to change. Some of the stakeholders had their own systems for managing their requests and those would need to be accounted for.

The tools in-house were the Atlassian stack of JIRA, Confluence, Service Desk etc. Perhaps not the ideal tools for managing the creation of marketing assets and campaigns, but process improvement is often about making the best of what you have. It is a case of making what you have work better and then using the benefits that has given to justify buying more tools to fill in any gaps.

The key to improvement would be to manage how requests came into the team and how they were sent to the creative and technical teams.

The plan was simple. Use Service Desk to capture the request, feed that into a single master JIRA project and then automatically create tickets in projects for the specific areas as needed (Each team had their own JIRA project for managing their work) which would be linked to the originating ticket. The master project would use a Kanban board to track the projects so everyone could see all the work that had been requested and their own requests.

Most of the stakeholders were used to Service Desk - the IT support team used it - so it required little to no training for them. They only had to enter the information once and there were prompts for mandatory fields. They didn’t have to think about which JIRA projects would be needed to complete everything needed for the campaign - that complexity would be handled by coordinators and the automation.

The new workflow had a single entry point, fewer paths through, greater transparency on how the system worked and where requests were in the process.

This system made life simpler for the stakeholders to plan campaigns and gave them visibility of their requests.

The coordinators were happy since they weren’t being interrupted continuously for project updates, nor were the creatives. They also spent less time reviewing requests and confirming information.

Creatives were happy not to be interrupted and creating assets that were actually needed.

All done with no new tools, just the investment in time of a few individuals with the right expertise.

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