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Creative project management: 5 steps to succeed in 2021

11 min read
Katie Oberthaler

Project management isn’t a new concept. For years, businesses around the globe have relied on project management tools to keep teams working efficiently and productively in a host of environments.

However, for the most part, the concept of “project management” has been more often associated with IT, manufacturing, and construction industries. Today, we’re living in a world where project management practices can be valuable in every industry, including those that work from a creative perspective.

So, what happens when you need to give your project management strategy a creative twist?

That’s what we’re here to find out.

What we'll cover

What is Creative Project Management?

We often assume that creative teams need to be left to innovate on their own. After all, marketing, branding, and advertising inspiration can’t be manufactured.

However, just because a lot of the creative process is organic, doesn’t mean that there aren’t components that need to be managed too. Learning how to manage your creative projects with Ziflow means overcoming and avoiding bottlenecks in performance caused by problematic review processes, approval issues, and more.

Creative project management software and tools give companies in the area of design, development, and marketing the power to accelerate their growth and performance.

Creative operations that need to be managed can include a multitude of things, including:

  • Project intake and assignment: Choosing the right projects and delivering them to the most appropriate team members.
  • Creative briefs and SOPs: Providing team members with the right guidance to keep them working at their best.
  • Communication: Keeping up-to-date with the creative team, project owners, clients, and more.
  • Review and revisions: Checking the quality of the work, asking for edits, and approving projects.
  • Delivery: Getting the creative project signed off.

Get more tips for improving creative project management: "Copperwing Agency Fosters Internal Collaboration for Multi-Format Design Campaigns."

Copperwing company logo at receptionCopperwing Agency Fosters Internal Collaboration for Multi-Format Design Campaigns

Learn how a regional agency implementing a singular solution that allows many teams to juggle numerous types of media and campaigns together. Read story


Creative Project Management vs Traditional Project Management

While project management for creatives requires similar software to project management tools in the traditional world, there are some significant differences between the two.

For instance, because creativity is more fluid and subjective, the approach to project planning and execution is often different. You might not be able to follow a sequential timeline like you would with a construction industry, for instance. The processes that you implement will differ according to your company and the needs of the projects.

For example, in a copywriting agency, the project management strategy will have a whole segment dedicated to editing and proofreading. This is something that wouldn’t exist in the manufacturing world.

Additionally, CPM (creative project management tools) often measure success differently. Good concepts and designs in this sector are generated from moments of meaningful inspiration. This isn’t something that any company can force. You need to give creators some space, and plenty of time for the magic to take place.

Despite this, a creative project manager still needs to find ways to inspire, motivate, and support workers in achieving their goals. Efficient and well-managed creative project management software brings structure, process, and even measurability to the creative workflow, so teams can improve consistently.

5 Key Skills Every Creative Project Manager Must Possess

To achieve success in creative project management, team leaders need to possess the right skills. After all, experts often look to the creative project management for insight into how to achieve important goals, and how to behave.

A creative project manager’s job requires a huge level of engagement and relationship development. That’s because if you want to encourage a positive outcome in the creative world, you need to understand your team, how they work, and how you can empower them. Often, creative project managers need even more skills than the traditional PM.

Here are just some of the talents you’ll need to develop as you work on supporting your team.

  1. Creativity
  2. Collaboration
  3. Empathy
  4. Detail-Orientation
  5. Communication

Managing a creative team requires you to have at least some creativity yourself. Creatives often find it difficult to follow strict rules. Because of this, you need to be able to relate to your team and provide them with practical guidelines.

Practice thinking outside of the box when it comes to optimizing team skills. For instance, rather than setting exact deadlines, give your employees a “flexible” timeline for when work needs to be done. This way, you can ensure that you still meet deadlines without forcing your employees to complete specific work on certain days.

Alternatively, you could give your employees a date when work needs to be done but allow them to choose which parts of the project to work on themselves.

Teamwork makes the dream work in project management for creative teams. When you’re working with creatives, it can be incredibly valuable to bounce ideas off different people. Your employees will thrive when they’re encouraged to work together, rather than in silos.

For instance, if designers are encouraged to work hand-in-hand with developers on website building projects, they can begin to look at their design ideas from different angles. Collaboration also encourages different perspectives to come together and create something truly unique.

Get your team involved in setting achievable goals for the whole workforce and involve your employees in the creative review process too. Examining the outcomes of different strategies within your creative project management software together will help you to identify what works, and what doesn’t for your team.

When you’re dealing with creative team members, it’s important to be empathetic.

Creativity often requires experts to let their walls down, experiment, and take risks. Because of this, they’re putting themselves out there on an emotional level.

Providing feedback that’s too harsh could mean that your employees are wary about sharing their ideas in the future. You need to be empathetic and understanding if you want to encourage continued creativity in the future.

Showing empathy doesn’t mean that you have to deliver positive feedback even when you’re not happy with what your staff produce. However, it does mean that you need to recognize the effort that they make and help them to pivot in the right direction gently.

Let your team know that you’re there for them, and that you appreciate them.

Although it’s difficult to force creativity, a creative project manager needs to be careful to ensure that they’re helping everyone to operate at the right pace.

Most creative projects come with a deadline, whether it’s designing an app, building a website, or creating some kind of marketing project. Knowing how to stick to a timeline and encourage your employees to do the same is essential.

