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Reporting For Your Production Studio with Adam Parker

Daniel Jester
Chief evangelist at Creative Force

Full episode transcript

Daniel Jester:
From Creative Force, I'm Daniel Jester and this is the E-commerce Content Creation podcast.

For this episode of the show, we welcome back my esteemed colleague at Creative Force, Adam Parker. To talk a little bit about the forthcoming chapters of his KPI guide for studios. These chapters focus on building reports, not only for the studio but for outside key stakeholders as well. What and how you report your studio data in a quarterly senior leadership meeting is quite different from the reports you may need day-to-day. We also talk a little bit about how we can make sure that we're presenting the correct and relevant information to the people that need it.

Adam Parker:
Be humble, don't assume that you know everything going into this. So, talk to other people, don't do this in a silo. When you come up with some reporting and you think it's solid, go talk to someone who's maybe been at the company longer.

Daniel Jester:
Please be sure to check out Adam's KPI guide at creativeforce.io/kpi-guide, where you will find a wealth of information about how to think about goals, KPIs and reporting and how to build a foundation that will help you make better decisions for your studio and business down the line. Now, let's listen to the episode.

This is the E-commerce Content Creation podcast and I have the distinct honor of introducing our first repeat guest, Adam Parker, who you might remember from episode one?

Adam Parker:
It was episode one.

Daniel Jester:
Episode one of the E-commerce Content Creation podcast. Talking all about studio KPIs. Adam, welcome back to the show. How are you?

Adam Parker:
I'm doing great, Daniel, thanks for having me back. I guess, I didn't ruin my welcome.

Daniel Jester:
You didn't and also, we are coworkers, so you're, kind of, a captive guest- [crosstalk 00:01:52]

Adam Parker:
So, you're saying you have to talk to me.

Daniel Jester:
I have to talk to you, yeah. Thankfully, it's a pleasure and an honor. And you and I are both now a few months into our careers with Creative Force. How are things going? Good? Do you think I'm doing good?

Adam Parker:
I think you're doing great. Is this a review?

Daniel Jester:
Yeah. This is actually... it's a new form of employee review that Thomas and [inaudible 00:02:15] are implementing, where every employee comes on the podcast and then you tell me how I'm doing.

Adam Parker:
You're doing great. No, things are going well, I think. We've got a lot of good things happening. It was exciting to meet everybody in Spain and see humans start getting back together and see people starting to visit studios again, myself included. So, that stuff's all exciting.

Daniel Jester:
Definitely. I wanted to have you back on the show to talk about your KPI guide that has gone live, chapters 1 through 3 are now available on the Creative Force website, you can go check them out, it's extremely useful, I think. And the last time that we got together, we just, kind of, talked about KPIs in general. I've had a chance now to read chapters 4 through 6, the next batch of content for the KPI guide that's going to be released soon. And I wanted to just, kind of, chat with you a little bit about those chapters. These chapters really focused on reporting and how to be thoughtful in your reporting. You have different reports for your teams on the ground, doing the work in the studio, versus what would be a visible dashboard in a studio, versus what you would share in a senior management meeting or presentation. I came up with a list of questions, based on the content of those chapters, that I just, kind of, wanted to ask you about and we could, kind of, talk through. How does that sound?

Adam Parker:
Sounds great, man. I feel like we should clarify that, these chapters, well, we call them chapters, are very digestible. So, this is something you can do while you're at work, in secret and read it, it's not something that you necessarily need a glass of wine for bedside.

Daniel Jester:
Yeah, absolutely. It's very scrollable, the format. It's not like reading a long article in the New Yorker that takes several days.

Adam Parker:
I'm not Susan Orlean, I wish I was.

Daniel Jester:
So, let's jump in. You mentioned, in the opening section on reporting for higher management, that brevity and accuracy are important things to consider. Can you share some examples of the right way to share a KPI in a monthly performance meeting with senior management? What do they like to hear? What do they not like to hear? How should you be prepared?

