Jones Knowles Ritchie (JKR) is one of the most awarded design agencies in the world. For the past 30 years, they’ve collaborated with clients like ABInBev, Dunkin’, Burger King, and many more on projects ranging from brand design, strategy, packaging, advertising, and creative production.
With a tenacious band of 300 “un-likeminded individuals” working across three time zones, JKR operates firmly grounded in the belief that creativity has the unique ability—and obligation—to drive change. Required for that kind of culture-busting work is organization and operational excellence—which is where Casey James comes in. As Head of Creative Operations in New York, Casey links departments and ensures things run successfully both internally and externally for clients and teams. They also assist with recruiting, resourcing, and technology implementation, and help the JKR C-suite make decisions by sharing information about projects in flight.
When Casey joined the team, JKR’s staff were managing their work with several tools, as well as using email, spreadsheets, chat, and meetings. Every team had a different way of working and information was disconnected:
Because there was no central meeting place, there was no standard way of working, which made it difficult to collaborate and scale as an organization. Casey began to look for a work management platform that would help the New York studio get things done together that could scale.
“People weren't tracking work effectively. We were hoping that everyone delivered on time and in the right format.” —Casey James, Head of Creative Operations
Casey needed a tool to help JKR sequence work, manage collaboration and submit requests—essentially, they needed to standardize the way things were done. His main goal was to get every team—and person—at JKR to use the tool. He was designing for processes that involved multiple teams. For example, onboarding a new hire required collaboration among the hiring manager, recruiting, HR, and IT departments.
Casey evaluated all the work management tools on the market, bucketing them into “overwhelming,” “underwhelming,” and “just right” categories. Asana was “just right.” Casey saw that it works for a wide range of use cases and teams, is friendly for people at all levels of technical skill, and has multiple views for projects—Lists, Boards, and Timeline are all helpful for people who absorb information in different ways.
Casey also liked that Asana is cloud-based, making it easy to access up-to-date information from anywhere. And Asana is constantly adding value to its system with new features, which has become a highlight for JKR’s Asana power users.
“My main goal was to get every person involved in Asana. For example, when onboarding a new hire, we use Asana to bring many teams together through a single process.”
Casey began rolling out Asana by focusing on a single team at JKR who were familiar with it. He introduced some structure and naming conventions, then successfully expanded it to another team. After months of trialing, testing, and building out complex workflows, Asana was adopted by JKR’s entire New York office. Specific rules and procedures helped the team onboard and understand when to use Asana instead of email or Slack.
During the broader rollout, Casey engaged Asana Professional Services for support, and their expertise helped to refine workflows and bring in best-in-class ways of working. Professional Services provided insights about a change management framework, best practices, and solutions to make sure all of JKR’s teams were getting the most out of the platform.
Casey selected a group of JKR employees to train directly with Professional Services by noticing who was a power user. He assembled these power users into what he called the “Asana Masterclass,” and they became Asana champions within JKR. The Asana Masterclass was formed from talent across the organization, including project managers, producers, and account managers. This brought perspectives of how Asana was used on different teams, so it would be valuable to all of them.
“The Professional Services team provided best-in-class solutions. Their support and expertise is how the work evolved.”
Casey notes that setting realistic expectations and goals is an important part of a successful technology rollout. When implementing Asana, he aimed for three tiers of adoption:
Encouragement doesn’t hurt during a rollout either. Casey makes sure to give kudos to people who are doing a great job in Asana, both at public meetings and privately.
“Asana is dynamic. It significantly improved the way people viewed, managed, and tracked work—and collaborated.”
Today, Asana is used within the NYC office and across a selection of global collaborative teams in London and Shanghai. Whether it’s a rebrand, 3D visualization, or a photoshoot, projects start with a master template, saving setup time. The team adds tasks to multiple projects to keep work up to date across their entire portfolio.
Teams across JKR use Asana in many capacities including creative collaboration, tracking and trafficking requests, managing freelancers, and running everything from internal initiatives to client work. It has become a platform for individuals to build personal checklists and self manage as well. From IT to Design, Asana is the platform where work comes to life and is brought from point A to Z.
JKR has also created a board in Asana called “Team Tools,” a home for internal training videos, internal policy information, and best practices like file naming conventions. This self-serve destination helps everyone find important documents without needing to ask for them, again saving time.
JKR has integrated Asana with the other tools in their tech stack to keep everything in sync: with the Slack integration, they can see Asana updates and turn Slack messages into Asana tasks; with Asana + Outlook, emails can become action items and task comments; and the Asana + Miro integration creates tasks from their virtual whiteboard brainstorming sessions. The Everhour integration could have potential to track how much time they spend on a task or project as they look to leverage integrations further.
Leadership now has visibility into the work, and project resourcing is more concise and repeatable. Managers can quickly see how long a project is expected to take and how many tasks are on their teammates’ plates.
Another major bonus? Casey says he rarely needs to check his email inbox.
“When I first started at JKR, I was tracking at 30-50 emails per hour—mostly people asking things like, ‘Where’s this PDF?’ With Asana, I don’t get those one-off emails anymore.”
Asana has helped systematize JKR’s work and the value of this became clear when the COVID-19 pandemic meant teams had to work from home. JKR New York’s remote work system is minimally different from being in the office, in large part because they had implemented Asana beforehand. Everything was visible, trackable, and could be accessed from anywhere so when everyone was suddenly remote the wheels kept turning.
According to the Anatomy of Work: Remote Teams Survey, when remote working dramatically increased in 2020, nearly two-thirds (62%) of full-time knowledge workers increased their use of collaboration tools, with one-fifth of workers using them for the first time. JKR didn’t skip a beat when the pandemic hit.
Beyond the pandemic, JKR now has a holistic vision of how their work is done. It’s unified by the same vision, has a central home, and lets them collaborate better—which helps them scale as an organization and expand into new capabilities for their global customers.
“It was almost like fate that we were lucky enough to have started using Asana at the end of 2019 and more heavily in January . When we went remote, it was a pretty seamless transition for a lot of the teams. Asana helped to mitigate risk and create continuity.”
Using Asana wall-to-wall has been crucial in helping Hack Reactor scale. As Hack Reactor CEO Tony Phillips puts it, ”We’ve cut our operations costs in half because we’re able to execute more efficiently with the processes we’ve set up in Asana.“ And as costs go down, the quality class experience—and the post graduation experience— goes up. Graduates from Hack Reactor are hired at a 98% rate.