Are You Tracking Your Workflow or is it Tracking You?

A design studio or agency does a perpetual exercise in organization. Every day, there are jobs that need to get done. Some are very small jobs. Some are larger. Others are in between. There are also the parts of whole jobs… they all need to get done. They’re all a priority. Is it even possible to manage them? How do you keep track of client issues that need to be followed up with? How do you juggle the project you’re working on with all the other projects you’re overseeing? There’s got to be a way. 

Every studio has to come up with their own method of tracking jobs through its workflow. And the system in place probably varies depending on how many employees there are within the company, whether or not there’s an account manager in place, and the number of clients the studio has at any given point during the year. 

We’ve recently implemented a new system for our workflow: job ID numbers are tagged to each project that comes through our door, and detailed records are kept according to that number. Heck, we even use the job IDs to help us keep billing under control. Although we’re still developing and tweaking our process here and there, we think we’ve landed on a system that could stand the test of time, no matter if the size of our studio changes, or our workflow changes. We’ve tried lots of things in the past, all of which worked for a while, but we felt the need to continually upgrade our system. 

Here’s how we do it.

A client asks us to design and print a new flyer they’d like to distribute. We give this job a number- EM500 (or EM501, or EM733, or whatever number you’d like to start with.). Then we name the job to go along with that number, so it’s easily recognizable at a glance. Say our client’s name is Apple. (Ha! We wish.) We’d name the project EM500 Apple Flyer. Then, as our graphic designers develop mocks, and our traffic coordinators get print quotes from vendors and correspond with the client getting the necessary approvals, we record this information in our project management application. We can refer back to it, upload the finished product, and keep track of every important detail related to this one job. Our process allows us to track lots of parts of jobs via internal tracking numbers. Rather than having client-wide numbers, or project-only numbers. It might seem tedious for everything your studio or agency does, but when you have to dig back through mountains of information in three months because a client has a question on an invoice, you’re going to want to be organized. We’re small, but the transparency this system offers brings us together as a studio and makes us more of a team. 

Follow ups.

Of course there’s always the issue of keeping track of what needs followed up with. When 53 e-mails come sailing into your inbox at one time, you’ve got to skip through and decide what’s the most urgent, then go back and follow up with everything else. Each of us varies on our preference for dealing with this; one of us might flag e-mails that need to be followed up with, while another of us might drag the e-mail into a folder created specifically for follow ups. We do our best to keep tabs on each other and send reminders here and there. What do you do? 

Putting it all together.

What happens when your role within the company is that of designer/programmer/account exec/traffic coordinator/copywriter? You do a bit of everything, and that sometimes makes it hard to keep track of what’s what. We don’t think there’s a set system anyone could put into place that would work without a few tweaks, but there are certain qualities that person should probably develop to a tee. 

* The ability to multi-task. There’s nothing else to say about that.  
* The desire to learn- quickly. With all those titles, you’ve got to become well-rounded to the extremes. 
* The mind to switch gears in an instant. Be dynamic and flexible. 
* The savvy to talk to a client about their project that maybe you haven’t dealt with in three weeks.
* The clarity to separate one project from another when talking to clients.

Although we don’t think design itself is formulaic, tracking work is. It might go without saying, but keeping track of everything in your frontal lobe is bound to fail at some point.

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