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DPA - Operationalization, Optimization and Automatization

Reviewing and getting thousands of licensed products out the door every year was far from easy when the only tools I had were an outlook inbox, an excel spreadsheet and reluctant participants on BOTH sides of the fence.

I decided that there had to be a better solution for everyone. So I went ahead and made one.

This was a problem that was costing us -- a lot. Missed deadlines, shipping dates, launch dates and revenue for licensees. Lots of labor and resources costs wasted in the back and forth and redundancies. Not to mention potential risk of things going live that were in violation of other contracts without approval or damaging the brand.



To make progress, I had to make the unseen seen, and the unmeasurable, measurable. I crunched the numbers on hourly rates of staff for both Marvel and Disney and how often we were late in providing feedback cost to licensees. It all came down to a simple solution: Get the turn around time down.

But it's not simple to do, and if you were to ask the three stakeholders in this process -- licensees, franchising managers and reviewers -- there were three very different reasons for these delays.

  • Visibility about the process for Franchising managers - They couldn't warn their licensee, or tell them to build this review time into their timelines if they didn't know about it

  • Visibility into what was needed for review - Licensees didn't know what the DPA did or didn't need to see depending on their execution

  • Visibility into the project itself - While the Licensee might have been working for months to years with their franchising partner on the execution, DPA was getting looped in at the 11th hour with no context, seemingly slowing down the process by asking questions that had "already been asked" but never been provided to them

I went on a road show. Whoever I could get in front of to educate about our existence, what we did, what we needed from them and the value we provided to them, I did it.

Slowly, I started to see people reach out to me in advance to give me context of their licensee's product that would be coming in advance. Products coming in last minute became the exception, not the norm. There were less angry people and turn around time was hovering around 7-10 days.

But I knew we could still do better than an excel spreadsheet and an outlook inbox.



I knew my Endgame (Avengers pun fully intended) was a system that would be mostly, if not fully automated. But to do that I would need to have a really well oiled and refined process to input into it. I decided to completely dis-assemble (again, fully intended) our entire process and get into every single tiny detail for every type of product we handled.

What could be cut out? Who could be cut out as a reviewer? What still wasn't working and needed to be changed? What needed to be added because technology was changing? And on and on.

I diagrammed out all of my proposed changes with Lucidchart and presented to each subset of reviewer (legal, games etc.) as to what the changes would be, how it would impact them and did they want any other changes?

I started implementing the changes I proposed manually, again with outlook and excel, and sure enough, it was working. Turn around time was down to 5-7 days. More happy people, more reduced costs.



After presenting my designs and RFP to many a pitch from various vendors, I finally landed on a Zendesk and Myndbend integration being the best option to facilitate my plans.

Now just came the fun part -- the uphill battle to get enough buy in from people to let me automate it all. Afterall, why did we need to automate it, given how well I had gotten the time down and how seamlessly it seemed to function? I was asked.

I managed to get my buy in and the support I needed from the people who appreciated the work most -- the franchising managers. They noticed the difference in elongated response times, quality of feedback and questions and happiness of their licensees any time I went on vacation -- and to go on vacation I generally had to prep 10 pages worth of documentation to prepare 4 people to cover my job. If I left? All my institutional knowledge went with me and they didn't want to go backwards.

So forwards we went, and I got my zendesk and myndbend contract. It was a whirlwind 9 months of finessing my designs even further, programming dynamic fields, adding messages to ensure that we were providing licensees with as much information as possible while getting all the information we needed on the first pass. But it worked.

Oh, and at the time that I left Marvel, our average response time was down to 1-5 days.


I'm pleased to say that 4 years later, the DPA submission site is still going strong, saving time, money and frustration. You can poke around and see it all in action. Just please don't actually submit anything or you'll actually generate a real request!

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