The Ultimate Guide to Creative Project Management

Lucija Bakić

April 23, 2023

Have you ever heard the phrase “I’m not messy, just creatively organized”? With efficient creative project management, this can become true.

One of the main challenges of creative project management is ensuring that your team has enough leeway to stay creative, while also avoiding falling into complete creative chaos. Nowadays, there are many available solutions that let you strike the perfect balance for your creative projects. In order to find the best ones, however, you need to know exactly what you’re looking for, and why.

In this guide, we’ll cover the basics of creative project management and give you the best tips to complete your creative projects successfully. Keep reading to find out more about creative project management software and what to look out for when implementing management solutions.

What Is Creative Project Management?

Creative project management refers to overseeing, facilitating, and coordinating projects that are considered part of the creative business sphere. Creative projects usually result in the creation of content, whether visual or textual. Creative teams can consist of copywriters, designers, artists, or marketers, though this distinction might vary depending on your industry. They are usually led by creative project managers, who can but do not have to be project managers in the strictest sense of the word.

As with any project, it’s preferable that the manager is well-versed in his team’s workload in order to facilitate task management and resource allocation. This is why, for example, a senior graphic designer might perform the duties of a creative project manager in a design studio.

Managing tasks, ensuring a balanced team workload, tracking hours, managing project deadlines, and the expectations of clients – all of this is just a small slice of a product manager’s day-to-day responsibilities. Though the requirements of creative project management are similar to traditional agency project management, there are some specific goals creative project managers seek to achieve.

In general, creative project managers should aim to simplify the administrative side of their work as much as possible in order to free up time for creative endeavors, with a focus on promoting creativity while efficiently handling the project requirements during all project stages. We’ll cover this in more detail in the following section.

See how a creative agency manages its projects successfully: Productive Is Tandem X Visual’s One-Stop Shop for Managing Work

Phases of Creative Agency Project Management

Much that can be said about traditional project management applies to creative project management as well. Typically, we can segment this process into four main phases depending on the project timeline.

  • Project Initiation: during the initiation phase, a client and creative agency discuss the general terms of the project, which includes setting a project time frame, defining project deliverables and budgets, developing team workflows, and putting client-agency feedback processes into place. The initiation phase process is mostly led by the creative project manager, with varying amounts of feedback from the members of the creative teams depending on the digital agency structure.
  • Project Planning: while the previous stage takes a birds-eye view into the project, during the project planning stages the creative project manager goes in-depth into the project by creating tasks with their associated deadlines based on project milestones. This is usually when the project team will be formed and responsibilities will be decided for each team member. This process is called resource planning, as it involves determining and allocating agency resources to account for the demands of the new project.
  • Project Execution: during the project execution phase, the project plan is put into practice by the project team and monitored by the creative project manager. Most of the heavy lifting happens in this phase, as external and internal changes such as added scope or employee leave impact the original plan. During this phase, project managers will use creative project management software to account for these changes, keep the client in sync and ensure that the project is proceeding according to plan. Good team collaboration, facilitated by efficient communication, is essential during the project execution phase of the project.
  • Project Sign-off: during the sign-off phase, managers collect and review final client feedback and finalize the project’s traditional or digital assets. The work does not end completely after the work has been delivered to the client, as it’s now time to consider the project data to determine what was good, what was not, and how to improve in the future. Oftentimes, creative project managers will also hold a post-project review to celebrate project completion and collect feedback from the team.

5 Essential Steps for Project Management for Creatives

In the following section, we’ll give you five tips for streamlining all phases of the project life cycle. Keep reading to find out how to make your project management smooth for all stakeholders, and how creative project management can support your goals.

1. Delegating Tasks to Your Creative Teams

One of the core responsibilities of any project manager is to make sure that project tasks are being accomplished on time, both in relation to the project deadline and related dependencies. Efficient task management won’t only make a project manager’s life easier but can also have an impact on employee productivity. Data shows that employees who are in touch with project goals are likelier to be engaged in their work, which in turn drives company profitability (Gallup).

Moreover, providing your team with a clear overview of the project’s progress allows them to self-delegate and self-manage, clearing up valuable time for high-level planning and minimizing the need for micromanagement.


WITH PRODUCTIVE’S PROJECT VIEWS, TEAMS CAN COLLABORATE ON TASKS AND TRACK THEIR PROGRESS

Nowadays, project management software is absolutely essential for good task management. With dashboards showing each team member which tasks they have yet to complete, automatic updates for status changes, and streamlined tracking of subtasks and dependencies, losing track of your task progress is almost a thing of the past.

Productive simplifies project planning with customizable project views, including board, list, calendar, and timeline views. You can organize your teams through different boards – for example, a software development company working on UX design might create a board for their designers and a separate board for developers, keeping both easily accessible under the same project.

With email notifications for task updates, everyone can stay fully in touch with status updates – and if your email is already overflowing with things that need your attention, you can manage which alerts you want to receive.

2. Managing the Creative Process With Optimal Workload Utilization

Managing a creative team is a fine balancing act. Knowing each teammate’s strong and weak points, as well as how much time they need to accomplish a task, is essential for ensuring a healthy creative project life cycle. A big part of good management comes with experience. Getting to know your team, their creative workflows and skills, as well as all of the ins and outs of the job itself – building these project manager skills takes time.

