Industry Info

Debate & Discuss: Collaboration

Posted: September 8, 2015 by
Linda Casey

In the September issue, Package Design explores how brands can collaborate better inside and outside of their organizations.

Lisa Cody
vice president of marketing services at Jarden Consumer Solutions.
Jarden Consumer Solutions’ brands include Bionaire, Crock-Pot, FoodSaver, Mr. Coffee, Oster, Sunbeam and more.

What is the rose and the thorn of having a large collaborative team meeting early in the process?

There really isn’t a downside to gaining visibility into projects early in the game. Gathering key stakeholders and decision makers around the same table to kick projects off facilitates alignment around objectives, roles, scope, timing and budget.  It also allows the team to do advance research, schedule accordingly and line up the appropriate creative super team for the project. Early access also facilitates a deeper sense of ownership by the designers, because they feel included from the start as opposed to being pulled in late in the game.

How can brands and agencies ensure that the project evolves without excessive project scope creep?

We have found the antidote to scope creep is a combination of a few things, including clear definition and communication of project objectives by the brand team as well as the agency’s understanding and ability to design against those same objectives. For us, it’s literally about being on the same page because our whole process starts with a clear design brief outlining the project objectives, target audience, key deliverables and timing. We revisit the brief throughout our process to ensure things stay on track.

Do you have any tips for managing budgets and timelines?

Start with having a clearly defined statement of work (SoW) outlining budgets, deliverables and timelines based on an approved brief. I also recommend breaking the SoW and associated costs into phases because sometimes it’s easier to manage budgets and timelines in chunks, particularly if scope starts to creep. Lastly, I expect our agencies and partners to provide me with regular updates regarding the status of the project against the budget to manage expectations. With limited budgets and turnaround time, no one likes to be surprised with news the budget has been blown after the fact.

How can brands and their partners set ambitious but realistic goals?

There needs to be a mutual understanding and respect for what can, and cannot be reasonably accomplished based on scope, timing, budget and resources. On the brand side, it’s important to clearly communicate what the objectives are and when appropriate, the metrics associated with those goals. There should be an open dialogue led by the brand side about what success looks like from the creative and process perspectives, including what has worked, or not worked in the past. On the partner side, it’s important to understand their capabilities and confidence in achieving the goals. There’s nothing worse than overpromising and under delivering. Open and honest communication is critical from both sides.

Tom Newmaster
partner of design and branding agency WFM (William Fox Munroe Inc.)

What is the rose and the thorn of having a large collaborative team meeting early in the process?

The rose: You get an opportunity to put faces with the email addresses. This gives everyone a chance to ask specific questions early on in the process and really helps build the team. It also allows you to identify where the weaknesses are within the group, which can help you guide your client over potential holes and gaps in the team.

The thorn: You get the opportunity to put faces with the email addresses. In addition, some individuals can take this involvement to mean their input and approval is needed at every step, which is not necessarily the case. Keeping everyone in the loop is nice, but the best clients manage and ask for specific input when appropriate.

How can brands and their partners set ambitious but realistic goals?

Brands should be honest about the expected deliverable at each step in the process. Understand and respect the amount of time and money needed by each vendor to produce the desired result at each phase. Ultimately, building a collaborative interaction between vendors will result in better than expected results. 

How can brands and agencies ensure a project evolves without excessive project scope creep?

Project evolution is very common, and the only way to eliminate excessive project creep is to be open and honest with everyone throughout the process. It gives you the opportunity to adjust your quote, which greatly increases your ability to manage and maintain the client expectations. Many times the speed of the project makes this process difficult, but a few simple emails or calls can keep everyone on the same page.

Do you have any tips for managing budgets and timelines?

Mutual respect for all parties involved is key: Everyone wants more time and everyone thinks the other guy can do their part in less time.

Understand the services being provided, and be a team player. I know this might sound trite, but it’s true. 

How can a brand create a better creative brief or request for proposal?

Creative briefs and RFPs are only as good as the author’s understanding and ability to evaluate creative solutions. It’s not about knowing all the answers, but knowing when to ask the right questions. We all can work on being better listeners. 

When should a process be collaborative, and when should a particular team be allowed to work independently toward the desired results?

That can be a very delicate situation to manage, and the correct balance can be difficult to achieve. Someone must be the final decision maker, and that person needs to own the whole process. That doesn’t mean they make all of the decisions in a vacuum, but rather they confide and consult with the appropriate parties when necessary. This requires experience in sorting individual strengths. 

