Getting stuff done: workflow for creative teams

For the fourth post in the “Doing, not talking” series, I’m looking the “doing” during a project – developing a workflow so that a creative team can concentrate on what they do best.

An online search for the word “workflow” is not particularly inspiring – returning a lot of technical-looking and process-heavy results. But considering workflow for a new creative team is useful for effective collaboration, it just needs a lighter and more flexible approach.

I look at workflow as a way to help a team progress as productively as possible through a project (not necessarily as ‘smoothly as possible’ as it’s those bumps and roadblocks and messiness that often leads to great ideas). The aim is not to squeeze creativity out, but to make more space for it, by ensuring that team members are kept up-to-date, can find the information they need easily and are well-supported.

A workflow for a creative project doesn’t dictate to the team how to do their work (they’re the experts in that), or predict how a project will run (if you’re doing something new, you won’t know this). And it’s more than just a sequence of tasks – it’s also about the ‘invisible’ bits in between that teams often forget to pay attention to. These are the aspects that help to provide clarity, communication and transparency.

Online tools

There are plenty of great online tools out there for creative projects, each with their own proposition – e.g. for brainstorming, content development, task management, documentation or all of the above. They keep everything in one place, move the team away from e-mail, and are an essential support for geographically-dispersed teams.

As each team I work with is different, we choose our tools based on the people involved and the type of project. This avoids restricting a team by a pre-defined workflow (this is fine though, when you’re working with the same team on an identical project). People come first, then the process, then technology.

Your creative workflow

The role of keeping on top of workflow throughout a project might fall to one person (e.g. a Collaboration Catalyst), but it will be developed together with the team to consider all working styles. The first step is to get a rough project timeline. During your project kick-off workshop you might find this exercise, using sticky notes, useful:

Workflow

Once you have an initial timeline, the aim of the workflow is then to provide clarity, communication and transparency, so you might consider some of the following:

Meetings: How often do we need to meet/check-in and what format (e.g. in person, online?)

Discussions: How do we raise any questions or have conversations outside of the meetings? How can we make sure these are noted?

Timeline:  When are the key deadlines and check-in points? How can we see how the project is progressing? How do we keep the whole team up-to-date?

Tasks: How do we know who is doing what? How do we notify each other when we’ve completed a task? How can we see how our individual tasks fit into the bigger picture?

Ideas: How do we introduce new ideas and how are they reviewed? How do we gather and provide feedback?

Content and documentation: Where do we keep any research or material related to the project? How can we share this with other team members?  How do we know which is the latest version of a document?

Some of this can be put in place at the start of a project, and some will develop during it. But, paying attention to how a team are working together, as well as what they’re producing, enhances the creative process.

Image: Jerome on Flickr

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