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Project management for creatives

When I utter the words ‘project management’, I’m guessing that most creative types are tempted to tune out instantly. Who can blame you? You’d rather spend your time manipulating pixels and building campaigns than mapping predecessors and contingencies.

But what if I told you that by tuning in to those two little words a little more often, you’ll end up with more time to complete the fun, creative work you’re so good at?

Now I have your attention. If you’re fortunate, your creative team will have a dedicated traffic director, coordinator, project manager, or scrum master (for Agile teams) to keep projects humming along. But many creative teams require every individual to act as an ‘accidental project manager’ of sorts.

To make your efforts more purposeful, and less accidental, it helps to understand the five basic stages of project management. Sorry, creatives, I’ll do my best to make it interesting.

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Stage One: Intake

Someone has dreamed up the need for a project. Whether it originates within the creative team or comes from another department, it has to be identified and entered into the work queue one way or another. If you allow them to, these requests will come in every format imaginable, from voicemail to instant message to cross-office paper airplane.

Tip: Ensure every work request is submitted the same way, every time. Require use of a creative brief or a specific form in your project management software. If it isn’t submitted correctly, it doesn’t get worked on.

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Stage Two: Planning
Each request you receive must be prioritised and scheduled into your current process. Determine the scope of the work and available resources before making individual assignments or committing to deadlines.

Tip: Set aside a specific time each week to review, triage, and assign all incoming requests, so that you are not reprioritising everything in your queue on an hourly or daily basis.

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Stage Three: Execution
This is the fun part. Everybody who has been assigned a part in the project gets to do what they do best – be that brainstorming, writing, illustrating, designing, coordinating, filming, editing, directing, reviewing or approving.

Tip: Give every team member an easy way to report the status of his or her contribution, whether you use an Agile ‘burndown chart’, an online spreadsheet like a Google doc, or a project management solution with built-in notifications. When it comes to reviews and approvals, use digital proofing to easily capture all comments and corrections in one central location.

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Stage Four: Fulfil
You may cycle in and out of stages three and four, especially if you work on an Agile marketing team. The fulfilment stage is where you hand off the work you’ve completed to whoever asked for it in the first place – or distribute it among the appropriate internal and external channels.

Tip: Connect your workflow to a digital asset management (DAM) system, which allows you to manage and distribute your overall brand as well as individual files, in the latest approved versions. Bonus: you can also control who has access to what, so your marketing colleagues are prevented from emailing the wrong version of the logo. Again.

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Stage Five: Measure

Truly successful teams don’t just deliver the required assets and move on to the next project. They take the time to go back and analyse what went well, what could have gone better, what was estimated, what was budgeted, and more.

Tip: Use the analytical tools that are built in to whatever project management solution your team relies on. If you’re not able to quickly pull up a report based on schedules, due dates, resources, budgets, and planned vs. actual outcomes, then you have some upgrading to do. 

It’s an unfortunate reality that in today’s creative market, more and more writers, designers and videographers are expected to be proficient not only in their area of expertise but also in the management of projects and timelines – both their own and those that involve other members of the team.

No matter what approach you take, whether traditional or Agile, the more proactive you can be about identifying and taking control of each project management stage, the more successful your creative team will be.

Illustrations courtesy istockphoto.com/FrankRampott

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