Make sure that briefs are being delivered with enough time for your team members to accomplish the goals you want them to address. Pay attention to how much time each part of the process takes and keep an eye on whether briefs and quality standards are being recognized.

Creative project management software will be particularly useful here, as it will allow you to keep track of the work being done, without consistently hovering over your employee’s shoulder.

Last but not least, project management for creative requires excellent communication.

You’ll need to be able to ensure that your employees know exactly what’s expected from them on every project. Make your needs absolutely clear from day one, and make sure that your team members know how to reach you if they have any questions.

Don’t be afraid to consider different forms of communication too. For instance, if you’re working with a remote worker, it can be difficult to ensure that you’re seeing eye-to-eye over email. A video conference with screen sharing might be more efficient.

How to Improve Your Creative Project Management

For most companies, the easiest way to improve creative project management is to start with the right tools. Using a single project management tool that’s flexible enough to work with all of the parts of your creative project is essential.

Tools like Ziflow, for instance, can help you to:

  • Handle all of the questions and needs of internal and external stakeholders
  • Support collaboration between teams and encourage real-time feedback
  • Manage a more efficient review and approval process

With the right creative project management software, you can also take some of the following steps to make your business more efficient and productive too. Such as:

  1. Centralizing the Creative Production Process
  2. Gathering Key Details with Intake Forms
  3. Communicating the Process
  4. Provide Timely Reviews and Approvals
Ziflow workflows management overview dashboard

Creative project management tools allow you to align all of your creative strategies in the same combined space. Remember, requests and information in your business can come from many different places, from instant messaging tools to email. This makes it hard to track everything.

With a single piece of creative project management software at the center of your strategy, you don’t have to worry about confusion regarding business priorities. This means that CPMs can spend their valuable time actually managing projects, rather than just consolidating requests.

A single tool ensures that tasks have priorities, due dates, and assignees, to get everyone on the same page. Additionally, you can also use your aligned environment to track the outcomes of your tasks and measure progress much easier.

Creatives like copywriters and designers often need a comprehensive brief in place before they can begin working on a project. Using a standard intake form to create briefs means that you can ensure that your team has the right amount of information to get started straight away.

A well-maintained intake form combined with your creative project management software ensures that outside collaborators can initiate tasks with a single click. Other benefits include:

  • A reduction in new project requests and project kickoff times
  • Fewer issues with project delivery timelines
  • Better management of multiple requests from a single system

Ziflow’s intake forms, for instance, allow you to give anyone the opportunity to submit proofs using simple links and a comprehensive form. External users, clients, customers, partners, and contractors can all submit content for review within a Ziflow account.

The intake forms from Ziflow even trigger related workflows that assign a full suite of review roles, timelines, stages, and reminders according to the files submitted.

Design agency brief intake form Ziflow screenshot


Learn how to reduce the burden of project intake in our webinar: "Intake Forms: Online Proofing's Newest Innovation for Marketing & Creative Teams."

Intake forms: online proofing newest innovation for marketing and creative teams webinarIntake Forms: Online Proofing's Newest Innovation for Marketing & Creative Teams

Get three examples of how to use online forms to simplify and streamline marketing project kick-of and review.

Watch webinar

Project Intake Doesn't Need to Be a Burden

Above, we mentioned the importance of good communication skills for a creative project manager. When you’re supporting your team, you need to make sure that all of your creatives, clients, team members, and external partners understand how the creative process works.

From day one, you need to set expectations by making it clear what kind of information is expected from each request. You’ll also need to make it clear that any requests that come outside of the centralized creative project management software you’re using may well be ignored.

If your team members begin to see evidence that the requests that come through alternative means aren’t going to be prioritized, they’ll begin to recognize the importance of sticking to your process.

It may be hard to force yourself to stick to your guns initially. However, if you focus on communicating your process as the only option for teams, you’re less likely to have problems and disruptions.

Finally, remember that producing creative assets involves iterative rounds of feedback from stakeholders. Unfortunately, without the right creative project management software, it’s easy for drafts to get stuck in bottlenecks.

Ziflow and similar project management tools allow you to standardize the review and approval process across hundreds of media types. This means that it’s easy to provide external and internal team members with real-time notifications and guidance.

In other words, you ensure that everyone is on the same page.

Add an image from Ziflow of the feedback screen.

Over 80% of the projects reviewed by the Ziflow online proofing solution are completed in fewer than two versions. Ziflow annotation, mark-up, and commenting tools means that creative teams can work more collaboratively together and keep creative projects on track.

Comments sections overview in Ziflow online proofing software

This means fewer missed deadlines, more happy customers and stakeholders, and productive team members that can deliver the best possible work every time.

Make the Most of Your Creative Projects

Ultimately, project management for creatives is a world apart from traditional project management strategies. With creative project management, you need to maintain a more creative and flexible approach in everything that you do. This helps to ensure that your team can make the most of their creative skills, without missing out on essential delivery dates and deadlines.

With creative project management software, you can ensure that your team has all the assistance that they need to accomplish their goals, while you have the power to oversee performance and keep creative projects on track.

Just like many things in today’s digital world, the key to accomplishing your goals as a creative project manager has the right tools to help you. Solutions like Ziflow give you the support you need to develop your skills as a creative manager and guide your teams in the right direction.




Katie Oberthaler

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