LearnStudio Life: Part 3

Treehouse
writes on February 1, 2011

I’ve been working for Bluegg as their Studio Manager for three months now. They had been looking for someone to join the team and help get them organised. I had been looking for a new challenge with a creative team. So far I think we all got what we wanted.

Small Change, Big Difference

It didn’t take a massive overhaul of Bluegg in order to get things more organised and structured relatively quickly. In fact they had already achieved the more difficult side of things such as building a broad and long term client base, hiring a team of creative and passionate people who all like working together, and achieving year on year growth.

The hard work had already been done so I was brought in to bring a bit more structure to the studio as well as wear a variety of other hats as needed. What I do is not rocket science really, it’s simply about preparation, organisation and communication. Luckily for me, The Bluegg team were ready for a change and so they were willing to embrace any tools and changes I suggested, based on previous experience in other studios.

Preparation

This is essential to be efficient. We prepare for each day by having a morning catch-up. This is where I allocate tasks, get updates from the team and we discuss any project issues. It is also a chance to remind each other who is in or out of the office during the week. Our catch ups last no longer than 10 minutes at most but it means that we all know what’s going on, who is working on what and who is where.

That’s the daily preparation sorted. I also try to prepare for the week ahead where possible. As any studio will tell you, schedules change and priorities shift but even a broad idea of what is coming up over the next week can help. For this I use nothing more than the whiteboard.

This is divided into five columns, one for each day of the week, and I list the tasks to be completed with the initials of who is to do it next to it. I also add in any deadlines and meetings, in a different colour pen of course. You could divide the board per person too I suppose but it’s a small board and there are 8 of us so I went for the lo-fi approach. It works wonders for the Studio though because everyone can see the board at all times and it helps us plan ahead.

The only downside to the whiteboard was that the creative team I work with felt it necessary to doodle on it! I have eliminated that issue by adding in a special doodle zone on the board. Bluegg, if you are reading this, stay within the zone!

Organisation

Being organised is something that comes naturally to me. I believe everything has a place and tidiness improves efficiency, but I still need to use some tools to be as organised as possible, and to organise others.

To-do lists are integral to my day to day role. Previously I used Teux Deux to keep track of things and this was perfect for managing my own workload but I don’t think it scales up for a team of eight. I sometimes still use it to quickly capture some things that I need to do whilst on the phone to someone but it’s no longer an essential tool for me. Similarly with Basecamp, I no longer use this but have previously found it to be very useful, especially when clients are located far away.

At Bluegg I use pen and paper. Yep, old school I know but tasks come into the studio from phone calls, emails, word of mouth and if Mike is out and about, text messages! I chuck everything down onto one A4 sheet and that is an overview of everything that needs to be done. This then forms my agenda for the morning catch up and is used to update the whiteboard. We do have an in-house Project Management Centre that we may update in the future to act as a to-do manager and studio overview.

Harvest is another important tool for being organised as we can easily manage budgets, track time and invoice. The reporting functionality of Harvest is a great way of assessing if you are finishing projects on or over budget. Remember that Basecamp or Harvest won’t run your studio but can help with organisation.

I’ve also brought other small changes to the studio such as a consistent way of naming files for print jobs (proof 1, proof 2 and AW for artwork) and I’ve also had a good tidy up. Tidy studio, tidy minds. The Bluegg gang also used to send a lot of emails with no subject title! That soon stopped as even something as simple as an accurate email title helps.

As part of the Bluegg way we try not to get bogged down in process and paperwork and this actually makes us more organised and efficient. This way we can spend more time on actual client work or for me personally, conducting content audits, reviewing copy and writing content for the Bluegg blog.

All work goes through Tom as part of our quality control and when signed off I pass this to clients. That way we know the standard of work is perfect. Simple, no sign off sheets or misunderstanding.

Communication

Any client can speak to a designer or developer as needed at Bluegg and this is helped by the fact that we all sit in one room. So we can easily share information and keep up to date with what’s going on.

One thing we try to live by is not to rely too heavily on email as it is often much more efficient to speak to clients on the phone. We find one phone call can get something sorted instead of three emails where tone of voice and exact requirements are so easily misunderstood and lost.

Another big part of my role is client liaison. I have to manage their expectations and part of that means being honest with them, keeping them updated and advising them as needed. They come to us for our expert opinion as well as our creativity. As well as day to day client contact we also send weekly updates so that they know what has been achieved in the past week and what we are looking to achieve in the week ahead. A single email can answer so many questions and keep everyone on track.

Finding your Own Process

No two studios will be run the same so you may find Teux Deux answers your needs more than Things, or that Basecamp is more suitable than Daylite. Regardless of the tools you choose to arm yourself with I think the key is in how they fit into your process of preparation, organisation and communication.

It also helps having a team that are open to change, structure and someone nagging them. The designers here have welcomed such nagging from me and next week we look in more detail at their role within the team.

8 Responses to “Studio Life: Part 3”

  1. Hi Rob, interesting stuff. Why do you see the creative team’s doodling as a negative? Why not harness that creativity and buy them their own whiteboard rather than limiting them to a certain area?

    • Hi Tom. The doodles on the whiteboard are a bit of a running joke in the studio. Before I started the whiteboard wasn’t used for much. Now it is an important part of how we manage workflow so there’s little room for doodles on there now.

      It isn’t me limiting their creativity as the team as always sketching and doodling on paper and we even have a designated section of our website to showcase some of their doodles : http://www.bluegg.co.uk/doodles/

  2. Thanks for the series! I’m really enjoying these articles. I do have one suggestion though….you should put links to the other articles in the series at the intro and in the footer of the post.

    Many people will come across these several months down the line without following the release of each and will want to navigate around. The only way I can see to do that currently would be to search for ‘Studio Life’ or click on your name under the headline.

    Looking forward to the next couple posts!

  3. Hi Matt. Thanks for your comment and glad you are enjoying the articles. We have two more articles for Studio Life. Next week’s is about our creative team and the final one the week after looks at our web team.

  4. Hi Rob
    Really informative series of articles. Have you got any more in the pipeline?

  5. Hi Neil, thanks for your comment. I’ve worked in 3 studios over the years and in some ways they are identical and in other ways they are so very different. I’ve definitely been won over by the Bluegg culture and way of doing things though. Sounds like your first experience of agency life was less than great, hope you’ve found something better now.

  6. Interesting read Rob. It’s like a breath of fresh air learning how other agencies work. Completely different environment to my first experience working in an agency. When you have a bad experience in an agency, particularly when it’s your first – it clouds your judgement somewhat as to what other agencies might be like.

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