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.