This is why projects will often need to be delivered before a manager is fully onboarded with his team or agency processes. In order to simplify this process and get the most out of their creative teams, project managers should invest in creative project management tools with two essential features: time tracking and resource planning.


PRODUCTIVE MAKES TIME TRACKING SIMPLE FOR BOTH MANAGERS AND EMPLOYEES

Although teams are sometimes resistant to time tracking, you can make this transition much easier by investing in project management software that simplifies the process. Productive’s time tracking is convenient to both teams and their managers – thanks to a desktop timer, employees can keep a closer track of their hours without losing time on switching tabs just to start or end their timer.

Or, if they prefer to enter all their time in one go, they can log their hours manually by entering ranges or the total number of hours worked. To ensure accuracy, project managers can lock time entries for editing after a certain amount of time has passed.

See also: 13 Best Agency Time Tracking Software in 2023


productive Gives you full insight into your agency’s resources

Time management is crucial for both traditional project management and creative agencies because it fuels powerful project insights, one of which is efficient resource management. In short, resource planning is the process of managing your agency’s creative resources, of which one of the main ones is the members of your creative project teams and their hours.

Productive enables efficient resource planning by simplifying team scheduling, taking into account the cost of services, their assigned tasks, and their requested time off or sick leave. Productive’s streamlined approach to high-level planning allows managers to factor in potential roadblocks and implement solutions quickly without compromising overall creative project timelines.

3. Handling Your Financials to Keep Projects on Track

Though managing your creative team is essential to managing your client’s expectations and resolving project issues, the other part of the equation is efficient budgeting. With Productive, your project budgets can be the focal point of your management process. Productive’s budgeting is fully flexible, so you can manage your financials whether your creative project is fixed-price, hourly, or flexible.

Get support for complex projects with multiple phases by defining separate budgets under the same project, and track hours across services for advanced insights into billable and non-billable hours. After finalizing a part of your project, get streamlined invoicing by pulling your platform data, whether uninvoiced time on hourly-priced projects or remaining budget amounts on fixed projects.


get full control over your budgets with productive

Productive provides advanced financial support not only by streamlining administrative tasks but also by generating advanced analytics with key agency insights: your revenue and profitability. With financial forecasting, all changes that you make to your creative project will update your data in real-time, so that you are never caught off guard: changing project deadlines, hiring new staff, etc.

Budget overruns will issue warnings, so you can request additional funds from your client or reschedule your project in order to stay on budget. Your agency profitability will take into account your overhead, including paychecks, service rates, etc. so that you get an accurate report of how your digital agency is doing. Utilize Productive’s advanced features to scale your operations while ensuring financial sustainability.

See also: Financial Forecasting and Capacity Management For Agencies

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4. Streamlining Team Collaboration With Creative Project Management Software

Though we’ve covered some of the ways to provide improved workflows to creative professionals on your project team, there are still some essentials left to touch upon. One of the best ways to ensure that no information slips through the cracks is to invest in a single creative project management software that can cover all traditional project management needs.

An all-in-one solution can serve as a single source of truth for all of your operations by recording all of your project information and standardizing processes across your agency. This is especially important for multiple project management, as it enables comparative result analysis and drives long-term improvements.

But even on the employee level, choosing one platform for all of your operations can bring many positives. According to research, nearly 20% of the average employee’s work week is spent looking for internal information or finding colleagues who can help with specific tasks (McKinsey). If you centralize all data, such as task-related updates or important creative project documentation, on one platform, you can significantly streamline your team’s daily workflows.


PRODUCTIVE’S STREAMLINED TASK MANAGEMENT MAKES YOUR PROJECT COLLABORATION SIMPLER

As an all-in-one agency management software, Productive can provide you with support for all your day-to-day business processes. Productive gives teams just the right amount of flexibility to ensure that workflows are structured without affecting creativity, while still eliminating the need for lengthy implementation and customization that comes with fully open solutions.

Productive includes additional features that help you save money on specialized project management tools or downgrade to simpler versions, with human resources management in the form of sick day and leave requests, an integrated Sales Pipeline feature, and collaborative documentation with Docs.


productive’s real-time documentation keeps all your key information in one place

All of these features are seamlessly connected to Productive’s project management platform, so you can get a full overview of how your teammates’ are using their hours, track your leads down your sales funnel, and convert won deals into projects, and manage your project information in one place while creating tasks directly from the page. For everything else, Productive includes handy integrations with other tools and software, such as Quickbooks, HubSpot, Jira, Xero, Slack, Google Calendar, and more.

5. Optimizing Creative Project Planning With Robust Reporting Features

Though gathering project insights is the most significant part of the project sign-off phase, it’s equally important to keep track of project vitals throughout the preceding project phases. Robust creative project management software that can deliver data in real time, at whatever moment, is an indispensable asset for quick decision-making. Then, once your creative project deliverables have been finalized, the same insights can be used to build more effective strategies for the future.