How important is the ability to share and promote the collaborative work to ensure the best work from individuals?

This requires a “people expert” and manager who isn’t afraid to lead. Knowing and understanding individual strengths isn’t easy, but the good listeners can sort through the noise of the business and get to the valuable assets existing within the team.

What’s preventing better collaboration between brands and supplier-partners?

Don’t be territorial. It’s hard, but a real solid and mutually beneficial partnership is priceless. Long term, these relationships can grow business and produce superior brand and packaging solutions.

Dr. Sonat Birnecker Hart
president of Koval Distillery

What is the rose and the thorn of having a large collaborative team meeting early in the process?

Obviously, the principles are going to need to be involved in final decisions and some guidance, but that does not mean they are capable of actually bringing anything else to the table. I speak from experience.

When it comes to branding, there are often others better suited for the job and it is best to trust them to translate the passion behind the product(s) into a visual expression. Collaborations are great, but a strong guiding vision or art director capable of making sure that the branding is on point for everyone is important.

How can brands and their partners set ambitious but realistic goals?

Knowing what one wants to accomplish with a collaborative effort is a great place to start. We have done many different kinds of collaborations, from events to products. Everyone is different.

We always try to think of how a collaboration could develop from the beginning, so that we can work toward ambitious goals. We recently engaged in a casual collaboration and met about how we could work toward making it into a product line. What began as a casual collaboration between two like-minded companies has now been reworked into a vision for a much larger collaboration.

How can brands and agencies ensure a project evolves without excessive project scope creep?

Remaining focused is difficult with anything; however, having a clearly defined brand vision and brand assets can help keep one on track. They can serve as a litmus test to make certain projects stay on track, without limiting creative opportunity.

Do you have any tips for managing budgets and timelines?

Timelines are funny things, aren’t they? To be honest, I would always just add a buffer in; this helps manage expectations. Things always seem to take longer than anyone wants, but there is no point in doing things poorly quickly either. The same goes for budgets. Trying to find the best deal or cheapest option is all too often cheap looking, and brands need to be clear on expectations when deciding on what is important—saving costs or making an impact visually. In our experience, paying more for branding than we wanted—in the name of beauty and quality—has always paid off.

How can agencies work better with brands like yours?

I think that a branding firm really needs to get to understand not only the products but also the people behind them. Showing that one has done one’s homework is always a great place to start.

Do you have any tips for determining when a process should be collaborative or when a particular team should work independently toward the desired results?

If one commits to a team then I believe that they should be allowed to work independently. Just think of what would have happened if Adele Bloch Bauer told Gustav Klimt about her portrait in progress, “It is going in the right direction, but I don’t know about all that gold.”

Sometimes, it is the surprising details; even those that make one a bit uncomfortable that will help one stand out. Having someone see a creative vision to its completion can afford great surprises, and at times, be immensely rewarding.

How important is the ability to share and promote the collaborative work to ensuring the best work from individuals?

Obviously, everyone loves getting recognition for work well done. I think that knowing that one will get recognition for a project can be a driver; however, I would want anyone working on a project to do amazing work regardless of how it is promoted and what the recognition might be.

My uncle Paolo Grazi was one of the best marble fabricators in Italy. While he was alive, he owned his own studio, Studio Scultura in Carrara.

In truth, he was a great sculptor, but his “job” was to make large-scale sculptures for artists only capable of making a tiny model. He did not get any credit, although he was the one who actually made the sculptures that flank the entryways of international banks and other venues.

My uncle never gave a hoot about self-promotion or recognition, only doing a great job.

What’s preventing better collaboration between brands and supplier-partners?

Creativity. I think that a lot of people just like to play it safe. Allowing one the freedom to be different, is not easy, but could make for more interesting collaborations. Truth is, very few companies actually want to be different, have the ability to differentiate, or both.

Do you have any other advice for our readers?

When it comes to collaborations and taking someone’s brand and translating it into a tangible item, there seem to be two main approaches: 1) one can either hope for the creative freedom to let loose inspiration so a brand story can be accomplished in a unique and compelling way or 2) one can just grit one’s teeth, close all those Pinterest pages with wonderful inspiration pieces and, with a smile, go for what is safe.

Peter Clarke
founder and CEO of Product Ventures

What is the rose and the thorn of having a large collaborative team meeting early in the process?