Adam Parker:
I mean, that's a good question and it depends, somewhat, on your situation but I think there's some things that are going to be the same across the board. And you're going to be talking to people who are really f-ing busy and so, you want to really tailor your approach to maximize your time. You might only get two minutes in a meeting with senior leadership to actually share things with them. So, you want to know what they want to see ahead of time, you don't want to come in with some dashboard with 9 different reports. You want to know ahead of time, what are they interested in? What do they want to see? And come prepared with that stuff and also come prepared with it. And when we talk about brevity, really simple, easy to digest, we're talking a couple of key take away numbers, a couple of key charts, something like that, that obviously financials are interesting to senior leadership but you don't have to get too in the weeds with senior leadership.

Adam Parker:
They aren't going to know the details, necessarily, of what you're doing on a day-to-day basis and aren't going to be interested in it, to be quite honest and nor should they be. So, you want to serve things up on a platter, you want to have backup information ready so you can drill down if you're questioned on something or challenged on something. But for the most part, you want to keep it clean and keep it to really key take aways. Folks might walk away with three points from your meeting and you want to tailor what those are, to make your team look the best or to get the head count you need or to show that you're kicking ass.

Daniel Jester:
Right. And like you said, context is useful, whenever we're trying to understand a chart or a graph or a report like this but you don't necessarily need to lead with all of the information that you have. Give them what you think that they need and have the rest of that information handy, if somebody asks the right questions.

Adam Parker:
This is something I've seen myself do because, you're passionate about what you do and you're interested in all of the minutia of the studio but leadership isn't, necessarily. And so, I've seen myself do this, I've seen other people do it, which is, as you said, to come in with all of the context, to start setting something up with, all right, so to zoom out, you got to know, we started shooting in February and the thing... You can just see people glaze over, they're like, what's your cost per shot compared to last year? Period. That's what we want- [crosstalk 00:06:23]

Daniel Jester:
It was a snowy winter day in the studio- [crosstalk 00:06:25]

Adam Parker:
Yes, exactly. It was raining when I was born.

Daniel Jester:
Yeah.

Adam Parker:
You don't want that much context. But if you are, let's use that same, what was your cost per shop versus last year at this time, if someone does say, well, why is that different? It'd be great if you had some backup to drill down to.

Daniel Jester:
Exactly. Having some answers to, I think, looking in your charts and your graphs for that disparity and then having bullet point answers for that. Yeah, exactly.

Adam Parker:
Yeah. No one wants to just hear things are more expensive this year or we're producing more this year, without some reasons, some facts behind it. Is it part of a strategy to show more diversity in size or something like that? Is it part of a strategy to show more details or whatever it is? There's probably reasons for disparities. If you really are clear on what your data means, you should be able to give that context in a way that's useful to people.

Daniel Jester:
One of the things that really struck me about these forthcoming sections of the KPI guide are, what a great job you did in breaking down a report from... For the listener, you really have to see it to, kind of, understand what I'm saying but you're basically, you're taking a report and saying, this is what leaders care about, this is the context underneath it, this is what KPI attaches to, this is where you get the data from to drive this type of report. And these are all example reports that readers of the KPI guide might be interested but also, they're just examples. And one of the things I wanted to ask you about is, can you walk us through your process of breaking down a report in this way? Spending some time thinking about, I have this information or I need to get to this information, who wants to see it and how? Where does the data come from? And what KPIs does this hit?

Adam Parker:
The way that I have it set up, as you said, in the guide, is the way that I've traditionally seen it in a lot of larger companies and larger brands, which is, starting off with a leadership goal. And just to, sort of, tangent on leadership goals, they're really important and can also be really, really frustratingly vague. So, that's not a great combo, to have something that's super important and can often be vague. But the reason I say that they're important is because, leadership goals are what keep leaders from being micromanagers, right? They can hire smart people, set a goal and the ship's going in the right direction. And so also, you can be empowered, as a studio employee, whatever you do there, to make changes and to act on things that you know were going to ladder up into those goals. So then, you can walk into that meeting we were talking about earlier, hit them with that accurate and concise report and know that what you're showing them is already supporting a leadership goal that they've communicated to the company.

