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An Off-the-Shelf Convert

[ 0 ] April 15, 2013 |

In my previous role as head of a creative team, we had a great project management system. We had almost everything we needed. It was a great time tracking tool, managed of our “job jacket” details, had fantastic reporting capabilities, and even had a work-sharing component that allowed team members to request help of one another. This tool was custom built in FileMaker Pro about ten years ago by our “Mac guy” and then refined and expanded by our second “Mac guy” (both were highly-valued team members). I wasn’t involved in the original build, so I’m uncertain whether off-the-shelf products were reviewed. But I can attest that building our own system was cost-effective (the labor was already paid for in the form of our Mac support team member) and licensing fees for FileMaker Pro were quite reasonable.

If I were still in that role, but armed with the knowledge I’ve learned in the last year about project management systems, I would suggest a system review to determine if it were time to move to an off-the-shelf system. This is for several reasons:

  1. The “Mac guy” is no longer with the company. Luckily he is still available for freelance work (or at least he was), but it’s at a higher cost. There is a lot of dependence on this one person—moving to a system which could be supported by a larger network of people would be beneficial in the long run. This is not to say we couldn’t have found someone with FMP experience who could have figured it out, but it wouldn’t have been convenient.
  2. There was some functionality we never implemented due to the complexity of the programming behind it AND the amount of time it would have taken. I wanted workflow scheduling—the ability to schedule out multimedia and other longer-term projects across team members and identify how much capacity each team member had on a weekly and monthly basis so I would quickly be able to figure out information such as “When would Alicia be available to start “x” project?” We did have the ability to see how busy people were in the short term, but we couldn’t see the details of their longer-term capacity—we used paper and pencil to figure this out. This type of functionality is available in most off-the-shelf products.
  3. New reports needed to be designed and programmed by someone with FMP experience—some of the off-the-shelf products allow for very easy custom report design.
  4. Our FMP application was server based which made remote access very slow, whether by employees working from home or our team members in India. Moving to a cloud/web-based system would have provided efficiency gains.

I’m not saying I’m a complete convert from custom to off-the-shelf, but there are a lot of advantages to consider with off-the-shelf products. The market has changed considerably in the past ten years. Some systems make it very easy to start time and project tracking with minimal investment and effort (FunctionFox is a good example). Other systems offer a full Smörgåsbord of functions (e.g., approvals tracking and routing, digital asset management, proof reviews, accounting tools, scheduling, media buying) at varying price points with varying opportunities to customize (Workamajig, MetaCommunications, and Advantage are examples in this space). There are a lot of different products on the market to support creative in-house teams in their question to work more efficiently—the Cella team has created a list of the products we’ve come across and we’ve bucketed them based on capabilities. Some products may fit across multiple categories, but we believe we’ve put them in the bucket they best fit. Request the list.

In short, implementing a project management system greatly improves the ability of the creative leader to effectively manage his or her business, and there are a lot of tools available to help.

For information about how Cella can add value to your business through consulting, coaching, and training, please email This article was written by Cella Vice President and General Manger Jackie Schaffer.

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Category: InSights

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