Crain Transforms How It Works With Smartsheet Automation
While the work of Crain’s journalists impacts companies everywhere, leaders at its corporate offices in Detroit, Michigan realized the need for a process pivot. Managing collaboration and workflows was a challenge, and its core business teams needed to unify 24 differentiated brands under their mission charter — One Crain.
"Before, the communications process email campaigns sent on behalf of third-party brands could take a week to deploy. Now, the information is captured in a Smartsheet form, streamlining the intake process and cutting the time in half."
Project Manager and Business Solutions Architect
Crain Communications delivers news to more than 6 million business leaders around the world. Their goal: to empower their audiences’ successes. Founded in 1916, the privately-held media company produces trusted and relevant news articles and information for 24 industry-focused digital and print publications, including AdAge, Crain’s Business, Automotive News, and Modern Healthcare.
While the work of Crain’s journalists impacts companies everywhere, leaders at its corporate offices in Detroit, Mi. realized the need for a process pivot. Managing collaboration and workflows was a challenge, and its core business teams needed to unify 24 differentiated brands under their mission charter — One Crain.
A two-person team was tasked with tackling this multiyear reform effort, which includes securing buy-in from stakeholders to scale its process management department across the organization — no easy feat.
“In the past year, it has become our goal to focus at begin-to-end processes and associated workflows, in order to really drive process improvements in a more holistic way,” says Kristine Francois, associate director of business projects and process improvement initiatives. She needed a solution with built-in automation to facilitate this strategy, so she chose Smartsheet.
Pinpointing Process Improvements
As business operations evolve at Crain, Francois needs to build out scalable and repeatable processes, since the conglomerate uses lean operations. “Previously, we were heavily decentralized, and we’ve been changing that over the past three years,” Francois says. “In order to drive to centralization, we needed to standardize processes and our approach to work.”
Over the years, employees at Crain have stayed focused on their brand or department and relied primarily on email communications, Microsoft Excel and Word to manage projects. These disparate methods led to operating in silos, issues with version control, and time spent sifting through email threads to catch up on work conversations. “There was really no standardization in managing projects,” Francois says. “We are trying to implement processes that build upon how our individual publications operate while keeping the ‘One Crain’ company vision in mind.”
To accomplish their goals of process improvement, vendor management, and eliminating email, the team has turned to the Smartsheet work execution platform. They also use Smartsheet Control Center to manage projects and handoffs associated with Crain’s Business publications.
Clearer Communications Through Automated Workflows
Crain uses Smartsheet to standardize workflows. “Using sheets, formulas, and automated workflows, we can drive the life cycle of campaigns to completion,” says Sean McDuffie, project manager and business solutions architect. “It’s a very seamless process. When one group populates information in the sheet, the handoff is automatic, eliminating the need for email.”
“Smartsheet’s automated workflows enable Crain to streamline communication and decision-making for a project or request,” Francois adds. “This allows us to complete incoming tasks even faster.”
Working through company-wide adoption, the team is trying to shift its work-culture mentality toward managing processes in Smartsheet. To make the transition quicker, McDuffie has built automated workflows to manage their relationships with vendors through Smartsheet. They have one set of columns managing internal needs, one set that covers vendor needs, and two more for when those needs overlap.
“Before, the communications process email campaigns sent on behalf of third-party brands could take a week to deploy,” McDuffie says. “Now, the information is captured in a Smartsheet form, streamlining the intake process and cutting the time in half.”
Smartsheet automation — particularly reminders — frees him to focus on process improvements. “There used to be more dead time where your request was stuck in someone’s inbox. Now, Smartsheet sends automated reminders and provides visibility for us to manage those stragglers and catch gaps in communication earlier.”
“As we build these Smartsheet solutions,” McDuffie says, “this automation can help reduce busy work.” In addition, the team utilizes @mentions within sheet comments. “These capabilities really allow stakeholders to target communication to each other. Once we started using distribution lists for assigning tasks, we realized we could greatly expand the reach of automated alerts.”
A Bright Future for Crain With Smartsheet
Francois is building the overall program strategy while McDuffie creates the workflow architecture to support seamless transitions between departments that are working on the same projects. Currently, this communication flow is a challenge.
“We have a ticketing system that really doesn’t belong in our process flow,” Francois says. “By reducing our reliance on utilizing this system, we can reduce cost. Automated alerts and reminders in our communication flow in Smartsheet is going to solve that.”
“Our internal customers are used to saying, ‘I’ve got a question or request,’ and they put in a ticket,” Francois continues. “That’s what we are working toward removing, as it creates vagueness, and lacks requirements and clarity. We want Smartsheet to replace that.”
Smartsheet has also helped to elevate Francois’s role within Crain. “I have shifted more to process-related issues as a result of being more involved with Smartsheet, instead of focusing only on project management,” Francois says. “Smartsheet has helped elevate us to think through Crain as a whole, our processes, and how we’re going to work efficiently.”
For Crain, expansion within the organization is only a matter of time. “That’s the thing about Smartsheet,” McDuffie says. “I can build views and process for people, but more importantly, I can teach the individual to build these on their own. Their own workflow. Their own alerts.”
As the company reimagines its workflows, the team is able to try new ideas as they roll out more effective processes in Smartsheet. “The fact that we actually have a tool that’s so easy to use helps us stand up solutions quickly and enables us to maintain a Crain standard,” McDuffie says. “In addition, it makes it a lot more fun.”