Managing a creative team is a unique challenge.
There’s always a certain level of chaos and constant activity that inherently comes with producing and managing creative work. From last-minute deadlines and unforeseen project needs to numerous stakeholders and visual scopes that change or evolve halfway through a project, there are roadblocks just waiting to upend the way your creative team plans to tackle new work. Add in the need to track down many different people to provide feedback, and creative team management can feel like a never-ending chase of people and tasks moving in many different directions all at once.
Even the most high-performing creative teams still deal with these issues. However, they’ve put guardrails in place that help redirect or minimize the impact of this chaos on their process. In this article, we’ll discuss some actionable tips and tricks that can help you manage your creative team more effectively.
Whether you’re a project manager or a creative director in charge of your overall creative process, read on to learn several ways you can more effectively manage a creative team and create a better team flow.
Define and enforce detailed project objectives and visions–every time
The first step in improving your creative team management process to define clear objectives, goals, timelines.l for every single project–no matter how small the task or request. We recommend using a standard creative brief. By doing so, you’ll ensure that not only is everyone working towards a common goal and deadline, but also start work with a sense of shared creative direction.
Within our own creative team project management, we have a standard creative brief our visual designers and copywriters use to.
- Project summary and background
- Visual references
- A list of deliverables and any/all asset formats needed
- Deadlines for work delivered, revisions, and publication
Creative work does not begin until the very baseline of information the team needs has been received. Project stakeholders – whether they are from within our own creative team or from an external stakeholder such as our CEO - are required to fill out this information when requesting new work from our content creators, designers, and video editors. If any information is missing, our project manager will follow up before exposing the creative team to the project request.
This helps our creative team flow immensely in two critical ways:
- It protects the creative team’s bandwidth by ensuring they’re only working on projects that have fully been scoped out and prioritized. Work can ultimately begin and be completed faster.
- It ensures our creatives are using most of their time to ideate, design, write, and generate creative work–instead of following up on project details. They aren’t bogged down with administrative tasks from the very beginning.
Creative briefs and design briefs look different for every creative team and project. Here are a few examples of creative briefs and how to begin formulating and applying an effective creative project template for your team.
Read more: The creative brief: A how-to guide (with template)
Outsource as many creative project administrative tasks as possible
We’ve discussed many times before how administrative work and busy work is the #1 killer of creative output.
Everyone knows the time and mental energy it takes on creatives when they have to continually follow up to get feedback from unresponsive stakeholders on time.
However, it’s the even smaller tasks–the ones not typically itemized out within a project management system–that can be true energy vampires on your team’s creative flow. Tasks like transforming and sharing files from one format to another, creating asset folder structures, and more, can be a drain on your creative teams.
These ongoing tasks are always lurking in the background of your creative process, adding up, and taking up valuable time during each project.
Some small-scale task automations that can vastly improve your creative team’s flow are:
- Automatically turning a design proof into a file in the right Google Drive folder
- Linking new design versions automatically into project management systems.
- Auto-transforming files into new formats and sharing them with the right people.
- Send a Slack notification when someone has added a comment to or approved an asset.
Automating these tasks as much as possible for your creative team–or at least taking them off their plate as much as possible–within their project flow can save hundreds of hours of work over the lifetime of a project.
Read more: 10 things you should automate today for a better marketing workflow
Create a forum for open communication–but control the creative feedback process
Creative teams thrive on open communication. Your creative team management process should encourage team members to express their ideas, opinions, and feedback. Create an open space where every team member can share their thoughts without fear of criticism or judgment. This will foster a collaborative environment where team members can work together to create innovative designs and solutions within your project parameters.
However, that doesn’t mean your creative flow shouldn’t have structure. In order to protect your team’s creative ideation space at the start of a project or during design iteration, it should exist as a separate space and phase of your project.
We recommend separating out the creative review part of your project from the stages of stakeholder review.
This enables your team to ideate and collaborate without exposing their decisions or versions to other groups. By the time it hits the desk of your client, they’re seeing a polished version without seeing all the internal creative work and internal decisions or versions that went into the creation process. Some level of external exposure to that work can be helpful to keep stakeholders in the loop, but protecting your creative team’s creative process is critical to innovation.
You can standardize this kind of flow with creative collaboration automation that automatically sends a version of a creative asset only after your creative team has completed an internal review process on the asset.
Read more: The ultimate guide to creative project management
Set realistic deadlines–really
Creative teams require time to develop and refine their ideas. However, it's important to set realistic deadlines that allow your team to work efficiently without feeling rushed or overwhelmed.
Of course, everyone has a different idea of what “realistic” means. For a client, the deadline may mean now. For your designer, they may have other projects in the queue, or are waiting on related materials, before a deadline can be set.
Setting true, realistic deadlines depend on several factors:
- Each team member's strengths, limitations, and schedules.
- The true bandwidth of your entire creative team and its current priorities
- Pushing back on unrealistic requests or priorities that can’t be accomplished in time (this is where having a well-crafted creative brief helps.)
It’s easier said than done to push back on a client that wants something done quickly or a C-level executive that has a new idea they want assistance in bringing to life. However, setting expectations around your team’s creative workflow will bring consistency to your team’s output.
The best way to gauge a realistic level of effort required for a certain type of project or tasks is to monitor average team-wide bandwidth and creative output throughout the creative production process. This includes tracking:
- The average number of versions per project or asset
- The average number of comments on asset before it reaches completion
- The average time it takes to get a project or asset approved by specific stakeholders
- The average time per project workflow phase, from internal creative review to client review
Armed with these data points, you can begin to paint a picture of how long different kinds of creative work may take and use those averages to inform your deadlines Exposing stakeholders to these metrics can also help them set the right expectations before or during a new project requests.
Setting achievable deadlines will help your team stay focused, motivated, and productive–and using measurable data points in the creative process can help you formulate those deadlines.
Read more: 3 creative metrics every marketing leader should track (and how)
Control the chaos within your creative team management
Managing a creative team requires a unique set of skills and strategies. By incorporating clear objectives, encouraging open communication, setting realistic deadlines, and automating time-wasting tasks, you can effectively manage your creative team's flow and foster a collaborative, innovative creative environment.