Cross-functional team involvement in a design initiative helps to ensure that all aspects of a challenge are addressed. While it can be difficult to assemble a cross-functional team and cumbersome to have all involved throughout an initiative. The positives outweigh the negatives as enlisting various expertise and perspectives helps to ensure a balanced outcome.

How can brands and their partners set ambitious but realistic goals?

It is vitally important for brands and their partners to align on clear achievable objectives via an effective design brief. The brief needs to include deliverables and timing that both parties agree to. An effective work plan will include key milestones and measures. To push the boundaries, most design deliverables will include a range of solutions from close-in to far-out. This stratification of deliverables allows for a balanced consideration of feasible design ideas without shutting the door to more innovative opportunities.

How can brands and agencies ensure a project evolves without excessive project scope creep?

A work plan needs to be established and executed according to plan. Taking the time up front to develop a design brief, with buy-in from all key stakeholders, can help ensure that the work plan generated by the agency is on target. Agencies, in turn, need to stay on track with deliverables and timing while enabling work to evolve as new information is derived. Multiple team check-ins at key milestones can work as a mechanism to determine whether the scope and or focus of the initiative should evolve.

Do you have any tips for managing budgets and timelines?

Fundamentally, unless there is a change in scope directed by the client, the pre-determined budget and timing should not change. If new information comes in and or there is a request for changes in deliverables, the agency and client should discuss the implications. An agency should never go back for more money or more time after the fact. A change in plan needs to be discussed and agreed upon prior to commencement.

How can a brand create a better creative brief or request for proposal?

There is specific DNA an effective brief must contain. This includes clear success criteria. The best agencies have experience with a broad range of client briefs including good ones and bad ones. We have a pro forma brief that serves as a proxy for clients to fill out. This ensures we get the information we need to provide a thorough proposal that is on strategy for our clients.

When should a process be collaborative, and when should a particular team work independently toward the desired results?

If the subject matter is outside of the parties’ expertise they should empower the experts to do their work independently. Collaboration is important when you are looking for collective input but can also be an impediment to effective and efficient progress. Creating specific key milestones for collaboration over the course of a given process ensures that different perspectives are heard and team buy-in is afforded without derailing progress.

How important is the ability to share and promote the collaborative work for ensuring the best work from individuals?

Everyone on the team wants to feel like that have contributed to a challenge. It motivates a person to know that their participation resulted in a better solution. If a person feels that their contributions don’t matter they become dispirited and the power of the united team is compromised. Recognition is an important aspect of leadership.

What’s preventing better collaboration between brands and supplier-partners?

Lack of respect and trust. It is important to trust the expertise of each member of the team within their area of leadership. It’s also important to recognize and understand the limitations of one’s own expertise and to defer to others when appropriate.

Sarah O’Neil
independent branding and design consultant

What is the rose and the thorn of having a large collaborative team meeting early in the process?

Nobody wants too many cooks in the kitchen, but gaining diverse perspectives across teams at the outset is critical for establishing a solid strategic vision and the path to success. Discussing the big picture helps in defining key parameters and prioritizes the objectives and metrics from the get-go.

The trick is to make sure the right people are involved—the decision-makers and the key stakeholders and no one else.

How can brands and their partners set ambitious but realistic goals?

Both brands and agencies should interrogate the goals deeply. It’s easy to jump to tactical objectives, but it’s so important to define the real motivation. With the purpose in mind, it becomes easier to set specific goals.

But it’s important to make sure these goals are both measureable and attainable. I find the part that is often skipped is about whether the objectives are truly relevant to the project at hand. Can the marketing vehicle we’re creating actually deliver on these expectations? An honest discussion about this could lead to expanding the marketing effort or perhaps refining the metrics.

How can brands and agencies ensure a project evolves without excessive project scope creep?

Ah, the dreaded scope creep. Even with the most detailed plans and the best intentions creative projects often unfold in unexpected ways.

To limit scope creep, it’s important to remember that every organization is structured differently and each project is unique in some way. A frank discussion about how the agency plans to approach the project along with how the brand typically functions internally will help define the requirements, appropriate checkpoints, final deliverables and possible contingencies.

The proposed plan needs to be thoroughly communicated to the key stakeholders at the outset. By thoroughly, I don’t mean a 170-page deck. Yawn.

Do you have any tips for managing budgets and timelines?

