Hidden Factories are natural outgrowths of an organization trying to correct issues of poor quality by implementing a series of operational inefficiencies to “correct” the issue. These corrective activities become engrained into the Standard Operating Procedure of the firm and become “the way we do things at this agency.” When these types of rationalizations occur, you have mentally hidden the operation and consequently have created a drain on revenue that provides no real value to the client.
If you’re analyzing your process for Hidden Factories, start by looking for the diamond shapes where decisions are made. Within the creative process, these steps are most commonly review gateways looking for an instance of pass or fail to proceed. Common forms of Hidden Factories are unnecessary inspection and rework cycles from improperly preformed tasks downstream. That is not to say all review steps are Hidden Factories lurking in your process. The creative process benefits greatly from review steps such as QAs, proofreading, and creative direction. What we are looking for are erroneous verification steps that ensure the step prior has performed the operation correctly.
Common examples of Hidden Factories in Creative Agencies are sets of reviews meant to counter a past mistake. These activities are added by the firm in good faith as the best solution to a problem that has occurred. However, the operators of the process don’t see the corrective action as the “best way” to meet the customer’s requirements. Instead, they see the corrective process steps as the “most likely to work” within their agency. They know the real answer is to fix the broken process, but they see the likelihood of this occurring as remote.
An example of this may be a Creative Director insisting on signing off on mechanicals before they go to press due to having had a reprint in the past. A Creative Director should be providing value to the client by directing creative, not verifying a production task was completed correctly. A production team member performing a QA on the prep’d mechanical can be considered a required step in the process. However, adding inspections by the wrong people at the wrong time will invariably cause rework and recycle of process steps that drain revenue and produce no value to your client. This is an example of the wrong person doing the wrong task at the wrong time. And if your agency thinks “this is just the way we do it,” then you have an opportunity for improvement.
If you are serious about improving process in your Creative Agency, you will have to own up to these wasteful Hidden Factories after you have uncovered them. Using the excuse “this is how we do things here” is a form of avoidance that will keep you in the same rut that prompted you to take a look at your process in the first place. If your Agency is trying to increase efficiency, lower operating expenses, and lean out your process, start by facing realities by bringing to light your Hidden Factories.
Have you ever worked at an agency that employed a Hidden Factory as a workaround to a problem? Leave a comment and share your story.