Creative work tends to be very imaginative and free-flowing, which is why you might not think it pairs well with project management. But, when used appropriately, creative project management can help provide structure for creative teams, allowing them to realize their full potential in every project — without hindering their creativity.
But if you’re still not convinced that your team can benefit from creative project management, this article will paint a clear picture of what that might look like for your team. We’ll also explain some common project management pitfalls and how to avoid them. Let’s get started!
Simply put, creative project management is the way in which you structure your team’s workflows to ensure everything from your project initiation to execution goes smoothly.
This might involve compiling briefs, assigning tasks, setting milestones, and monitoring progress. Reporting is another important element of creative project management, as utilizing data helps your team optimize their performance.
With creative project management, your team will have a foundation in which they can track their performance to better understand how it compares to expected timelines and budget projections. This way, it’s more likely that your projects will be profitable and completed on time.
You’re probably wondering what the difference between traditional and creative project management is, especially because the terms sound similar. Workflows tend to be structured the same in both, as the type of projects teams work on is the main difference between the two.
Project management principles can be used in any industry, but creative project management involves projects that require imagination and originality. Marketing teams and creative agencies often use creative project management to successfully deliver projects focused on filmmaking, conducting an editorial photoshoot, or creating an ad campaign, for example.
We get it, introducing your team to new workflows can be daunting. But if you spend your days working on creative projects without some sort of project management system in place, you might find yourself struggling to stay organized and deliver work on time.
Here are three benefits of implementing creative project management:
Ensures that nothing slips through the cracks
Everyone has a different way of working — some simply trust their memory and others need a detailed visual representation of outstanding project work.
Project management can help centralize your project information. This way, everyone has a home base to turn to when they’re not sure what tasks need their attention or how far along a project is. Project managers can monitor project budgets and assign all tasks via a project management tool, meaning nothing will slip through the cracks.
Makes it easier to juggle multiple projects at once
More often than not, creative agencies are tasked with juggling multiple projects at a time. But not all projects are created equal, and some require far greater effort than others. By having a project management framework in place, creative project managers can maintain a high-level overview of project timelines, progress, and who’s working on what.
Allows your team to spend more time creating
Administrative tasks, data collection, and budget calculations are all tedious parts of being a creative leader that can detract from your ability to focus on your actual work. Any creative can tell you just how frustrating it can be to deal with these tasks when your creative juices are flowing.
With a good project management system in place, the “boring” work can be dealt with much faster. Plus, when you implement a project management software tool, even more of these tedious tasks can be automated and removed from your plate.
Just like project management in any other industry, creative project management involves various team members working together to produce results on time and within budget.
In an agency setting, creative project management consists of listening to the client’s goals for the project, developing a strategic plan, and bringing everything to life through an out-of-the-box execution.
The scope of creative projects can vary widely, and many teams will still have a few technical team members on staff. This is because although creative projects are much more imaginative than projects in fields like IT or construction, you still need web developers and SEO specialists to help with the backend of campaigns to ensure everything goes off without a hitch.
In general, most members of creative teams have titles like:
- Graphic designers
- Project managers
- (Industrial) product designers
- Visual effects artists
- Motion design artists
- UX designers
- SEO specialists
- Web developers
- Software developers
- Content marketers
- Social media specialists
- Branding specialists
- Sound technicians
- Performing artists
Once again, all the relevant components of creative project management draw a strong parallel with those of traditional project management. However, there are a few distinguishing features that make a difference.
Just like your objectives for any other kind of project, your creative objectives illustrate the purpose of a project and who it will target.
In other words, what’s your goal for this creative project? Are you trying to increase brand awareness using an eye-catching billboard campaign, or is the goal to increase sales using digital ads? You’ll want to be able to answer these questions before kicking off any marketing campaign.
Your creative strategy answers the question of how you’ll execute your campaign objectives. This involves deciding which channels you’re going to rely on as well as the tone of your messaging.
Other components of your creative strategy might include your color palette, typography, slogans, style of design, whether you’ll use photography or digital illustrations, and so on. Your strategy is where you decide how you’re going to bring this creative campaign to life.