An open discussion about both money and timing are crucial to help limit the “dreaded scope creep” we were just talking about. Yet, most people don’t like to talk about money—surprisingly, even when it’s not their own.

The fear of losing the upper hand in negotiations makes people shy away from being candid about the budget. The brand and its partners need to be talking apples to apples so it’s important to be up front. The toughest negotiation can come during discussions over budget and timing.

A colleague once suggested to me that I look at every project like a three-legged stool: Each leg represents an interdependent demand on the project: the deliverables, the schedule and the budget. When one element shifts the other two legs need to adjust in tandem so the stool won’t fall over.

How can a brand create a better creative brief or request for proposal?

A brief should be “brief.” It’s better to have four pages of inspiring relevant information than 100 pages. But creating a tight, compelling brief is hard. It takes time to gather the right information, decide what really needs to be accomplished and then communicate those ideas to the agency.

What’s preventing better collaboration between brands and supplier-partners?

A higher level of mutual respect—this is not a transactional type of relationship––it should be a partnership. Keep in mind that the brands are the experts in their industry and agencies are experts in their field. Each brings key knowledge and perspective that makes the work great and effective. It’s a give and take that should result in a win-win. Egos have to be checked at the door so that both sides can work effectively together.

Do you have any other advice to share with Package Design’s readers?

More and more brands are creating in-house creative services teams, while an increasing number of creative people are also working freelance. We need to rethink the brand-agency relationship model, so that people are spending more time on creating amazing work and less time dealing with politics.

Renee Whitworth
partner at branding and design agency Flood Creative

What is the rose and the thorn of having a large collaborative team meeting early in the process?

The roses outnumber the thorns! And it is not always about a streamlined process or a better strategic result. It is much more about fundamental human behavior.

It’s just natural to want to change an idea that is just handed to you all tied up with a bow and ready to go. “Buying” into brand design is no different than buying a house, car, or even a wedding dress. You want to be involved. You see something you wish was different or could be swapped out for another detail. You wonder what else might be out there. So everyone has to go on the journey or else it becomes about selling the idea up versus solving the problem.

There is one thorn however, and that is someone needs to be the fresh pair of eyes. Have you ever had someone look at a piece of work on your screen or on the wall and say, for example, “That looks like a toilet bowl cleaner from the 1980s,” and the project is for a kids organic beverage? Yikes! Until then the team felt great about the idea and had justified it as a group. But there always need to be someone who has a gut reaction without any of the history.

How can brands and their partners set ambitious but realistic goals?

What is there to gain by settling? Not being uncomfortable? You just do it.

I recently had a project for a product that was literally on the ropes. The design was dated. Sales were down. And there was no time and no money to fix it.

The suggestion was to just add a violator and do some retouching. Everyone was depressed and defeated.

So guess what? We did not tell the creative team all the dirty details. We did not give them the brief full of watch-outs, hand-cuffs or concerns. We did not discuss the limited budget. We put a team of eight on it at our own expense and simply said ‘What would you do if this was your company?” Sales went from double-digit negative to double-digit positive in six months.

How can brands and agencies ensure a project evolves without excessive project scope creep?

I actually don’t think scope creep is that big of an issue. It’s more about how the iterative process can become about pleasing everyone and potentially watering down an idea to the point of exhaustion. Losing momentum and excitement is a bigger threat. And to be honest I think when people become frustrated they like to make scope creep the scape goat, but it’s probably just about swapping out an emotional reward for a financial reward.

If I worked somewhere else, I might get fired for saying that. But there is some truth to internal and external “nuisance costs,” which could be about effort, time, money or apathy, and I mean that for both the brand teams and the agencies.

Do you have any tips for managing budgets and timelines?

There are two briefs: The one that is used to get the budget and timeline approved, which makes the job sound quick and simple and without much strategic ground to cover, and then there is the brief after the timeline and money is agreed to, which usually and quite suddenly grants a lot more permission.

How can a brand create a better creative brief?

Briefs are no longer brief. They are extensive and require so many approvals. There is no sense re-writing a brief that the client can’t get approved, but as I mentioned before, not every designer needs to hear the whole internal story, especially if it is limiting or alarming.

What’s preventing better collaboration between brands and supplier-partners?

The only thing that holds us back at work is the same as what holds us back in life. Fear of being honest. Fear of rejection. Fear of failure. If we all think back to the projects where we really shined and had a team that we really enjoyed, I bet there was a real bad ass involved somehow!