Mention the word "workflow" to a room full of seasoned, intelligent executives and you're likely to induce a mass attack of glassy-eyed narcolepsy. Nothing can put a damper on a spirited entrepreneurial discussion like visions of boxes, triangles, hexahedrons and decision trees that are conjured up by this topic. However, give me that boredom anytime over the crisis-inducing mayhem that happens when this discussion does not occur.
What is workflow? At its most basic level "workflow" simply documents a process. It's really a graphic representation -- a flow chart -- of the steps required to complete a task from start to finish. For complex projects, like building a computer network or running an ad operations department, it is critical.
I mentioned the "crisis-inducing mayhem" that happens when you don't have a documented workflow. For all of you publishers out there, how many people at your company know the end-to-end ad ops process, including checks and balances that occur from the time inventory avails are requested to the time an invoice winds up in the hand of a customer?
Many, many publishers don't have a single staff person who knows the whole roadmap. Sure, individuals might own specific areas like inventory or billing, but few have the total picture.
This lack of documentation is dangerous in several regards. First, every action has a reaction, and it is important for the person entering contract information to know the impact that their work can have at billing and invoicing time. It's important for an inventory staff person to understand the impact their calculations (or miscalculations) have on revenue. Second, lack of documentation can put critical knowledge of business processes in the hands (or should I say "in the brains") of a single person.
How many times have you heard the phrase "Don't get hit by a bus" in connection with ad operations staff? Plenty. Disseminating and documenting knowledge about how your business is run is like an insurance policy against catastrophic damage.
To summarize: Workflow. Don't leave home without it.
What should workflow include in ad operations?
The checks and balances required to make sure timely, accurate inventory information is in play at every step of the sales process. Approvals are needed to reserve inventory if your company recognizes that practice, according to a pre-established set of business rules. Certain types of products need advanced analysis (floating ads, behavioral) to ensure accurate forecasts.
Proposals and contracts:
Thresholds for pricing and credit approvals and the business rules required to override them. This also includes the identities of the gatekeepers of this process and the time frames to accomplish approvals.
A QA process to ensure an accurate launch including escalation points to ease the pain of out-of-spec or late creative. Optimization and pacing guidelines ensure that campaigns have the best chance to deliver as contracted.
Billing and invoicing:
The documented workflow that applies to your contract management process includes a "how to" on how to generate a monthly file. Create guidelines for handling unlinked products, including third-party served campaigns, month-end reconciliation rules, regulations and escalation points.
Of course, these are just a few of the items that make up the task list associated with ad operations. The flow chart associated with these tasks does not have to be indecipherable. In fact, it should add clarity by stepping through the process so that anyone can interpret it. It's a legacy document that helps ensure uninterrupted efficiency in ad operations. And if you consider this a quick route to boredom, that's not such a bad thing. After all, in ad operations, there are plenty of other daily tasks that keep things exciting.
Doug Wintz is the founder and principal of DMV MediaWorks. .