Your creative assets are the outcomes of your creative project. For example, photos, copy, video footage, and even brand guidelines can all be considered creative assets.
In a project where your team is creating an ad campaign, your creative assets include any files that need to be uploaded as part of the content for that ad, for instance.
Creative project management involves creating custom workflows to meet your team’s needs. Since every project may require different creative processes, you may need to alter your creative workflows on a per-project basis.
Your workflows are an important part of preventing bottlenecks among your team. A poorly designed workflow will leave some team members with too much to do and others with nothing to do at any given time.
For example, if your project is focused on content creation for a blog, your design team members might have nothing to do if they have to wait for all of the writing to be completed before they begin creating illustrations. Instead, you can break down this production process so that your design team can get started on their tasks earlier on.
In-house creative teams and creative agencies typically do the same kinds of work, but in-house teams function as their own department within a larger company, whereas companies outsource work to creative agencies on a per-project basis.
The right option for your organization largely depends on the product or service you offer, as well as your project objectives. For instance, an in-house team might be best suited to develop a brand strategy, but a creative agency might be better at launching a campaign to create buzz around a new product launch. Here’s a better look at the differences between the two.
What is in-house project management?
In-house creative project management has a lot of advantages. For one, when your creatives work in-house, you can be sure they’re aligned with your company values and that they have a solid understanding of your company mission and branding.
Although time-consuming, the in-house recruitment process enables companies to find creatives who are highly skilled with the potential to grow alongside the company. You’ll also retain greater control over how in-house creatives spend their time, as creatives at agencies are always spread across multiple projects at once, meaning they may be slower at turning around work.
Overall, in-house project management might yield faster campaign turnaround times with a greater understanding of your company’s messaging and target audience.
What is creative agency project management?
If you’re only looking for assistance for a particular campaign, hiring a creative agency makes more sense than hiring an entire in-house team. There are several types of agencies — some can do everything, whereas others specialize in digital design, PR, advertising, or social media, among many other focus areas.
Working with a creative agency requires you to first define your project goals and objectives and create a detailed brief for the agency to work off. Because your agency team will also have other clients to tend to, you won’t always get as much of their attention as you might like. But through regular meetings and communication, they’ll keep you in the loop on progress toward your goals and take care of everything for you.
As in any industry, project management for creatives comes with some pitfalls.
Not only because of typical issues like scope creep, but also because managing creatives comes with its own set of challenges. Although some pitfalls are out of your control as a project manager, you should still aim to minimize your risks as much as possible.
Below, we’ll discuss some of these common pitfalls and explain what you can do to prevent them.
Failing to meet client or stakeholder expectations
Creative project managers are tasked with juggling expectations from the client, stakeholders, and the creative team. As it’s the project manager’s job to make sure the project owner’s idea or vision comes to life, having a strong understanding of everyone’s expectations for the deliverables is paramount.
Some clients are able to explain and visualize what they are looking for, offering a detailed briefing. Others only offer a very abstract concept, regardless of how passionate they seem about their idea. Without enough context to convey their desires exactly, there might be a disparity between the client's vision and the way the team interprets it, leading to a confused team and a disappointed client.
When extra unforeseen changes are made, extra resources and time are needed, which might create some dissatisfaction from the client or stakeholders. Here are a few strategies to prevent this from happening:
- Ask a million questions: There is no such a thing as silly questions, and in this case never too many questions either. Even if you think you have your answer, ask the same question again in a more specific way to get precise information upfront.
- Create a mood board: For projects involving a great deal of creative freedom, having the client create a mood board can be a great way to better visualize exactly what they’re looking for. A mood board can include photos, magazine cuttings, video fragments, written quotes, material samples, or anything that represents the desired message and style.
- Ensure your team is a good fit: Make sure a client is made aware of your capacity before accepting a project. Sometimes clients don’t realize the type of knowledge or creative skill that their project requires. Maybe you have the right creatives on your team, but the scope of the projects goes beyond their level of expertise. Keep your client up to speed on exactly what your team is capable of.