Here are some examples of the project reports that you can build with Productive’s customizable templates: Actual Utilization by People, Profitability by Months, Time Off Usage by People, Invoiced Revenue by Client, and many more.


pull data from productive to generate insightful project reports

Productive pulls all data from the platform in order to produce actionable results. And if you want to add data external to your project, you can input custom fields to cover even more detail in your reports. Then, choose how you want to display your data through different chart views. You can create custom dashboards with the exact projects you need and check the data every day without having to generate data anew. Then, share dashboards with your teammates to keep them in the loop with relevant analytics.

Project Management Software For Creative Project Managers

There’s a direct correlation between project management software and successful project performance; agencies are well aware of this fact, as data shows that 77% of companies use project management software (PWC). As for the rest, this might be chalked up to a lack of knowledge or the many challenges associated with software implementation, such as integrating the new project management tool into your workflows and getting your team on board.

But the first question that creative managers implementing a tool will come up against is: which tool available on the market is the best fit for my business?

To answer this, first, we’ll go through the main types of creative project management software when it comes to infrastructure:

  • Cloud-based solutions: nowadays, most software uses a cloud-based infrastructure, meaning that the tool is hosted by a third-party vendor and accessible online. Cloud-based solutions have the benefit of being more flexible and easier to implement but come with the downside of being less secure, as all data is stored externally.
  • On-premise solutions: on-premise solutions store data on the agency’s servers and are available on location. This means that these types of software are harder to implement, as they are less flexible and require more IT expertise. They can require a significant initial investment, as they are usually purchased through a licensing fee rather than a monthly or annual subscription. On the flip side, on-premise solutions are a good option for companies that require advanced data control and security or need to meet strict data compliance or regulatory requirements.
  • Hybrid solutions: hybrid solutions use cloud-based solutions for some part of their business process, and on-premise solutions for others. It’s a best-of-both-worlds scenario for companies that need to safeguard their data, but want to benefit from the features offered by modern cloud-based solutions.

For creative projects, the most common choice would be a cloud-based solution, though this decision should be made on an agency-to-agency basis.

Key Features of Good Project Management Software for Creative Tasks

As with infrastructural demands, which project management tool is the best choice for your business will largely depend on what kind of creative projects you’re usually managing, or more so your agency’s organization. However, there are some basics of project management software that can be applied no matter how specialized your creative project is. It’s always good to keep an eye out for the following key features when implementing project management tools:

  • Interface

    Project management tools that focus on their interface are a great choice, especially for teams that are not experts in using similar solutions. The more complicated the software is, the more cluttered the navigation can get. Although this is, to some extent, unavoidable with tools that provide many features, there’s a solution for this as well. Vendors that are dedicated to educating their users through help articles, webinars, or their customer support service can be a great option for companies that want to get the most out of their platforms.

    Otherwise, platforms that are too minimalist or use monotone colors can also be a less-than-ideal fit, especially for teams of creatives that might not be used to tracking numbers or lines of text on the screen. Apart from individual research, a good way to gauge user-friendliness is to check user reviews on sites such as Capterra or G2. Tools with a rating higher than 4.5, such as Productive, usually offer better service to their clients, and a more pleasant overall experience.
  • Features

    All-in-one project management tools are often a great choice for creative agencies. Though specialized tools have their perks, generalized tools provide a core service that is great for beginner and advanced project managers, and can scale easily with company changes. For agencies, the best option is to look for tools that are built with an agency perspective in mind. One example of such a tool is Productive, a tool created within an agency ecosystem, tailored specifically to agencies with client-facing projects of all shapes and sizes.

    Some essential features to look out for are task management, time tracking, budgeting, resource planning, and billing. Though there are other useful features, tools with the previously mentioned services will support most of your day-to-day operations. For everything else, integrations can be provided to boost certain areas of your business further.
  • Pricing

    Comparing pricing tiers across different software vendors can be tricky. Often, tools that seem cheaper initially can be more restrictive than pricier ones, meaning you will eventually need to invest in a more expensive option. Additionally, as the benefits of a project management tool scale with continuous use, agencies that are looking to grow should consider investing in a more robust solution even if they don’t see the need for it right away. In the long term, it might save more time and money than settling for an affordable option, only to inevitably re-implement a different solution.

    Software that offers free trials is a great choice to check out what a tool has to offer, and whether it’s a good fit for your agency. Productive offers a 14-day free trial to all users, so you can check out the tool without immediately committing to using it.

Takeaway: Manage Your Creative Team Successfully

Creative project management comes with a unique set of challenges. But, like everything in life, it’s more easily conquered with the right strategy. Although the perfect management approach will change from agency to agency and team to team, in this guide, we covered the basics of achieving smooth creative project management.

From delegating tasks and team collaboration to financials and project reports, the right creative project management tool can support your entire creative project life cycle. Whichever project management solution you choose, ensure you’re well-informed on the value you’re getting for your price. The best types of solutions will offer a comprehensive suite of features that allow managers and teams to keep their focus on their creative ideas.

If you’re looking for an all-in-one agency management software for creative businesses of all shapes and sizes, from marketing agencies to design studios, consider booking a demo with Productive.

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Lucija Bakić

Content Specialist

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