How to manage your creative projects

By Francesca Margherita

Photo by Jeremy Cohen, featuring Marcus Jade

To keep your projects sailing along smoothly, try these project management best practices and tools.

When you’re running a creative business, project management is an essential part of the job. Whether you’re putting together a suite of podcast ads, rolling out a revamped website, or launching a new video project, orchestrating all the moving pieces of a project can be a massive task. To do it effectively, requires a blend of organization, nimbleness, and stellar communication.

Here are some tips on the art and science of managing creative projects, from beginning to end.

Get acquainted with project management essentials

Managing a project well isn’t about controlling a project — it’s more about optimizing for the best outcome. You’ll organize the moving pieces, help corral the work, and stay on top of the details, while soliciting (and embracing) input that makes the process or project stronger and empowering your collaborators to do their best work and move in concert toward a North Star.

A well-running project begins with a well-considered approach. To be an effective project manager, you’ll want follow these guiding principles:

  • Scope what your project is (and isn’t!)
  • Define goals and what it will take to achieve those goals, including roles, tasks, deliverables, budget, and timelines
  • Prioritize all the things, considering what needs to be done to unlock next steps and identifying efficient orders of operation
  • Keep everyone aligned, while the vibes stay good and the trains keep running

A 5-step game plan for running a successful project

So how can you put all that into action? Try following these steps the next time you run a project:

1. Get informed

Start where you are and assess what you know: What are you trying to do and why? What tools and resources are out there? What’s the state of the state? Gather research and resources to help scope the project, set preliminary goals, and define deliverables. It’s good practice to spin this up into a clear, helpful brief so your project team has a shared source of truth.

Making the scope too large can make a project drag on, feel unwieldy, or even seem unattainable. To make a big, sprawling project more manageable, break the project down into discrete and focused chunks. This will give you more milestones and wins to celebrate, and some happy rushes of dopamine to keep everyone feeling excited about the progress you’re making together.

Bonus: We made you a free project brief template to help you get started.

2. Get aligned

Once you’re clear on what’s what, sync with your collaborators to get on the same page. Holding a kick-off chat to go over the brief is a great opportunity to talk it out and address questions or concerns in real time. You may even get some input that ends up reshaping parts of your initial plan or brief — and that’s a good thing! A realistic (and even ambitious), achievable, and exciting, but focused, plan is a recipe for success.

To map out an aligned plan:

  • Discuss the project and its goals. Make sure everyone taking part is clear on what you’re collectively doing and why, and that everyone has an opportunity to weigh in. As project manager, you’ll probably lead this chat, but there should be plenty of other voices getting airtime.
  • Review responsibilities and expectations. Depending on your squad, it may be pretty self-evident who should be in charge of what. (For example, the designer designs, the writer writes, and so forth.) Or, you may need to get creative as you divvy stuff up and decide things like who’s making that key phone call, picking up new materials, or testing the mics? Be sure to decide with the team who’s signing off on what, so folks are clear what they’re in charge of.
  • Align on your process. How often will you have check-ins and what format works best for the group? Where should folks post their updates? How are you delivering information and keeping track of deadlines? Make sure everyone involved knows the system and how to proceed. Later, follow up on the chat by finalizing and sharing a calendar of key dates and milestones, plus a checklist or tracker and any shared folders or resources that will help your team keep moving.

3. Get into it

Once everyone’s ready to go, it’s time to hit the ground running. Stay in touch with collaborators about your agreed-upon cadence, and keep eachother up-to-date as steps are completed and next phases are unlocked. If you’re approaching a big deadline with lots of dependencies, make sure you’re doing a progress check in advance so you can help folks get unblocked, if needed. Throughout the process, make sure to provide plenty of positive feedback and celebrate small wins and successes.

4. Get it out there

When you’ve finished the project — or a slice of the project that you’re shipping first — pause to say hurrah with your team. Whether it’s a happy burst of Slack emojis, a virtual launch party, or pizza for all, acknowledging the effort and milestones doesn’t just feel great, it’s part of a great project manager’s job.

5. Get reflective

Kudos, you’re done with the project! Retrospectives (also known as post-mortems) are a great way to help collaborators feel heard while ensuring you’re all learning from and improving the way you work together. To hold a retrospective, carve out 45 to 60 minutes with your project team and guide an open and thoughtful discussion. Reflect on what went well and why, what didn’t and why (in a blame-free way), what you all learned from the process, and what you’d like to do next time. Take notes and reference them before you kick off your next project.

Project management tools for creators

There are lots of helpful tools out there to help you get organized, stay organized, and keep on top of the moving parts. The trick is finding the one you like because, as the saying goes, the best tool is the one you’ll use. Try out tools like Airtable, ClickUp, Monday, Miro, or Asana to use intuitive and user-friendly databases, kanban boards, and other formats and visualizations to organize your data.

If you’ve got a highly visual team, color-coding to show status or ownership and Gantt charts to show timelines and dependencies can be helpful approaches to explore. You can, of course, use simple checklists and spreadsheets, too, if that’s your jam.

How do you manage projects? Need tips on managing projects at scale or when you’re just starting out? Join the Patreon Community Discord server to chat to other creators.

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