Electronic-commerce (E-commerce) is the electronic purchase or sale of products or services over the internet. This can include online retailing, electronic markets and online auctions. Typically online retailers will sell either physical or digital products. A burgeoning arm of the digital e-commerce industry, is the sale of “explainer videos”. Explainer videos are a form of online video marketing that make use of video to communicate with an audience about a brand, product or service. A recent study by Hubspot showed that 80% of users were able to recall a video ad that they viewed in the past 30 days. In light of this, big brands have followed suit and are now incorporating videos into their marketing strategies. In this article, we will discuss a real case study on applying lean to the production process at an explainer video company, but these same principles can and should be applied to any online digital retailer.

Case Study: Explainer Videos – Why go Lean?

In order for digital online retailers to compete in the digital marketing industry, they must be able to produce the highest quality videos, in the shortest time possible and at the best price-point and this is where lean comes in to play. In this industry, there will generally be three main departments. There is marketing which will obviously promote the product, sales which sells the product and production which produces the product. The production process is the main area to focus on for the greatest impact of lean. This is where the most amount of waste will be in the process and the most ripe for leaning out. The goal of lean for the production process here is similar to the goals of lean in manufacturing. It is to reduce errors, simplify the process and to increase the speed of the production process, to produce videos in the shortest time possible. However, the application of lean requires some modification to fit into this industry.

The Lean Approach

Lean is the elimination of wasteful practices. There are 8 wastes of lean (Muda), which are defects, overproduction, waiting, non-utilized talent, transportation, inventory, motion, extra-processing. There is also Mura (unevenness) and Muri (overburden), detailed here. The first step in any lean implementation project is to assess the current state to identify any of these wasteful practices. Once identified, non-value added activities can either be eliminated from the process or managed using lean tools and practices. The identification of waste is achieved using qualitative techniques such as observations and interviews and more quantitative techniques such as process mapping, value stream mapping and data analysis.

Major wastes in the production process

By their nature, explainer videos, sit under the umbrella of the “creative” industry of content marketing. As such, what you will find is a relatively simple process that has morphed into a much more complicated process. However, it is generally a simple five step process: 1) Script 2) Voice-over 3) Storyboard 4) Illustration 5) Animation & Sound and it should be managed just as simply. On the contrary, key milestones in the process are often missed by mistake, leading to errors and poor quality in the final video product sent to the customer. There is a lack of flow in the process, there is a start-stop nature to the work, which leads to delays in the process and delays in the delivery. For instance, a process that should take 30 business days by effort expands to a 60 day process, reducing overall productivity and efficiency. Furthermore, there are no targets for the milestones, meaning some projects will pass quickly through the milestones while others will lag slowly through the same milestones. There is no visualization on work allocation, nobody knows what the other person is working on and the resource planning is thus not balanced. For example, one artist might be assigned ten projects, whilst another artist will only be assigned two projects (Muri).

Flow the value through the value stream

The lean solutions for these wastes, are the introduction of a flowed process, visual management, project management, milestone planning and milestone cycle time targets. An electronic visual project management tool such as Smartsheet will assist in the flow of an individual project through the different milestones, help to streamline the overall process and level-load the resources. Cycle time targets for the milestones with short interval controls to denote if a project is “on-track” or “delayed” ensures milestones stay on track. Measuring the cycle time of the client and the company are important to understand the root cause of the delays (if any). This data should roll up to a master schedule that visualizes all projects in one file and a dashboard to visualize overall performance of all projects and resource allocation. There should be daily and weekly huddle meetings at the visual board to discuss the on-going projects and performance. All of this, will increase the final quality of the video to the customer and also increase efficiency of the production process, allowing more videos to be produced in the same time with the same amount of resources.

Standardize, standardize, standardize

Another issue in the production process, is the lack of standardization in the work itself, one artist might take 8 hours to complete their work whilst another will take 3 hours. Implementing procedures, standard work and standard times, whereby you document your best time and task managers is a great countermeasure to this issue. This simplifies the tasks by taking the most efficient approach and allows for ease of replication and reproducibility. There is also an overall custom approach to producing videos for each client, a constant “re-inventing the wheel” approach instead of a standardized approach of producing similar videos for similar industries.

Human errors

Customer complaints are common. Complaints that the video does not convey the message that the customer had expected or it conflicts with the customer brand or the video is missing key information. This is caused by a miscommunication of the message between the departments internally, similar to a game of “telephone”. A better approach would be to compile a “creative brief”, following the Discovery call, a tangible document that flows through the departments and avoids any confusion and documents the customers requests. A quality assurance (QA) function should also be introduced to find errors before the customer finds them. Errors should also be tracked and managed to avoid the same mistakes happening over and over again and training to stop them occurring in the future.

If it’s not measured, it’s not managed

Performance management is extremely important in this industry. An analysis of the data examining incoming workload volatility and individual workload volatility shows that there is waste in the forms of Mura and Muri. This leads to poor productivity as they often resource to meet the peaks. This will be new information, when presented to the company as there is no true awareness or tracking of overall performance of the production process i.e. how many videos were produced in the year? How many are produced each month? How many of each milestone? Which milestones takes the longest time? Which artist (Voice-over, illustrator, animator) is the most efficient? Analysis of the throughput times is important here as it shows how long each of the milestones actually took. The process mapping will identify how long people think they take but the cycle time will reveal the true story. What you will find here is a lack of consistency in throughput time for each of the milestones and within each of the artists. Instead, key performance indicators should be introduced, displayed on the dashboard and discussed at the daily/weekly huddle meetings.

Push back on the customer

Leaning out the internal production process of the online retailer will produce higher quality videos faster. However, another unique challenge in this industry is that the production process has decision-interaction points with the customer and is reliant on timely decision making by the customer at each stage in the process. For example, the customer approves the script, the customer chooses the voice-over artist, the customer reviews the storyboard, the customer reviews and approves the illustration, animation and sound. Delays in the process waiting for the customer to respond and re-work of tasks that the customer is unhappy with are thus common in the process. It is important to understand and measure the source of delays in the process, whether they are caused by internal processes or by the customer. A solution for this is to communicate upfront at the beginning to the customer, the tolerance for delays and reviews in the process i.e. the storyboard must be returned in x days to move to the next step and we only accept two major revisions and two minor revisions. Interactive project management platforms, such as SmartSheet or Wipster are great tools for customer review and approval. Here, the customer can visualize where the product is in the timeline, the platform can auto-email the customer to prompt them for revisions and that the customer can interact with drafts of scripts/storyboards to proof read and annotate These solution concepts will help to streamline the customer process and reduce the throughput of the overall process.

This article outlines how lean methodologies can and should be applied to online digital retailers, if you would like more information please contact us and we will help your business outcompete the rest.