How much process is too much?

We spend most of our time working with startups and companies experiencing a growth phase in one way or another. In some cases we are running their ad operations end-to-end. In others we are providing strategic guidance on what to focus on and what to avoid. In every situation we have been retained to either make things easier for the publisher or make them more money. Occasionally, we will step into a fairly well defined process. More often, however, part of our scope includes defining or improving processes. There is a delicate balance between the Wild West of the earliest days and becoming mired in a bureaucracy of processes that were originally implemented for very good reasons.

One of the biggest assets startups and small businesses have is the ability to move quickly. Maintaining that speed and agility as companies grow beyond the proverbial garage where they were founded becomes more and more difficult over time. For digital publishers especially, the complexity of doing business requires that processes are implemented in order to create internal alignment and deliver an exceptional experience for customers. Examples of this include:

- Pre and post-sale checklists designed to transfer knowledge from the client to the initial point of contact (often a salesperson) to the internal teams responsible for execution, from project management to ad operations. 

- Calendars for scheduling certain products such as takeovers, roadblocks or newsletters.

- Business rules around budgeting for the promotion of branded content and/or traffic buying in order to satisfy impression-based media obligations.

There are countless others, but these illustrate some of the most common first steps publishers take to create order out of chaos. The risk is that processes like these begin to replace basic common sense, or that teams use them as a shield (or a weapon) against others within the organization. When employees struggle to even keep track of all the documentation for internal processes, you know there is a problem. Also, its possible to develop a culture of creating processes where none are particularly necessary. In our experience, the best companies have written frameworks in place with enough flexibility for individual contributors and managers to make the right decisions when it matters. Focusing on the most critical aspects of the business, or those that tend to cause the most problems, is a good way to prioritize. 

Don’t try to boil the ocean. Create processes, document them in easy to understand language, and keep them updated. Instill a sense of teamwork and encourage people to use common sense. Its far more important that people are able to work together collaboratively than follow a rigid set of rules.