Adam Parker:
So, starting off just with that tangent on leadership goals. But a leadership goal can be something like, ensure operational efficiency. Cool, what the hell does that mean to a person? How do you measure it? It's super vague. So, what I tried to do in the guide was take that and take a studio goal that supports it and the studio goal for something like ensure operational efficiency could be, let's look at, say, shot counts. Say, each set's going to send 150 shots to post production every day. That's a goal that the studio can set and if they're hitting that goal within that business, that's operational efficiency, that's supporting that goal. So, zooming out a little bit further or zooming in, I suppose, to the KPI, what's the KPI that you're looking at? Number of shots sent to post, per set, per day.

Adam Parker:
I've also outlined, where do we get this information? What's your data source? It's usually studio management platform, shameless plug, something like Creative Force or whatever you're using to manage your studio's work. So, I talk about the data sources where you can get the data to support these KPIs. And then, I even drill down into the total weeds, if you want to be a nerd like I do, what are the dimensions that we're looking at? Or what are we measuring? Date shot, file names, product codes, capture locations, metrics and then, the descriptions of what kind of charts best display this kind of information. We talking bar charts, we're talking pie charts, we talking cumulative flow, man, what are we talking about?

Daniel Jester:
We're talking all of them- [crosstalk 00:10:11].

Adam Parker:
I'm talking Red Bull.

Daniel Jester:
What I like about this, Adam, is that, when you think about it like this, you're working from the bottom up, which is setting a better foundation for gaining that contextual understanding of the data that you're collecting. And you're not just walking in having seen a pie chart and needing to, kind of, decipher it on the fly. You have this, again, intimacy with where this information comes from and all of the context around it because it's, sort of, a ground up approach.

Adam Parker:
You get this guy who shows up to meetings and he's got these reports that we're like, no one knows where he makes them and he doesn't share them with anyone before meetings and he pops out and it's some specious accusation that he's making. You don't want to be that guy. You want to be someone who knows how you've made the reports that you've made, who knows that you've socialized the information that you have, maybe validated it with other people, that it's accurate, because all of these things can be complicated.

Daniel Jester:
Let's talk about anomalies. This is an area, especially when you're presenting in front of a group, that you may have to make some assumptions about your data, to clear up what the anomaly is and where it comes from. And in your opinion, Adam, what's the best approach to avoid making incorrect assumptions about our data?

Adam Parker:
I would say, it's a similar approach to many parts in life, which is, be humble, don't assume that you know everything going into this. So, talk to other people, don't do this in a silo. When you come up with some reporting and you think it's solid, go talk to someone who's maybe been at the company longer or talk to someone in a leadership role in a casual setting, validate your data, get a gut check, see if it's right. So, that right there can probably fix about half the problems that you'll have out there, where someone can say, hey, have you actually taken into account that we're shooting all of our flats with a vendor? And we need to take that into account, that's missing from your dataset, that's only internal things, something like that.

Adam Parker:
So, just talking to people and being humble about it will solve a lot of problems. And that's true, I think, in life, as in data. In addition to that, I think, just getting those gut checks and sharing things. And there's going to be less surprises because those same people are going to be the people around the table when you're presenting this information. So, grab a consensus, if you can, ahead of time.

Daniel Jester:
And one of the ways that we can smooth out some of these peaks and valleys in our data is by using averages when we're building some reports, right? So, a seven day rolling average, a weekly average, whatever we decide to use. How do we know when is the right time to apply an average? How do we know how to analyze our data to find the right perspective? Is what I'm trying to say. What should we be looking at to say, this is a little bit misleading, maybe we need to average some of this, maybe we need to bump this up against something else. How do we find the right perspective on our data points?

Adam Parker:
It depends what you're looking for. And I think there's some things that are going to be all the time, like you want to be able to report in a fiscal year, you want to be able to report in Q1, Q2, Q3, things like that. Because, obviously, management's can be concerned with that and it's going to inform things like budgetary decisions, head count, stuff like that. But there are other reports that are going to be completely contingent on what it is that you're talking about. So, going back to that shot counts by set, just a really easy to understand one, that's something you're looking at probably every day. That's something where it's part of actionable changes during the day, if you see that something's not working out right or someone's going too fast, too slow, that's part of reconciling at the end of your day.

