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Is your creative team constantly overloaded with busy work? Here's how to manage a time-strapped team to maximize great design

5 min read
Aaron Marquis

To the outside observer, the work of a designer or creator seems like a dream. Every day is filled with developing catchy social ads, bold billboards, and viral videos—all growing purely from the seeds of imagination. 

Of course, all creators know this is a fairytale (as much as they try to keep up the illusion to their friend.) Busy work is an unavoidable part of the game. Between competing campaign priorities, fires needing to be extinguished, assets needing to be exported and shared or simply tracked down, last-minute work and chaotic timelines unfortunately become the norm.

What we'll cover

Busy work can destroy great design and creative

Make no mistake, busy work is an innovation killer. If creative teams are waist deep in the muck of managing files, chasing feedback, clarifying deadlines, and other housekeeping tasks, they’re not operating optimally. When great design is the ultimate selling point to your clients or the cornerstone of making your brand stand out, getting too bogged down with the administrative work of creative production and not providing your team with enough time to innovate can have a ricochet affect across your company.

So, this begs the question—is your creative team busy with the right things? Are they spending time making good designs great, conjuring up unique creative for the next campaign, and making the brand sing? Or are they spinning their wheels on the boring stuff?

If it’s more of the latter, check out the tips below to free up your creative team to do what they do best: ideate and execute on great creative.

How to empower a time-strapped creative team for more innovation

While the occasional "drop everything for this design request" may be unavoidable, here are some tried-and-true methods to enable your creative team members to operate at their full creative potential and spend more time on design innovation and less time on busy work

Work in creative sprints

The creative sprint is the bedrock of an efficient, top-tier creative team. This meeting of project managers, stakeholders, and creatives lays out the roadmap for the next week, two weeks, month, or whatever timeline makes the most sense for typical deliverables. The sprint is the time to talk about working projects, upcoming projects, priorities, and bandwidth. It’s a transparent, open forum that empowers creative teams to break down large amounts of work and projects into digestible chunks of time and taks.

Before implementing a creative sprint, our own creative team at Ziflow initially worked in an ad-hoc capacity, tackling tasks as they came, and jumping from project to project as needed. Everyone accepted this chaos because “that’s just how it goes” in the world of marketing. Our creative project manager demonstrated the power of a well-run creative sprint. More importantly, she taught us how crucial it is to say “no” to new projects when bandwidth is limited.

By laying out the full scope of work on everyone’s plate and setting clear expectations for the next two weeks’ creative deliverables, we were able to track detailed creation tasks for each stage of design production. This also allowed our creative team to devote uninterrupted focus on the tasks in front of them and spend more time on design innovation for each project, rather than just rushing work out the door. 

Assign clear roles and creative approvers

We cannot stress this enough: companies need a formal review process for creative projects. Without a solid process in place, all too often the last person to “touch” or interact with an asset becomes its guardian and suddenly shoulders the responsibility for getting it over the finish line. It’s the creative world’s equivalent of the hot potato game, and it robs time away from creators attempting to do the job for which they were hired.

Methodical assigning of approvers and stakeholders to steps in the design process spreads the responsibility of projects to others, creates accountability, and takes busy work away from the creative team.

At Ziflow for example, our copywriters, designers, social media managers, and others are only involved at certain stages of the creative process. We assign dedicated project owners/stakeholders who are responsible for final sign-off and approval or responsible for tracking that approval down. It doesn’t fall on only one designer or copywriter to shepherd an entire project through to completion, and we use Ziflow to monitor those review steps.  

Sync creative review with your project management tasks

When creative review and project management aren’t on the same page, the energy and time burden typically falls on the creative team. Traditional project management doesn’t typically take into consideration the work-in-progress needs of creatives. Comments, annotations, markups, and more all require time and resources from the creative team and can affect their bandwidth. Often, a mountain of work simply appears as a line item of a single task within a project management board.

For instance, the project management status of a video ad for LinkedIn may be “addressing feedback,” but what does that mean? Does the editor have to color-correct a frame and then re-export, or does the entire video need a rethink? Depending on the creative review details, this feedback could take ten minutes, or thirty hours. Without the full details of what that step in the creative process entails, the project manager may assume the editor has the bandwidth to take on more work for the week while they’re secretly drowning in administrative tasks.

Integrating project management and creative review into one process ensures the entire creative workload is handled efficiently.

Measure creative production stats

Usually when creatives hear the word “metrics,” they instinctively tense up. Ultimately though, everyone understands the importance of measuring the success of assets once they’re live. Post views, campaign engagement, and other relevant numbers are how a creative team knows if their creative ideas made an impact. 

However, the work that goes into that creative is rarely tracked. Could you confidently say whether or not your creative team made something “efficiently” or “successfully”?

Tracking specific metrics of creative production gives management and stakeholders insight into what it really takes to bring a project from start to finish. Additionally, patterns should emerge that give a rough baseline of what the creative process should look like. 

At Ziflow, our creative team tracks:

  • Number of asset versions
  • Time to approval
  • The number of approvals
  • Time to complete each stage of the creative workflow

If there are notable deviations from the baseline numbers, we’re able to investigate and identify any “non-creative” tasks or “busy work” that’s associated with a project that may be slowing down our creative process.

By analyzing key metrics of the creative process, project managers can accurately gauge creative workload and adjust accordingly.

Is your team operating to its full creative potential? 

Freeing up your creative team to spend less time on busy work and more time on dynamite creative assets for the business pays dividends. It helps with burnout, output quality, and internal and external expectations. By implementing the tips above, and adjusting where necessary, you’ll unlock a higher level of productivity and quell the chaos that is inherent to too many creative teams.

Aaron Marquis