Why Creative Work Needs Project Management Systems: Work Intake

There was a time when I worked without a project management system. Work intake was scattered and deliverables were all over the place. In my previous role, I realized very quickly that I needed, at the very least, an intake form.

Why is work intake important for designers?

Depending on your work situation, you may or may not receive a creative brief. So many assignments are given via emails, Slack messages, or a quick phone call. If you don’t have or get a creative brief, you’re not getting all the information you need to produce an effective solution. An intake or request form is basically a fill-in-the-blanks creative brief; you just have to ask the right questions.

Here are my non-negotiables for information:

  • Task name, requester name, and department
  • Desired due date — important note: to help avoid the answer of ‘yesterday,’ I always put estimated turnaround times for different types of deliverables at the top of the form, along with a caveat that all requests require a minimum 48 hour turnaround time.
  • Target audience
  • How the asset will be used — sometimes people don’t know what they need, but they have an use case that will help you determine the appropriate deliverable.
  • Goals of the project — this will make sure you’re delivering a solution that aligns with and assists the goals of the project.
  • Assets that need to be included in the deliverable — partner logos, images, etc. It’s best to get these up front so you don’t have to go searching for them later, or not know they were needed.

One important thing that intake forms do is cut down on unnecessary communication—but that doesn’t mean that you don’t have to communicate! Let the requester know that you received their request, and give them an ETA of the deliverable. This is also a good opportunity to ask for any information they didn’t include, or to expand on certain points.

By having a request form, you have one centralized point of entry for assignments, and depending on the system you use, you can pull important metrics to share with your manager and/or leadership: number of requests, types of assets most requested, and turnaround time, among others. This will help you correlate your creative output with business needs. (More on this to come!)

You also don’t have to spend as much time following up with random requests that are scattered all over the place with different POCs. Have everything in one place will save a ton of time that you can put back into designing.

A few important points about rolling out a work intake form:

  • Get feedback from your users. This is obvious if you’re a UX/UI designer, but if you want to make sure people can easily use this form. You don’t want it to be a chore for them, because then they won’t do it.
  • Train your users and stakeholders. When you roll this out, schedule a quick training with the people who will be using this form most, and explain how this makes their lives easier as well (one centralized place for info, less time spent answering your sporadic questions about a project).
  • Make this the only way a request is considered. A form is no good if people don’t use it or don’t use it consistently. If someone tries to submit a work request to you any other way, point them towards the form. If it’s not officially sent in, it doesn’t get on your to do list.

Next up: how to manage these requests through the whole project lifecycle.

Thoughts | Growth Over Comfort

Like everyone’s been saying, I can’t believe it’s November already—so close to the end of the year! October was a busy month for me, with a lot of new experiences, which has been making me think about growth and the struggles of pushing out of your comfort zone.

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Margie Warrell at Wrike Collaborate

At the beginning of October I was able to attend the Wrike Collaborate conference in Nashville, TN. It was a really great conference, but what stuck with me most was the opening keynote by Margie Warrell, and it was about choosing growth over comfort. She talked about how to be brave in every day instances, not just the big moments in life. As an introvert, being at a conference by myself was ‘brave’ for me, and definitely pushed me out of my comfort zone—but I surprised myself, and not only learned a lot but even made some new connections.

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The most appropriate quote for a session on change management.

It was nice to be amongst a new group of people—fellow project management nerds! I came back with so much energy and so many new ideas that I don’t think I would’ve had if I hadn’t gone to that conference and outside of my comfort zone. I also discovered that change management is a ‘thing’ and it’s much more complicated than I anticipated—and the idea of it makes me uncomfortable and creates tension, but that’s how you grow. I think that’s why ‘digital transformation’ has become such a big buzzword in the past few years—it’s change management in new words that sound more exciting and way less scary.

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In continuing my month of pushing myself out of my comfort zone, I attended the AIGA DC/Women Talk Design ‘Design Your Talk Topic’ event. I didn’t know anyone else attending, it was a two hour workshop at the end of a work day, and it was raining—if I’d been following what was comfortable, I wouldn’t have gone. But I told myself I needed to, and I was so glad I did. I learned a lot and met some great fellow designers who have some great experiences to share. I was very rewarded for pushing myself out of my comfort zone, and it made me realize that the things I want to speak about are valuable to people, and valid.

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This was nicely followed up by a speaking opportunity! At the end of the month I spoke on a panel at my alma mater, Marymount University in Arlington, about transitioning from student to professional designer. Part of me was thinking, what useful information could I possibly share? I was one panelist of five, and there were many years of experience between the five of us. But if I was invited to speak, I must have had something interesting to share, right? I’m not terribly inexperienced with public speaking (on a small scale), but this was a different environment. I decided this was good practice to be brave and get outside of my comfort zone. I had a great time with my fellow panelists, and somehow filled up all my speaking time! (Thank you again to my former advisor and chair of the Design department, Bridget Murphy, for the invitation!)

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Kyle Bogucki, Jennifer Wong, Raksa Yin, myself, and Beth Singer.

I’m looking forward to continuing to choose growth over comfort in different ways. And as I said at the end of my panel time, thank you for coming to my TED talk.

Thoughts | Creative Burnout

A few months ago, the article “How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation” from BuzzFeed quickly went viral, as it perfectly summed up a lot of the struggles that Millennials (myself included) have been feeling. The author, Anne Helen Peterson, was recently interviewed on Jocelyn K. Glei’s podcast “Hurry Slowly” and it got me thinking a bit more about burnout as it applies to creatives. Anne talks about this in her interview, but burnout is much more prevalent because of the increase in intellectual labor, rather than physical labor. This is especially true for us “creative types,” as there is no distinct rest time—even once you’ve left work, your brain is still working, thinking, and trying to solve problems.

This is compounded by the speed at which work is now expected to be done—the United States itself has adopted a “start up culture,” which favors efficiency and outputs, and focuses on being lean and nimble. There’s nothing wrong with this on its face—but it has an effect on people much more than I think any of us really want to admit or deal with.

I talked a bit about this in my last post, but the focus on outputs when it comes to design and creativity creates a difficult situation. Personally, I can execute designs quickly, which leads to a higher level of output. But this efficiency doesn’t mean that the outputs are necessarily effective or my best work. Since technology has made everything so much faster, everyone’s timelines for accomplishing a goal or finishing a project have shortened—and oftentimes, that makes it more about finishing the project than enjoying the process and being happy with the end result. Even if we may be happy with the end result, sometimes we have to go right into the next project. To use a personal example, even though I was really proud of the ads I designed for the Capitol One Arena, I was not able to take the time to go see them in person, even though they were up for a month. What does that say about the value I place on my own work if I won’t even go five metro stops to see it? “I don’t have time,” I told myself, and now I wish I had made time. But the truth is, in my head, I was already onto the next project. The deadline had been made, stakeholders were pleased, project completed.

But when listening to this episode of “Hurry Slowly,” their discussion on not taking time to appreciate your work as a symptom of burnout resonated with me. Everyone is moving so fast that they don’t stop to appreciate even their own creations (insert the cliche quote from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off about life moving fast). Burnout isn’t something that goes away overnight, or comes on suddenly—I think it’s always kind of the wolf at the door, and you have to be cognizant of a lot of different behaviors—and work to change a lot of behaviors—to not let it in. Clearly this is not something that can be fixed on a large scale quickly, but I think it’s something all creatives (myself included), need to be thinking about.

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Disclaimer: these are my personal opinions and do not reflect the opinions of any of my current or former employers.