Adam Parker:
So, that's something that's part of a daily report, whereas, other things like performance of various job functions in the studio, probably something you'd look at monthly. So, it really just depends on what the content of the report is and when it makes sense to review it. If you want to look at big sea-changes, you're not going to notice that if you're checking something every day.

Daniel Jester:
One of the things that you mentioned in the KPI guide is organizing reports so they are easily viewable by everyone. I have and I expect some of our listeners have, some personal experience with studio teams being a little bit gun shy about public real-time reporting. What is your opinion on something like a studio dashboard that is visible to all and updated in real-time?

Adam Parker:
I'm all about it, I've said it before. I want a fucking scoreboard in the studio, just like in a sports arena. And I think having your main KPIs up on that board, visible by everyone, would be fantastic. It really, I think, builds a team environment where we're all working towards the same thing, we're all seeing the same data, we're all aware of the same trends. And so, I think that it's absolutely a good thing and it strips away a lot of the silos and the, sort of, secretiveness and the, sort of, protectiveness and the sacred cows that exist within any organization but a lot of times in studios.

Daniel Jester:
I'm definitely inclined to agree with you. And, I think, applying a little bit of root cause analysis when you're met with resistance to this idea, can oftentimes aluminate some deep culture problems in your studio, where people feel like this information is attacking them- [crosstalk 00:15:08].

Adam Parker:
That's a good point.

Daniel Jester:
Because the way that I put it to my team when we had this exact conversation at one of the studios that I worked in, is I said, this is not intended to highlight somebody who's doing a bad job, this is intended for us to look at how are we performing as a team and where might we need to put some help, where might we need to unblock some things. It's not about saying, this person's too slow and this person's a rockstar, definitely celebrate your wins and address your problems. But it's about, like you said, us as a team, are we meeting our goal?

Adam Parker:
I mean, I'm going to stick with the sports analogy, which is hilarious, because I don't watch sports ball. But to stick with that analogy, I think you do, kind of, make a good point there, so that scoreboard I was ranting and raving about a minute ago, that should be things that are team related. You don't want to have a scoreboard up there that's stylist output by set, that's not going to go over well and that's not going to really help anyone, probably. But things that are throughput per day as a team or samples checked through by your styling team, things like that, things that are actual team efforts, I think that's fantastic to display in a public way. And I think you create a feedback loop and a culture of continuous improvement that way.

Daniel Jester:
It's a principle in the four disciplines of execution, which is that, if you expect your team to perform, they need to know what the goal is and where they are in relationship to that goal. There's nothing else really to say about that. You can't say, achieve this goal and then never tell them if they've achieved it.

Adam Parker:
I love how you always come out of left field with these leadership principles that I don't know about. And that's why I like talking to you, Daniel.

Daniel Jester:
I've read 10 or 12 pages out of most management books.

Adam Parker:
Is it first 10 or 12 or did you just, sort of, flip?

Daniel Jester:
I pick them at random.

Adam Parker:
You just look for whatever looks the most- [crosstalk 00:16:49] and you're like, this must be important.

Daniel Jester:
A little personal insight, my stack of books has gotten so big of things that I want to read and haven't that I decided to remove most social media apps off of my phone so that I'm forced to read a book, instead of wasting my evenings scrolling around.

Adam Parker:
Good for you. If I want to tie it back to our conversation about reporting, I think, look at screen time on Apple. I mean, that's a great example of instant reporting creating a feedback loop in your behavior and making you change and do things differently.

Daniel Jester:
Creating an intense sense of guilt.

Adam Parker:
Well, that's what we don't want to do. That's what we were saying how, if you make reports that are based on an individual, you are going to get some feelings involved.

Daniel Jester:
Yeah. Oh, and there's a perspective problem there. That's less of me looking at it as an opportunity for improvement and more as an indictment of past behavior and that's just a management shift, that's a cultural shift. That's like, I can get better at this or I can beat myself up over my bad day that I had in the studio. There's parts of this and then there isn't really a question here but I just, kind of, want to chat about it with you. There are some parts in these chapters where you talk about taking some metrics into account and needing to bump those up against some other metric for a little bit of perspective.