Wondering what a stakeholder is? Check out our glossary of common project management terms.
Believe it or not, 30% of employees cite poor communication as the reason they missed deadlines. Not only is this frustrating for employees, but it can also be costly for your organization.
Team collaboration can only occur with the right communication. Creatives can have a lot of differing opinions regarding how the work should be done, which is why you should have a plan for how your team will communicate and the frequency of communication prior to kick-off.
Here’s how we suggest preventing miscommunication:
Create a communication plan: This is where you outline what your communication will look like for this project. Will your team communicate via daily stand-ups or by email? How will you communicate progress updates to stakeholders, and how regularly will those updates occur? This should be a living document that your team can refer back to if there’s any confusion.
Conduct regular check-in meetings: Make sure you’ve scheduled regular check-in meetings with your creative team to ensure there’s an opportunity to discuss progress and strategies for overcoming any bumps in the road.
Centralize your project communication: Try to avoid long email threads, lengthy direct messages, and sporadic post-it notes. Decentralized communication is difficult to refer back to. You might be using more than one tool or program for various creative processes, but at least make sure all communication is centralized by using one single platform. Collaboration tools like Slack are handy. All-in-one project management tools like Rodeo are even better.
Overspending on project activities
When creatives are focused on crafting the perfect campaign, budgets and other financial targets sometimes fade into the background, resulting in overspending. Luckily, there are a few ways you can prevent this from happening and leave your client satisfied.
Inaccurate project estimates: Before a client agrees to partner with your organization, they’ll likely want to see an estimate of how much your creative services will cost. But if this estimate is inaccurate, you’re basically setting your team up to fail. You may want to add 10% on top of every estimation just to be safe. In the best-case scenario, most of it will be added to your profit margin anyway.
Working unnecessary overtime: Some creatives can really get lost in their craft once they get going. It’s best to set expectations for how long each task should take — and have your team track their time if necessary — that way you won’t have to bill the client for overtime that wasn’t really needed anyway.
Failing to regularly check your budget: Don’t just file away your budget estimate once it’s approved! Instead, you’ll want to track your spending in real time to identify ways you can cut back, or perhaps find areas where you’re spending less than you thought.
While creative project management has many benefits, it’s hard to pull off without the help of a project management software tool. That’s why we built Rodeo Drive — an all-in-one platform created to help creative professionals better manage their projects from start to finish.
Let’s take a look at the features that make Rodeo Drive the best software choice for creative agencies.
Time tracking that connects with your budget
Getting creatives to track their time can be a hassle, and you certainly don’t want it to turn into a chore that interferes with their creative process. But at the same time, recording your team’s billable hours is important when it comes time to invoice clients. That’s why users using Rodeo Drive can track their time efficiently by using the timer.
The best part is that every time activity you enter in Rodeo Drive must be connected to a project’s budget activity, meaning your budget will automatically update in real time as your team enters their hours. This will allow you to maintain a clear understanding of your budget spending every step of the way.
Effortlessly send estimates and invoices to clients
Creative agencies typically rely on estimates to inform clients how much a project will cost and invoice them once the work has been completed.
Rodeo Drive makes this easier than ever by allowing creative project managers to automatically generate estimates and invoices based on your data from the platform in just a few clicks. This way, you’ll reclaim all of the hours you’d otherwise waste getting these documents in order. When you're ready, send your invoice via QuickBooks (US) and Xero (UK).
Plus, estimates and invoices sent from Rodeo Drive are fully customizable. This means you’re able to add your own branding, discounts, or terms and conditions for a more personalized feel.
Access reports on your team’s progress, productivity, and profitability
Analytics on project progress is crucial for any team, and Rodeo Drive is able to turn your team’s usage of the platform into automatically generated reports. Available reports include employee productivity, time registration, and projects.
This way, you can identify ways for your team to improve their efficiency or cost-effectiveness without having to collect the data manually. Should you want to take these reports a step further, you can download your data so you can use it however you please.
Originally published on April 20, 2021. Updated on June 14, 2023.