Creative work has many unique qualities and requires a different approach to manage effectively. The 4 pillars of creative workflow management are they key to managing creative projects.
Creative teams are inundated with a constant, growing demand for creative work. In fact, the top challenges that creative teams deal with are the speed at which they need to work (77%) and the volume of work they have to manage (72%). In order to keep up with these challenges, many creative teams are embracing project management and turning to popular PM software tools to help them manage their workflow.
There’s just one problem with that. Most generic project management software is not built for the unique needs that creative teams have. Many popular project management tools and methodologies have grown out of the manufacturing, IT, and software fields. While many of these tools and methodologies can be repurposed for creative teams, they alone are not enough. Creative teams have specific needs around request intake, proofing, and even reporting on specialized metrics that generic PM software simply isn’t built to accommodate. Creative work is managed with the 4 pillars of creative workflow management:
- Request Intake
- Project Management
- Review & Approval
Also known as creative briefing or project kickoff, Request Intake is the first step in every creative project. This stage is where the creative team collaborates with requesters to understand the scope, goals, and requirements of the requested work. Oftentimes, teams struggle with this step because stakeholders view the creative team not as strategic collaborators, but as merely a “set of hands”. 51% of creative teams report that their creative briefing process is neither comprehensive, nor collaborative. This is unfortunate because the success of projects hinges on project kickoff. In order to manage Request Intake effectively creative teams need three elements:
- Comprehensive creative brief forms
- Control over the process
- Centralized, collaborative dashboards
First, requesters must submit a creative brief form filled out with all the required information for the project. This form contains information including the project timeline, relevant reference files, and any specifications that the final deliverable should meet. Getting all this information at the beginning of the project in one document that can be referred back to throughout the process is crucial for keeping both the creative team and stakeholders centered on the key objectives of the project.
Second, creative teams must be the ones in control of the Request Intake process. Creative teams are strategic partners to the business. 89% of organizations say that creative work drives business objectives. However, creative teams aren’t able to produce impactful work when they are treated as merely order takers. After the creative form is submitted, the process needs to continue with collaboration. Creative teams need to be able to review requests, ask questions, clarify specifics, or even decline the request. Only when the creative team is satisfied that they have all the information that they need to successfully complete the project should they accept the project and schedule work. If you are considering purchasing software to help you manage projects, be sure to verify that the solution you are considering offers a robust creative Request Intake functionality that puts the control in the hands of the creative team.
Finally, the Request Intake process must be collaborative and provide a certain degree of transparency to stakeholders. One effective way to do this is to have a single centralized dashboard where both requesters an creatives can meet to ask questions, discuss the project, and provide final deliverables.
Project Management begins after Request Intake is complete. The good news is that the Project Management pillar tends to be one of the easier ones for creative teams. Many creative teams do not need to overhaul their existing processes for managing work, and the level of Project Management functionality a creative team needs depends on the nature of the team and their work. Some things to ask yourself when evaluating your Project Management needs:
- Is your team distributed? You will want to focus on tools that enable collaboration and transparency about what everyone is working on.
- Is your team dealing with a high volume of work? You’re going to want to place a lot of emphasis on resource management features.
- Does your team have several different projects going on at once? You need features like Gantt views, Kanban, and calendaring that allow you to easily visualize all of your work.
- Does your team need to focus on increasing efficiency? Time tracking is a great way to understand how long specific projects take, so you can make sure you have appropriate timelines when beginning new work.
- Do you handle complex projects that involve many people over multiple departments? You will benefit from setting up dependencies so that you know which tasks are holding up the completion of other work.
- Do you work closely with the marketing team? You will appreciate campaign management for complex, multi-channel campaigns.
Some creative teams adopt agile approaches, while others find it best to stick to waterfall. The point is, there’s no one way to manage your projects once they have come into your system. When it comes to Project Management, don’t just seek out software that has the most features, look for software that has the right features.
Review & Approval
This stage is the “moment of truth” for the creative team – they’ve done the work, and now it’s time to see if the stakeholders like it. If Request Intake was done well, Review & Approval should go smoothly. However, after Request Intake, Review & Approval is the second most difficult part of the creative workflow process for creative teams to master because they face two main challenges:
- Getting clear, actionable feedback from reviewers
- Getting feedback on time
Many teams struggle in both of these areas because they still rely on manual, paper-based proofing processes. The key to more efficient Review & Approval is to use an online proofing platform built specifically for creative work. Email and manila folders are no longer good enough.
To get clear, actionable feedback, reviews should be done in an intuitive online proofing environment where reviewers can mark up a proof and leave comments that clearly indicate the changes they want. An online environment is crucial so that reviewers can interact with each other and see each other’s comments, eliminating duplicate or contradictory feedback.
Even the best feedback can still hold up a project it it’s late. Creative teams are very good at turning around work for review in a timely fashion. However, once they become dependent on receiving feedback from stakeholders in order to move forward, the process tends to grind to a halt. This is the stage where projects can become derailed and in danger of missing the deadline. Creative teams need features like proof routing and automatic review reminders to get the proof sent to the right people, in the right order, with regular prompting to complete the review on time, without the designer having to waste time chasing down feedback.
Using online proofing software designed specifically for reviewing creative work has a huge impact on the ability of creative teams to get feedback quickly and turn projects in on time. In 2020 83% of creative projects are approved with 5 rounds of review, up from 77% in 2019. And 78% of proofs in 2020 are approved with a week, up from 65% in 2019.
It is a common misconception that creative work ends when the final assets have been delivered. However, truly effective creative teams track and report on key operational metrics. This allows them to continually improve their process with concrete, data-based findings. Unfortunately, most creative teams are very inconsistent when it comes to reporting on creative production. 42% of creative teams don’t regularly track key operational metrics. As much as Reporting and analytics may not seem like a conventional creative strength, creative teams can answer many important questions about their process by digging into the data:
- How many requests have been submitted and accepted this quarter?
- Which stakeholders submit the most requests?
- What kind of work is most commonly requested?
- How long do different types of projects take from request to final asset delivery?
- How many projects did my team complete this quarter?
- Am I effectively distributing work among my team?
- How long does it take to get final approval on a proof?
- Do certain reviewers take longer to provide feedback than others?
Reporting on operations isn’t the only thing the creative team should be focused on. Creative teams are more than simply order takers turning out design work. They are creative problem solvers and strategic partners to the business. However, for creative teams to take their seat at the strategic table, they need to be able to demonstrate their value to the business. 55% of creatives rarely or never get quantitative feedback on creative content performance. Creative teams should focus on partnering with their marketing department to illustrate how their work has a positive impact on key business objectives.
By thinking about creative work in terms of these 4 pillars, creative teams can more effectively manage their workflow and more easily meet the demand for creative work. Remember, creative workflow management extends beyond simple project management. If your creative team is looking for a solution that supports all 4 pillars of the creative workflow process, schedule a custom demo of inMotion ignite.
Elise Hauser is a product and content marketer with a passion for telling brand stories. She has produced inMotionNow’s annual In-House Creative Management Report for 3 years, webinars, content sessions for major industry events reaching audiences of 1,000+, and of course, countless blog posts. When Elise isn’t writing about the marketing and creative industry at inMotionNow she is teaching economics and hanging out with her cat, Tucker, at her home in Raleigh, NC.