Project Management for creatives - The complete guide

Updated: Mar 26

If you need to take on more clients but already feel overwhelmed, setting up the right project management system is the answer for you. A clear project management system might be one of the most important ways to grow your business and feel happy as you work day to day. It means you are always organised and your clients feel confident and excited about the process instead of confused or frustrated. No more emails asking when you will be ready to show them something and nothing will slip between the cracks, causing you or your clients stress. We put together the step by step process to create your own system as well as a template you can download here to use as a starting point.


OVERVIEW:


  • Benefits of a solid project management process

  • Deliverables and stages

  • Breaking up each stage

  • Creating tasks for you and your client

  • Setting up your project management tool

  • Tips for project management tools



Benefits of a solid project management process


A project management system outlines when something is done and how it is done. This means both you and your clients know when to meet up, when to give feedback and what tasks to complete at any point in time. Setting this up before the project starts and on-boarding your client means that everyone can plan ahead and feel calm about the process. This leads to a ton of benefits including:


  • Clients give feedback and send files on time

  • Projects stick to the original budget and time line

  • No need to continuously ask about progress

  • You feel confident always knowing what tasks to do

  • You can plan and spread out your workload better

  • You can automate a lot of tasks since you know about them ahead of time

  • You can take on more clients without more stress


Deliverables and stages


The first step to creating your own project management system is to start by looking at the type of deliverables you will produce. In some agencies, this is more or less always the same. For example, in a branding agency, you might always produce a strategy, a logo, a visual language and a brand guide. Even if some of the deliverables are different, for example one project requires some custom illustrations, the steps involved tend to be very similar. If you have a very wide range of offers, you might need to create one process for each type of project. My advice is to start with one and look for similarities in the way you work as you tackle the next one.


Once you know the deliverables you will produce, start to think about the steps you need to take to get there. For many companies it will look something like this:


1. Speak to the client to understand the project requirements

2. Gather information about the competition and audience and find inspiration

3. Design concepts

4. Present to the client and make iterations

5. Finalise designs and hand off to client


You can add and remove steps as you see fit. In the video walkthrough (at the top of this page) we have chosen these stages:


  • On-boarding

  • Discovery

  • Research

  • Concepts

  • Iterations

  • Handoff and support

These are the same stages you will find in the template.


Breaking up each stage


Once you have your stages clear, it is time to break each stage in to four categories. These categories will help us define the tasks that need to be completed for us to move on to the next stage.


These categories are:


  • Work/Deliverables (the creative tasks you and your team need to complete)

  • Feedback (the input you will need from your client)

  • Time line (how long the stage should take)

  • Communication (what needs to be communicated and what tools will you use)

As an example, we will use the concept stage. These tasks are just examples and you can choose to replace them with any tasks that suit your business better.



Creating tasks for you and your client


Now that you know what tasks and feedback you need at every stage, simply divide them in to "yours" and "clients". If you have a team, you can then go further by assigning each task to the right team member.


For example, both you and your client needs to attend a meeting, but only your client needs to give feedback. Once you have the full list of tasks, it is time to add them to your project management tool. You can set everything up using shared Google Drive or Dropbox folders but I highly suggest you try a project management tool like Trello, Asana or Basecamp (see full list of tool suggestions at the end). Many are free and they are a lot easier to share with your client and make you look a lot more professional.


Setting up your project management tool



Now, we have our stages, our tasks and have allocated them to your team and your client. Now it is time to set everything up in your tool of choice. I like to create a template that I can then just copy for each project and tweak any small details like the timeline or exact deliverables. Many tools like Trello allow you to create template boards and lists and it saves a ton of time.


I also like to create an internal and an external board for each project. The external board is the one I invite my client to. Here, you can have a clear outline of the stages, add tasks with due dates and allocate a team member (including the client) to each task. Below is a snapshot of the first 4 stages added to the client board in Trello.



As you can see, we are able to add attachments such as the proposal to the board so the client can always access the necessary documents when they have questions. This helps the client feel more relaxed and saves you time finding files or answering questions.


You can then do the same thing for your internal board. This is where you add all the tasks your team need to complete. It is important to have these boards separate since you might not want your client to see all of your team conversations or give feedback on unfinished ideas.


It can be a good idea to break down tasks in to small steps. For example, instead of just adding "design logo concepts" you can add 1. find inspiration, 2. create sketches, 3. pick the best ideas and 4. refine the best ideas.


This tends to keep motivation higher and as a project manager it is a lot easier to have an overview of the progress.


Here is an example of the Discovery stage set up in Asana:



Tips for project management tools


Project home (where you set up all tasks and your client gets a clear overview)

Gather text, images or other files from clients or collaborators

Chat and video conference tools


If you want to dig deeper in to tool setup, check out our in depth post on using Notion for your design agency.


You can also visit our Youtube channel for more videos or the podcast for candid conversations about running a creative agency.


Good luck with your projects!

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