Daniel Jester:
So, an example of this is, let's say, a stylist or photographer's performing super fast in their studio and that metric in and of itself can look fantastic and look like they're doing a really great job. But then you bump that up against their rejection rate and it's astronomical. And you realize now that, this stylist or photographer, whoever it is, actually their net impact to the business is more rejections, more rework, more problems. That's a coaching opportunity that you wouldn't see by looking at that one metric alone. What are your thoughts on that?

Adam Parker:
Yeah. You can't look at anything one dimensionally, right? You have to look at how all these data points intersect. And that really, I think, just comes from knowing your business and knowing where things intersect and what things are important to bounce off each other. Like the example you give is exactly a good one, which is, someone's plowing through work but all that work's getting rejected. You could see the same thing in a post-production process, where something like that could be taking place. So, throughput is in everything and context is king.

Daniel Jester:
Very well put, context is king. You mentioned, in a section around creating alerts and I liked this idea and we had a little bit of a back and forth offline about some other ideas that I'd love for you to share on the show that are, kind of, interesting. You've got studio goals, you've got KPIs that support that goal, you've got ways to measure it, you have reporting. Now we can start to build some automations that let us know like, hey, something's going on here. You shared a couple of examples of that with me offline. Would you mind talking about them on the show?

Adam Parker:
Yeah. I think, once you start actually getting your data dialed in and you do have these reports, that's just a logical next step, right? Is, I don't want to go, necessarily, searching for this data, searching on a dashboard and digging through things, have it come to me when it's important, move the mountain to Moses. A good example of this would be, if you have a report of every product you're responsible for, that is due in the next two weeks and does not have a sample checked in for it. It's a veritable hot list, right? These are things that are due two weeks and we don't have samples for. So, trigger that report to send to your sample team every morning or every Tuesday, whatever works for your team, but they're getting this actionable report that's an alert of things that they need to go do.

Adam Parker:
Another example of an alert would be, if you have a little bit more precise reporting and you have an estimated duration of work attached to products, you could say that, shirts take me 8 minutes to shoot. And so, you've got a duration attached to what you're shooting and you're creating a job, say, for a day, with 60 products attached to it. And you can see that that duration just spirals out of what's actually possible in your work day. If you have sophisticated reporting, you could get an alert saying, duration for this is 10 and a half hours. And you can either choose to keep the team over time or separate it into two days, add some more product, make it two days, whatever, it's actionable.

Daniel Jester:
Right.

Adam Parker:
But setting up those alerts, based on sophisticated reporting is, kind of, what I was getting at there.

Daniel Jester:
Adam, thank you so much for coming back on the show. I know we, kind of, forced you to do this a little bit but it was a pleasure to get to talk to you about these next chapters of the KPI guide and I can't wait to hear what our readers think of the next chapters. I think they're really valuable.

Adam Parker:
I think people will absolutely be able to use them and I'm all about trying to share actionable information with people in our industry. So, it's always going to be here.

Daniel Jester:
All right, man, until next time.

Daniel Jester:
That's it for this episode. Thank you so much for listening and many thanks to Adam Parker for his time and expertise. As always, check our show notes for relevant links and information, including where to get the latest on Adam's KPI guide. This show is produced by Creative Force, edited by Calvin Lands. Special thanks to Sean O'Meara and Adam Parker. I'm your host, Daniel Jester, until next time my friends.

About the host

Daniel Jester
Chief evangelist at Creative Force

Daniel Jester is an experienced creative production professional who has managed production teams, built and launched new studios, and produced large-scale projects. He's currently the Chief Evangelist at Creative Force but has a breadth of experience in a variety of studio environments - working in-house at brands like Amazon, Nordstrom, and Farfetch as well as commercial studios like CONVYR. Creative-minded, while able to effectively plan for and manage a complex project, he bridges the gap between spreadsheets and creative talent.