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.

Career | Making a Change, Part 2

Since writing about my experience with the looking for a new job part of the transition, I thought I’d write about the hidden hard part: transitioning into a new role.

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When you’re focused on finding a new role that will fit your top criteria (I suggest picking five things that are your top priorities to help you refine your search), it seems like it’s jumping the gun to think about the actual transition. Especially if you’ve been in your current role for a significant amount of your career, leaving is extremely hard, even when you know it’s the right decision. When it came time for my departure from my last role to be announced to the whole company, and I stood in front of all of my colleagues, to be quite honest—I cried, I couldn’t help it. And that’s okay—people are human, and leaving a company you’ve devoted so much of yourself to for a significant amount of time is not easy. So let’s stop pretending that it is.

I’m the type of person that prefers to be as much of an expert as I can be, and to be as knowledgeable as possible. When you enter a new role, you know nothing, and have to be open to learning a lot: about the company, about your department/team, about their processes, and how to work with them most effectively. It’s jarring and overwhelming—that’s why a lot of people will say, “oh, drinking from the firehose?” when you’re in a new role.

So, even though I’m still in the process of transitioning, here are some things I’ve learned that I’m keeping in mind—and full disclosure, a lot of this is inspired by others, and particularly the book The First 90 Days.

  1. Learn as much as you can before you get there. I was fortunate in that I had two weeks off in between, and I set aside time to do a deep dive into my new company’s website, press releases, and social media, and start putting together a list of questions as well as ideas. You may not end up using them, but coming in with your research done and some potential value-adds right off the bat shows how excited you are about your new role.
  2. Don’t ignore your experience. Yes, you’re in a new environment—but you didn’t get there by accident. You have experiences that make you valuable to this role—use what you’ve learned in your past roles to help guide you in your new role. Maybe it’s a project management process that you’ve had success with, or a branding framework, but there’s always something that you can bring to the table that you’ve had experience with.
  3. Meet the right people. Obviously you’ll get to know your team and department very well in the first few months, but figure out (and ask your manager!) who else you should meet. Especially if you’re part of the Marketing or Communications team, it will probably be helpful for you to know the leaders in the Human Resources, Business Development, and/or Operations departments. The people that are important long-term connections may also not be at the department leader or manager level—find out who makes an impact or is an office “influencer.”
  4. Set up 30, 60, and 90 day check-ins. Regardless of the company performance review schedule, set up regular check-ins with your manager for those first three months, and come with an agenda—show them what you’ve accomplished so far, review any questions or roadblocks you’ve run into, and share your plan for the next milestone(s). This company made an investment in hiring you—invest some time into your plan to be successful.
  5. Be patient. If you’re the type of person who likes to hit the ground running (hi, hello, that’d be me), it can feel like you’re moving through molasses at the beginning. But take this time to pay attention, listen, and learn from your team, your colleagues, and the company. Maybe this new role included a change in your commute and/or your schedule—give yourself time to adjust to that. Personally, since I know I struggle with big changes, I tried to eliminate anything I didn’t have to do during my first month so that I could focus on putting as much energy into those first few weeks as I could.

Remember, it takes time to become an expert in your specific role at your specific company. I went from a role where I built the brand from the ground up to becoming the steward of a young but established brand in an entirely different industry. That doesn’t mean I’m not an expert on branding or design, but it does mean that I’m certainly not (yet) an expert on what those mean at this company, in this role.

What things do you to set yourself up for success in a new role?

Featured image from You X Ventures on Unsplash

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.