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How to fix your team's creative workflow: Challenges and best practices

11 min read
Aaron Marquis

Imagine promising a client that their latest deliverable would be ready for their review tomorrow afternoon. You log into your computer that morning, expecting to make a few final tweaks to the asset before sending it off. But you soon discover that, because of a lack of clearly defined roles, a key step was missed: The asset is missing its call to action.

Due to the lack of properly outlined responsibilities at the start of the project, the team member responsible for adding the CTA thought the responsibility lived with another team member — and vice versa. The result? It didn’t get done, and now you’re in a scramble that could affect your promised turnaround time.

For creative teams, when your workflows aren’t working, nothing is. Seamless workflows are the key to unlocking your team’s creative ideas, boosting innovation, and producing better-quality deliverables that keep clients coming back for more. (Not to mention reducing strain on your team!)

While that might sound like a tall order, it’s possible with processes optimized for how your team works. If your current creative processes are lacking and you’re ready to make a change, stick around. Below, we’ll examine the process challenges creative teams like yours face — and how to overcome them with streamlined workflows. 

What we'll cover

The stages of the creative process for creative teams

There are several stages of creativity when you’re building marketing assets. Unless you’re a one-person operation, your team’s creative design process will need to accommodate several creative people. Fine-tuning those workflows so everyone can work together is the sweet spot. 

The stages of creative process for creative teams

Let’s look at the five stages of the creative process. 

  1. Brainstorming and ideation: The first stage of any creative work is brainstorming. No idea is a bad idea, and don’t be afraid to pull inspiration from other teams outside of your creative departments. You never know where a great idea will come from!
  2. Design and development: Now it’s time to see your vision come to life. This is where designers, writers, and any other creative developers work their magic.
  3. Prototyping and feedback: Once you’ve got a first draft, it’s time to get eyes on it. Gathering feedback is crucial to the creative process. Connecting with key stakeholders is important — but be sure to only pull in feedback from the most relevant stakeholders. Getting too many people involved in the prototype feedback stage creates confusion and may get you stuck in feedback purgatory.
  4. Feedback and revisions: After parsing through feedback, take the most important revision requests and act on them. Think of this like chipping away at a marble statue. Every edit brings it closer to its final stage.
  5. Approval and deployment: It’s showtime. With approvals from internal stakeholders or clients, your piece is ready to go live.

The importance of the creative brief

Creative Brief Template on a paper sheet board

When you work on a project, you have a vision of the outcome in your head. However, creative development is largely a group project. That’s where creative briefs come in. 

Without a brief, you risk project failure. Deadlines get missed because you’re stuck trying to tackle countless revisions. Frustrations will arise on the team and among key stakeholders. 

Briefs are the answer. They are the best way for your creative teams to understand the assignment and get everyone on the same page from the start.

Once the initial idea is established, the how comes into question. Collaborating on the brief ensures everyone’s voice is being heard. That way, your team doesn’t spend three weeks building a prototype only to find out you’ve missed the mark by miles. 

Setting aside time for creative thinking within the brief parameters

While ideas are incubating, you’ll want to carve out dedicated thinking time. This preparation stage is pivotal to the creative journey. Once you understand the brief's requirements, consider how you’ll build content that fits within those lines. 

Sure, it may take a little problem-solving and critical thinking. But doing that now rather than after your prototype gets turned down will save your whole team time and aggravation. 

Common signs that your team's creative workflow needs improvement

Desk with laptop full of sticky notes, waffles and empty cup of a coffee

When things start to feel more chaotic than creative, you know it’s time to revamp your workflows. Keep an eye out for these signs of trouble. 

Slow feedback loops

Can’t get anyone to respond to your third, fourth, or fifth nudge about a project? These slow feedback loops bog down your team’s creative potential. Bottlenecks throw project timelines off schedule, team morale will weaken, and deadlines will be missed.

Constant revisions and rework

On the flip side, you might find you’ve got far too much feedback. If you’re constantly revising the same project — or, worse, being asked to start from scratch — it’s time to reconsider how you work. This indicates issues during previous stages, and you’ll want to re-evaluate your idea generation process and brief creation. 

Unclear ownership and roles

Sometimes, when ideas get flowing, ownership becomes muddled. Work may be duplicated or skipped entirely due to unclear responsibilities, like in our example above. Clearly defining roles stops people from stepping on each other’s toes — or waiting around doing nothing at all. 

Poor resource allocation

Resources include budget, of course, but also personnel and time. If your team lacks the bandwidth or dedicated heads-down time required to be creative, don’t be surprised if their productivity and quality plummet. 

Best practices for fixing your team’s creative workflows

Are you seeing some of those signs on your time? If so, it’s time for a change. Follow these eleven tips to fix your team’s creative workflows. 

1. Define and document your process

Taking a trip without a map leads to countless wrong turns. Creative projects without a documented process face the same dead ends.

To define your process, write down all the typical steps. This will likely look a lot like the process we mapped out earlier. In yours, aim for specificity. Who needs to get eyes on each project, and when? How much time is allotted for feedback? How many rounds of revisions are permitted? 

Documenting the steps of the creative process holds your team, external clients, and all stakeholders accountable. 

