How to manage your creative projects
When you’re running a creative business, project management is 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, managing all the moving pieces of a project is a massive task. And to do it right, you have to approach it with a blend of organization, nimbleness, and stellar communication around planning and alignment, execution, delivery, and reflection.
Here are some tips on the art and science of managing creative projects:
Everything you need to know about PMs
A good project manager (or PM):
- Scopes what the project is (and isn’t!).
- Defines goals and what it will take to achieve those goals, including roles, tasks, deliverables, budget, and timelines.
- Prioritizes all the things, considering what needs to be done to unlock next steps and identifying efficient orders of operation.
- Keeps everyone aligned while the vibes stay good and the trains keep running.
There are formal project management methodologies that you can seek out, but even if you don’t study up beyond this article, you can still get it right if you’re methodical, strategic, thoughtful, and humble.
That last one is especially important, particularly when it comes to managing creative work that can feel super personal. 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 throughout every step, you should be empowering your collaborators to do their best work and move together toward a North Star.
A simple formula 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? 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.) Need a template for a project brief? We made one for you.
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 inputs that end up reshaping parts of the initial plan or brief — and that’s a good thing! A realistic (even ambitious), achievable, and exciting but focused plan is a recipe for success.
During this step, cover the following (and take notes on the outcomes).
- Discuss the project and its goals: Make sure everyone taking part is clear on what you’re collectively doing and why, and 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: (Think: tasks, how much budget folks have to work with, who’s doing what, etc.). Depending on your squad, it may be pretty self-evident (the designer designs, the writer writes, etc.), or you may need to get creative as you divvy stuff up — who’s making that key phone call, picking up a new material, or testing the mics? Be sure to decide with the team who’s signing off on what, so folks are clear on what they own and how much they should plan to carry.
- Align on 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 you all know what’s up and how to proceed.
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 the team get moving.
3. Get into it. Once everyone’s ready to go, it’s time to hit the ground running. Stay in touch with collaborators on your agreed-upon cadence, and facilitate communication 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 there’s plenty of positive feedback and that little wins and successes are acknowledged.
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 the team. Whether it’s a happy burst of Slack emojis, a virtual launch party, or pizza for all, acknowledging the effort and that you’ve reached the summit doesn’t just feel great, it’s part of a great PM’s job.
5. Get reflective
You’re done with the project… kudos! 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 retro, carve out 45-60 minutes with your project team to guide an open and thoughtful discussion of 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 the 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 they say, the best tool is the one you’ll use). Try out tools like Airtable, ClickUp, Monday, or Asana to use intuitive and user-friendly databases, kanban boards, Gantt charts, and other formats and visualizations to organize your data. You can, of course, use simple checklists and spreadsheets, too, if that’s your jam.
Pro tip: 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.
How do you manage projects? Need tips on managing projects at scale or when you’re just starting out? Join the Patreon Community Discord to chat to other creators.