Creative Operations for Beginners – Everything to Get Started

Any brand or agency delivering projects knows that hitting deadlines is the key to being successful. However, you are bound to run into stumbling blocks once a project kicks off. Has either of these situations happen to you?

You finish your part of the project and send it up the chain for review. The next-in-line stakeholder sends the revisions back with their comments. Fair enough – you’re working in creative teams with various stakeholders; that’s bound to happen. But what when these feedback loops never seem to end, and no one ever gives final signoff.

Or, let’s take another scenario. You’re excited to kick off a project but learn at the 11th hour about taking a final sign off from some other department, which isn’t thrilled with what you’ve done and ask to change the whole thing!

Even if you have never been in such situations, you’re likely to experience them at some point in your professional life. And that’s why you need to establish a creative workflow process.

What is Creative Operations?

Creative operations (or Creative Ops) is a process you can set up within your organization to create, review, and approve creative projects. Establishing creative workflow management is a key first step to completing projects more efficiently. 

A creative workflow is essentially the process that involves identifying who’s in charge of what deliverables and when. It details the hierarchy and flows from concept to revisions to finalization. The primary reason you need this process is to save yourself a lot of time and headaches from the two scenarios described earlier!

Steps or phases of creative operations

Setting up every process requires a specific set of framework or steps; creative workflows are no exception. Here’s how a typical workflow process looks like with the steps changing from company to company.

Image source: https://www.smartsheet.com/content/creative-workflow 

Here are the key steps to set up a creative workflow management process.

Step 1: Definition or ideation

This first component of a creative workflow is like any other project brief. Here, you need first to define the general idea, who needs the product or solution, and what you need to do to create it. You will lay down a detailed outline of your project’s goal, target audience, budget, deliverables, and timeline. 

Here’s an example of what a typical project brief looks like.

Image source: https://blog.ganttpro.com/en/creating-a-project-brief-the-starting-point-for-any-project/ 

These are the tasks you’ll typically undertake in this phase:

  • Conduct an initial kickoff meeting with all stakeholders.
  • Set SMART or specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound goals for the project.
  • Define specific metrics to gauge the project’s progress.
  • Lay a brief overview of challenges as you foresee them, identify possible risks, and suggest potential solutions. 
  • Define each team member’s roles and responsibilities to establish ownership and accountability.
  • Research competitors, identify tools you can use and set up a workload structure.
  • Define methodologies to analyze your project dataset.
  • Set milestones and timelines. 

It’s essential to add as many pieces of information as possible to your project brief, so everyone can stay on the same page and avoid last-minute confusions. 

Step 2: Creation

This phase involves creating the actual product or design. Here’s what you’ll do in this phase:

  • Discuss or brainstorm all potential ideas with the team.
  • Interview external or internal (outside your team) stakeholders.
  • Create prototype versions.
  • Build a schedule that includes regular meetings and weekly check-ins to discuss individual and project progress.
  • Use project design or collaborative tools to ensure your team can communicate effectively throughout. 
  • Share the project’s progress with the client, get feedback, and revise/implement.
  • Ensure that team members are meeting specific tasks/deliverables deadlines.
  • Monitor budget spending and create status reports.

Step 3: Review and approval

This phase involves getting approval for the product or design that you have created. Here’s what you typically get to see in this phase:

  • An internal review process that involves sharing content among internal stakeholders to gather feedback and finalize changes. 
  • Gather feedback from your client and use that to make changes to the product. 
  • Establish continuous feedback loop cycles to raise your credibility and accelerate the final approval from the client. 

It’s always a good practice to establish an approval process from the outset, so you don’t have to scramble in the end when the product is ready. An important aspect in this phase is to track feedback, so the final product reflects the vision created in the ideation phase.

Step 4: Product Launch

This is the final phase, where you get to see the fruits of your labor! Here, you will:

  • Send over your creative work or the final product to the client. 
  • Oversee the product’s execution in all required formats and on all channels.
  • Invoice for your services.
  • Maintain follow-up communication.

Best practices/tips for setting up creative operations

Following these best practices can help you set up a creative workflow.

Clarify responsibilities

On paper, the responsibilities of everyone look easier. For example:

  • Manager – scopes projects, tracks deadlines
  • Creatives – creates deliverables, builds campaigns
  • Account managers – interfaces with clients

But in reality, these roles often overlap. Either two people are doing the same work, or each person assumes the other will do it, creating a gap, and leaving team members confused and unclear about their responsibilities. To avoid this, make a clear list of all the responsibilities for each role and communicate them to your team. You must also ensure that they account for every edge case. For instance:

  • Who scopes a project?
  • Who finalizes timelines?
  • Who handles specific tasks like creating graphics or writing a code?
  • Who talks to clients and how often?
  • Who decides when a project is ready?

Leverage a project management software

Using project management software can make collaboration and communication easier between your teams. Here’s what this software should have:

  • A board view as the projects will move back and forth between either manager and creative or client and creative. Having a board view will give you a visual representation to track the project’s progress.
  • Templates, because once you work out what’s working well, you might want to put that into a template for future projects. This will make your entire process more efficient and easier. It’ll also save you time as you can automate regularly recurring tasks.
  • Assign tasks by name or project role as this will help you fix accountability, saving valuable time. Every team member will know their specific responsibilities, and the project can be delivered on time.  
  • Assigning permissions at various levels will help you clear confusion as there might be external stakeholders involved as well in a project. 

Setting review process with clients

You must also ensure that your reviews with your clients are seamless and approvals cause lesser delays. Here are some specific steps you must take:

  • Clearly communicate review expectations to clients to eliminate conflicting or confusing feedback.
  • Identify and discuss review challenges.
  • Have open communication and set up expectations upfront.

Simplifying creative workflows through workflow automation

Workflow automation can be best described as a series of automated actions for the steps in various business processes. When you automate your routine project tasks by using, let’s say, templates – you can improve your everyday processes.

Workflow automation allows your teams to save time and spend it on the processes that support them. It’ll also minimize the likelihood of errors that invariably creep in when a human is involved. There’s an apt quote by Bill Gates on automation:

The first rule of any technology used in a business is that automation applied to an efficient operation will magnify the efficiency. The second is that automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency.

And if you’re unsure about the steps, there are several workflow automation solutions available for creative work management to configure workflows, track revisions, and collaborate in real time. Ask for a free trial before committing, so you can be sure if it meets your specific requirements! 

Conclusion

Designing a creative workflow management process is a key step to successful creative project management. It will not just make your business and processes more efficient, accountable, and creative but will also increase revenues. The main point to remember is that you need to keep your workflows and processes clear, simple, and repeatable. This will take any confusion out of a project and leave your team free to do what they do best—be creative.

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