2. Foster a creative environment

Thinking creative thoughts is hard work. Your own creative process might look different than your colleague’s — and a writer’s will look different than a graphic designer’s. Cultivating a workspace that fosters creativity without boundaries is crucial to overarching success. 

  • Physical space: If your team operates in an office, make sure that space is conducive for creative thought. This might mean limiting distractions to let your mind wander, creating an adaptable workspace with modular furniture and lighting, and creating opportunities for colleagues to mingle.
  • Creative time: Stuffed calendars could be a major roadblock for your creative team. Who can think of brilliant ideas in the five minutes between meetings (while also grabbing a glass of water or sneaking in a few bites of lunch?) Allow your team to devote time to creative brainstorming — whether independent or collaborative. Then, let creative juices flow.
  • Company culture: Don’t let your company culture be the thing standing in the way of great ideas. Thoughtful leadership nurtures creativity. Encourage your team to take risks. Embrace the messy stage of the process. Provide opportunities for additional learning. Celebrate milestones. This allows your team to think freely and create unimpeded.

3. Standardize your creative brief

Don’t underestimate the power of a brief. When you create a standardized template that can be easily followed for future projects, you’ll:

  • Alleviate team bandwidth strain.
  • Make expectations clear.
  • Streamline communication.
  • Achieve higher-quality results.

Briefs establish expectations early in the process so that all creative efforts align toward the same goal. From the moment of the original idea through different stages of the project, the brief holds everyone accountable. 

4. Optimize the use of your creative tools

You wouldn’t use a hammer to drill a hole. Similarly, you want to make sure you’re incorporating the right tools into your workflows. 

Not all tools will be the right fit for each part of the process. Whiteboards are perfect for brainstorming. Then, use design software for prototypes. Manage your projects and campaigns in a project management platform and customize it to fit your creative process. Finally, collaborative proofing software is useful for collecting and implementing feedback.

Ziflow logo conntected to many integrated apps with lines

5. Develop clear feedback guidelines

There are right and wrong ways to offer feedback. Everyone who provides feedback should follow the same guidelines. Otherwise, lines get crossed, and the creative process comes to a grinding halt. All feedback should be respectful and actionable changes requested within a set amount of time. Supporting this feedback process with the right software can help ensure that feedback guidelines are being followed. 

6. Centralize creative feedback with a collaborative proofing tool

Collaborative proofing tools allow stakeholders to interact in real time with the creative asset. Feedback is easier than ever to collect when you use software that records comment and version histories. This software creates one central location for all feedback requests. It minimizes time wasted in email threads, searching for revision requests. That way, your team can spend more time doing what they love.

7. Automate your review and approval workflows

Optimizing your creative process for speed and quality is the core tenet of creative operations. Cut down your project timelines, reduce errors, and simplify collaboration. 

With Ziflow, automating workflows comes easily. You can set custom approval paths and assign user roles to create a seamless template for every project review. Then, you’ll know that each project has been reviewed by all the right people at exactly the right time.

8. Empower team members

When you clearly define team roles, you’re also able to encourage team members to take on ownership. You’ll empower them to make decisions as experts. That is why you hired them, after all. The more empowered they feel, the more motivated they’ll be. Creative thought processes will come easier when you promote team autonomy. 

9. Continuous learning and improvement

Learning should be a constant staple on your team. Encourage team members to share one thing they learned that week during recurring team calls. Share industry trends, market research, and thought-provoking articles. Regularly host internal trainings. 

Promoting a culture of learning encourages curiosity and reduces complacency. You’ll find your team more readily embraces new workflows when new ideas for continuous improvement are the norm. 

10. Measure performance and outcomes

Measurable success is key to reaching your goals. Defining what success looks like by establishing key performance indicators (KPIs) tells your team what to aim for. It keeps all projects moving forward at a sustainable rate. 

KPIs could include project completion times, number of revision requests, or client satisfaction ratings. This way, you can track recurring trends, hold your team accountable, and make helpful adjustments for future projects.

11. Celebrate success and learn from failures

When you foster creativity with powerful workflows, your results will show it. However, you’ll also face failures, and it’s important to recognize those right along with your successes: they’re both a wealth of information. 

Rather than focusing only on the good or dwelling only on the bad, use both as opportunities to collaborate with your team. Each will strengthen your creative process. 

Simplify and streamline your creative workflows with Ziflow

Ziflow user interface with proof details sidebar visible

Solid workflows let your team spend more time doing the best part of the creative process: creating assets that keep clients coming back for more. Without streamlined workflows, your projects risk failure before they even get off the ground — and the damage to your reputation, morale, and bottom line simply isn’t worth it.

With collaborative proofing software like Ziflow, it’s easier than ever to keep projects on track. Ziflow simplifies and centralizes the process of providing and gathering feedback, using automation to streamline the review and approval process. With less time spent chasing down feedback manually, Ziflow gives creative teams more time to focus on what matters: innovating.

Ready to optimize your feedback workflows?

Check out our e-book on the top 10 best practices for your review and approval process.

Ready to optimize your feedback workflows?

Check out our e-book on the top 10 best practices for your review and approval process. 

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