While we all likely agree that a studio operates more efficiently when guided by established workflows, we might not all know where to start when designing or modifying the studio layout that guides those processes.
How do we evaluate what's working and what's not? And when we identify clear inefficiencies, where do we start, from a practical perspective, to implement a new design?
To that end, Kevin Mason of Studio Workflow reunites with The E-Commerce Content Creation Podcast and host Daniel Jester. Hear their whole high-level chat on workflow implementation on Amazon Music, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or our website. Or read on for just a few highlights.
Start Your Process Reform with a Disposition of Asking and Observing
There's a clinician mindset that Kevin maintains when he's working with a studio to improve their workflow—observing, asking questions, and understanding the current status of a studio map.
"I have to look at who's brought me into the studio, first of all, and what is it that they're trying to fix, because they always have something in mind, and it may be that they feel that their process is broken or it's not efficient enough and so on," he says. "So, one of the first things that I'd do is look at that person's role."
Then Kevin is asking them what, if any, process document guides the studio.
That opener tends to get one of three responses, either a matter-of-fact, "Here's the process map for the whole studio," a fragmented document for individual areas of the studio, or simply a blank stare. (Kevin estimates there's about one-third of studios in each camp of response, with bigger studios tending to be the most organized, with those studiowide maps.)
Beyond getting a map, Kevin likes to do a walkthrough of a studio—at first with whoever brought him into a project, and later with department leads—in the morning, midday, and end of day.
"You can really see where there are bottlenecks," he says. "Is every set starting at the same time? Is someone just wandering around, looking a bit confused, and they're trying to find their rail somewhere? All of those things are really strong indicators of, is the studio following the document that they have in place?"
The idea of walking through the same studio areas multiple times per day appeals to Daniel. "If you think of a process map, and it matches what you see in the studio as being two-dimensional, time adds a third dimension," Daniel says. "Things might go great until lunchtime." Processes can break down throughout the day, so seeing how the studio operates at different junctures will help you identify problems and refine protocol in a way that prevents post-lunch slumps.
Examine Whether the Team's Actions Match the Studio's Map
Kevin emphasizes that having a map is good but incomplete if it doesn't translate to clear tasks, roles, and physical actions. He likes to observe studios to see whether people adhere to behaviors specified in the map.
"What I always find is that people always say they have different goals, they take the quickest route to get to the outcome they want, and it may be that the process map works beautifully until it gets to the point of content creation within the set," he says.
To provide an example, Kevin depicts a process map's effect on a photographer shooting in the studio. "If it's the wrong size or doesn't look like the color it says on the label, for example, maybe they're meant to take it over to the digitech or maybe they're meant to take it to production," he says. "On the process map that might make a lot of sense. But actually where the physical model set is, maybe it's quite far from the digitech, so maybe they only take five problems at lunchtime rather than taking the problem on a kind of step-by-step basis each time it occurs, as the process map would request."
There's a level of onboarding by circumspect comprehension that needs to take place. In other words, in order to live by the studio map, people need to see a point to the rules.
"It's then about breaking it down and saying, 'OK, for your individual role, does this make sense to you?', and watching what someone does in a set," Kevin says.
It's not always the studio team that needs to adjust, Kevin is quick to point out, saying sometimes a walkthrough with the team highlights unrealistic expectations in the document, which then requires revision. Daniel, ever a champion of root cause analysis, says that diagnosing the "why" behind unfollowed protocol will help make those revisions effective.
Limit Unintended Consequences with Gradual Protocol Rollouts
Though a necessary part of continuous improvement, change introduces risk—what if a new process breaks down, causes confusion, or leads to bottlenecks?
Kevin recommends getting studio stakeholders together to workshop a suggested protocol. Whether it's a flow of sticky notes or a roleplay of studio assignments, giving your revised workflow a few reps before implementation will help you anticipate problems.
"It's about bringing the leads in and saying, 'OK, these are the things we think we're going to do," he says. "'How do you think that's going to impact someone else in your team that, first of all, may not agree with it?,' because that's a big part of it." Some revisions may need to be introduced as trial periods, making the potential change in protocol at least fractionally less threatening.
If the excerpts here helped you get that high-level outlook for rethinking the physical workflows in your studio, but you want more details, be sure to catch the full podcast episode on Amazon Music, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or our website.