project lifecycles for creative work management

Why Creative Work Needs Project Management Systems: Project Lifecycles

Remember way back when in November when I started this series and definitely thought I would finish it before the year was up? Yeah, me too 😂 Now that we’re halfway through 2021, and I’m settled in my new role (more on that later!) I figured it was time to get back to this topic.

Photo from Unsplash

One of the most important aspects of using a project (or task) management software as a creative is having a defined workflow that reflects every stage of the project, so you know when copy is still in development, or it’s being designed and isn’t quite ready for review. These workflow steps can be as granular or as broad as you’d like; here is an example of a more specific workflow:

  • Assigned
  • Copy in Progress
  • Copy in Review
  • Ready for Design
  • Design in Progress
  • Design in Review
  • Approved
  • Deployed

And a broad workflow:

  • Ready to Start
  • In Progress
  • Ready for Review
  • Complete

I’ve seen both of these work well, but it really depends on what works best for you and your team. To create customized workflow, you (& your team) need to look at the typical flow of a project, and identify the repeatable steps. Even if a project may get tossed back & forth between ‘in design’ and ‘in review’, you don’t necessarily need a step for each revision. Most project management systems will allow you to move between statuses in a non-linear fashion, so it would be very rare to need ‘revision 1, revision 2’ etc as workflow statuses.

Most creative projects follow the below workflow:

StatusWhat It Means
Assigned / Project Kickoff / Ready to Start Project or task has been scoped and has the right information to be able to start work
In Progress / Copy in ProgressTypically Copy or Content will first work on the task/project before it moves to design
Ready for Review / Copy in ReviewThe work that has been performed so far is ready for review by the requester and/or stakeholders
[Back to] In Progress / Design in Progress / Ready for DesignIf you don’t have a status specific to ‘design is ready to start,’ or similar, putting it back to In Progress and alerting the designer it is ready works just as well
[Back to] Ready for Review / Design in ReviewThe design work is ready for review by requester and/or stakeholders
Approved / Complete / Ready to LaunchEveryone involved has approved and your task/project is complete!
(Optional) DeployedIf you want to have a status for if the task/project has actually gone out the door and been appropriately deployed or put in the right places

Make sure to see what your system will allow – some systems have a limit on the number of statuses in a workflow.

Once you have the workflow steps outlined, make sure to socialize it with your team and get them on board. Does this way of thinking work for them? Will they remember to move a task to the next step? Who will be responsible for making sure the traffic is kept moving?

Once everyone is onboard, put your new workflow steps in your system, and make sure everyone who will be using this workflow knows what status should be used when. And you’re done! 🎉

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.

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.

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.


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.


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!)

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.