by Allison Banko
With 750,000 customers and assets topping $35 billion, ATB Financial cashes in as the largest financial institution in Alberta, Canada. ATB, a crown corporation of the Alberta government, is powered by its 5,000 associates, spreading across multiple business units. One piece of the corporation is the Creative Center, ATB's in-house agency.
"We're responsible for all of the marketing communications that all of the divisions of ATB generate internally and externally," explained ATB Senior Direct Marketing and Traffic Manager Bill Gattinger. "We have a Web team that is responsible for all of our online properties, whether it's our website, our various internal sites or the corporate site. Plus, we have our offline team with copywriters and designers and direct marketers and production people."
Although ATB was founded more than 75 years ago, the Creative Center has been around for less than a decade. The team started small, with about five individuals handling 300 projects a year. However, the team has since expanded to 25 members, responsible for more than 2,000 projects annually.
The Creative Center's services are free to ATB stakeholders so they don't have to pay by the hour. Instead, stakeholders submit a job and the Creative Center generates the work. Gattinger said it has been his experience that when a resource has little or no monetary value, it's overutilized. There is no penalty and no one to ask, "Gee, can we afford to do this?"
"They'll send it in to us and we'll generate it for them," he added. "They pay for the production. If I have to go on press with something, they will pay for it, but in terms of generating the creative, that doesn't cost them anything. So we just had this huge avalanche of requests that would come in, in all sorts of ways."
These requests were relayed through a multitude of mediums including SharePoint, Microsoft Project, emails, spreadsheets and even on small slips of paper. There were also what Gattinger described as "drive-bys," when someone would walk past the designer's cube and ask for something verbally.
"Trying to manage that was like herding cats," Gattinger said. "You had no way of knowing what all was there."
Not surprisingly, tracking projects was pure chaos, resulting in endless hours of administrative tasks such as drafting project reports due to the vice president of Marketing on Mondays. Managers would send out a spreadsheet to members on Fridays to try to collect updates and project data.
Gattinger often found himself working on the weekend to assemble everything because managers had no way to dig into a project's process other than approaching the designer or copywriter, asking, "Where are you with this?"
"We had no way to look at their capacity so that we could tell if they were overworked or if they had extra capacity," Gattinger said. "We had no way of knowing what jobs were about to go into production. The production people, which was my staff, would get final art and say, 'OK, we need it for the day after tomorrow.' You are constantly behind the curve. You're struggling to keep a handle on things."
All of the craziness was amounting to missing projects and a spike in production costs because rushed print projects resulted in ATB paying a premium.
"There were a lot of balls in the air," Gattinger said, "and when you have a lot of balls in the air, some of them hit the ground."
For the majority of his career, Gattinger has been on the production side of companies. However, he had never had to manage thousands of projects manually before.
"In the old days before computers, we used big boards and we had little slips of paper," he recalled. "You'd move the piece of paper around from step to step, but at least you could get a handle on it. We had no way to do that. We needed something."
As his team size grew and technology evolved, Gattinger moved from his vintage way of pin boards to project management software. He had used it in a different environment than ATB, he said. He knew that moving from mangled manual processes to a fully automated process could reap huge benefits.
After some research, the Creative Center team determined that a cloud-based solution would work best for them. It would allow the team members to work on one interface, marrying scrambled spreadsheets, emails and the like to optimize internal processes.
Step #1. Examine and map out current project management processes
Before implementing any changes, the team first had to look at its current project management processes in-depth. They then formulated process maps from those observations.
"[This] was a great exercise because even though intrinsically we knew what they were, we hadn't mapped every single situation," Gattinger said.
Step #2. Select a system that matches the team's needs
Next, ATB utilized a consultant to integrate these and translate them to cloud technology. The consultant found a platform that matched both ATB Financial's needs and internal culture, recommending one with a social media-like interface. This cloud resembled Facebook, allowing users to enter and view project updates similar to a Facebook timeline.
"I'm not, but a lot of the people that work in the department are millennials," Gattinger said. "I'm a baby boomer, so I'm an old dinosaur."
Gattinger said that it's important for any software solution to be easily adoptable by the people using it. If it's not, they won't use it.
Step #3. Implement the new process
After the software was customized with ATB data, it was time for the rollout.
A cloud-based project management solution was ideal, especially for the Creative Center, because its creative director was out of the country for the year due to his wife's term with the Red Cross in Ethiopia.
Even though he was time zones and countries away from the offices, he was able to still do his job efficiently due to the project management switch. Rather than dialing in to a system, he could use the Internet to log in to a cloud that allowed him to proof creative materials created by the team.
"We will send proofs of creative that he can review," Gattinger explained. "He can update, upgrade, whatever he wants."
When receiving a job, the team member would enter the project into the cloud to self-manage their workflows. Rather than having a multi-touch, disorderly way of tracking projects through emails, spreadsheets and SharePoint, the data was now available all in one place with necessary visibility and tracking.
"There's lots of balls in the air," Gattinger said, "but I have a safety net underneath."
Within a few months of optimizing the Creative Center's project management, Gattinger's team experienced a 30% increase in productivity.
The new way of managing was much more efficient due to better tracking and using one interface allowed the Creative Center reduce its 25-person team by 20%, tightening to 20, while increasing work production. Fewer people were able to do 20% more work per month.
Gattinger said now it's more fun for those who work at ATB because they aren't under the stress of digging for lost projects. Before, employees didn't know what was on their plates project-wise, whereas now they do.
"At least they know what they've got," he said. "It's almost as if it's the mountain you can see in front of you, rather than the mountain that you can't see, but you know it's there."
The team's costs have also decreased significantly due to the team's size reduction yet increase in capacity.
Perhaps most importantly, team members can go back to focusing on their work rather than administrative tasks, managers no longer having to work weekends to compile status reports. Designers can now do what they're paid to do rather than chase people down, rather than try to figure out what's going on, Gattinger explained.
"The biggest takeaway that I would have that we got by automating this is the power of the information. Being able to answer to somebody that says, 'Where is this? Where is the project in the cycle?'" he added. "As a traffic and production person in an agency, that's priceless."
SourcesATB Financial AtTask
— ATB Financial's work management solution provider
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