What Kitchen Drawers Can Teach Creative Agencies About Business Infrastructure (and our need for it)
The Thing About Kitchens
My wife and I love entertaining in our home. Any chance we get to have people over for a meal is an opportunity we don’t pass up very often. There’s just something about having people in your home and taking care of them that I love. It’s really the centre of true human nature; to be together. Whether you’re just getting to know your guests or you’ve been friends for half your lives, one thing remains consistent about both parties. On the off chance that I haven’t laid it out for them, they always know where the kitchen utensils are. Missed a fork or a knife while setting the table? Did someone’s spoon fall on the floor while eating dessert? No problem, they always know where to look (unless we beat them to it).
Now that I’ve said it, you’re probably thinking about the last time you had company over and how this is probably the case in your home. Here’s something to try: the next time you’re in a home that you’re not very familiar with, go into the kitchen and see if you can’t identify within 5 seconds or less where they keep their kitchen utensils.
Why is that? What is it that the kitchen industry has figured out what the majority of us in creative industries still haven’t? We’ve been conditioned to know that the shallow top drawer, 99.99% of the time, is where you can find a spoon, a fork, or a knife. This is a system that’s been created and implemented globally, and no matter who you are or where you’re from, you always know where to look.
What Do The “Next Steps” Look Like?
Why do our agencies operate differently? Why do different people across the same teams working for the same company on similar projects with similar goals go about doing the same things so differently? And each day, no doubt.
In a recent discovery meeting, I sat down with a web design team and asked one question; What’s the first step your team takes when starting the build? One associate answered, “set up hosting,” the second said, “open XD and start the wireframes.” Thinking that the third associate would have caught on, I expected an answer that resembled one of the two earlier responses. Instead, they responded, “gather the finalized content from the client.” Now, you might be thinking that these answers might actually be right. This team was a seasoned one, and they all knew what was needed of them to deliver yet another website. They were, of course, no stranger to this. What is always interesting about these scenarios is that in many cases, there are no documented processes for how the work that creative firms carry-out every day is done.
What happens when you’re in a meeting, and the client asks, “Okay, so what do next steps look like?” If the same three people were to answer at once, it would lead to confusion very quickly. What we see most often are the inefficiencies when it comes to training (or developing) our systems and processes.
According to a recent study done by Sapling, only 58% of new hires said that their onboarding program was focussed on processes and paperwork. Now, can you imagine what onboarding looks like for the other 42%? Like your client inquiring about the next steps, are they confused, overwhelmed, and unsure of their role and how they fit into your agency’s current structure?
Everything In Its Place
I remember when I was a kid, I never really lost things. Sure, there was the occasional sock that wouldn’t find it’s way back home, but for the most part, I always practiced this one principle. Wherever that thing was that I was searching for I knew that it was always in a safe place. When I took off the watch or removed my hat, I would always make sure it was in the same place every single time. If it was a high traffic area, I knew I would see it each time I needed it. The same principles were carried forward into my adult life. Each day when I get home, I remove my watch and wedding ring and place them in a metal bowl that sits on a shelf at my front door. I never lose them. My wife knows where they go. As do my kids. I’ve created a process for storing these valuables, and a culture has been formed around this.
Let’s think about the utensil drawer again, imagine if every household put their knives and forks in a different place. Some used the cupboard above the fridge, others the warmer drawer beneath the oven, and some stored them under the bread box in the pantry. Sure, you could simply ask the homeowner, but what if they aren’t available, and then what happens when different members of the family don’t know where they are? They all end up looking for and seeking direction from the one person who knows that the utensils actually go in the bottom drawer behind the pots and pans. What’s the end result? Chaos, of course! In business, we know this is the bottleneck. Where are the bottlenecks in your agency?
What Is This All Costing You?
What is the cost to your business of staying the same? What is this doing to productivity? Onboarding and training? How do you set priorities? What is slipping through the cracks? In simple terms, inefficiencies in your business are laying waste to your bottom line. We’re wasting time and making things so much harder on ourselves by not taking the time to create consistency and predictability in our businesses.
That’s why whenever possible, we Founders and members of leadership need to produce process documents. Simple lists of 10–15 steps for each of the numerous client deliverables and internal processes that we do every day. Design systems around what client onboarding looks like, how and who is responsible for setting up new projects in Asana, and don’t forget your new hires — if you store your utensils in the office utility closet, they deserve to know right away.
What will you do today to improve one system in your business? Let me know by leaving a comment.