Project Planning Best Practices

by Sam Petersen
, 5 min read
Project planning best practices

Project planning is tricky on a corporate creative team. Too little planning causes chaos and frustration; and too much planning causes a lot of administrative work and not enough time for creative work.

Ultimately, the planning stage of the creative workflow determines how smoothly your projects move through the creative process, which is why it's so important to spend some time at the beginning of a project and get your planning right.


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In the larger scheme of a typical creative team's workflow, project planning follows the request stage, where, ideally, a traffic manager or creative director receives all incoming work requests in a standardized fashion. See this post for more best practices for request management.

The planning process then begins by prioritizing the work requests received during the request stage.

This is an area where most teams meet chaos because they plan too little. In new research findings from Business Improvements Architects, only 32 percent of respondents said they had a process for prioritizing projects.

In the same study, 68 percent of organizations said they had no systematic approach in place to prioritize projects or link them to corporate and strategic goals.

Without a plan in place to prioritize projects, the highest value work is likely getting delayed or lacking the attention it deserves.

Instead, clients who yell the loudest or who have the most pressing deadline will take precedence over those whose projects offer higher strategic value to the business.

Taking time to prioritize your work requests during the planning stage will save your team time and sanity. Plus, following a strict prioritization strategy will help to prove your value to the rest of the company.

Creative teams can effectively prioritize projects and requests by using a scorecard. Scorecards are a prioritization method that work by assigning each new work request a point value, based off of specific criteria.

This is a great way to keep a pulse on which jobs are high priority and which are more flexible. Requests with the highest point values should rank highest on your list of priorities.

You can easily create your own priority scorecard by following these three steps:

  1. Appoint a backlog manager.
  2. Set criteria.
  3. Assign points.

1. Appoint a Backlog Manager

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When your team has a standardized process in place for work prioritization, it's important to have one designated person on the team who is responsible for managing your backlog of requests. This could be the creative director, if you're a small team.

If you have more headcount to work with you could assign one of the senior designers or writers, or even hire a traffic manager, project manager, production manager, or resource manager role.

Choose the person who will be best for your unique team. That person will be the gatekeeper for the team's incoming requests as well as existing/pending requests. It will be their responsibility to assign priority to requests based upon the standards your team agrees upon.

If you're running an Agile team, this person will be responsible for determining which projects to assign to each sprint.

Having a designated request gatekeeper and priority manager will help protect the rest of the team from spending time trying to funnel requests or determine priorities. It will also allow for internal clients to know exactly who to talk to about their requests and project statuses.

2. Set Criteria

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This step is a one time or periodic event to develop criteria against which to prioritize all projects.

Organize a subcommittee that includes both senior management and team members to work out what the criteria should be. Senior management buy-in is crucial for dealing with unhappy clients who think their work should always be first.

An easy way to identify critical criteria is to start with the five W's: "Who, What, When, Where, and Why."

  • Who: Look at the importance of who is requesting the work. The higher up the chain of command the requester is, the higher the importance the request may have, even if it's not a high-priority deliverable. For example, an urgent request from a vice president of sales or the CEO may score higher than a similarly urgent request from a marketing manager, even if the marketing manager is requesting a deliverable of more strategic value.
  • What: Evaluate what the project deliverable is. Decide if certain deliverables are more valuable to the strategic business goals than others. Are lead conversion requests such as designing a landing page more or less valuable than a branding request? What about requests for internal use versus external use?
  • When: See what the requested deadline is—immediately, same day, next day, next week, no hurry, etc.
  • Where: Assess where the deliverable will live once it is completed. Is it for online use, for an event, or for internal circulation? Do any of these venues take precedence over others in terms of their strategic value?
  • Why: Look at the objective of the project and its value to the business as a whole. Is the purpose to build the company's reputation? Is it for internal team building? Or is it for sales conversion? Decide which objectives are most important to the overall goals of the company.

3. Assign Points

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Once your team has agreed upon the attributes you need to score, the subcommittee will need to decide on the number of points each attribute is worth.

Make sure to address situations like what to do when a low-priority or low-point request comes in from someone important like the CEO. How do you work in requests that may not seem like a high priority but are important anyway?

One way to experiment with your point system is to score previous projects, look at the results, and make adjustments until you feel your scoring system accurately reflects your priorities. Then, try it on new projects coming in the door.

It will take some trial and error to get the point value right, but just continue to monitor and make changes as necessary.

Be prepared to have hard conversations with requesters when their requests are not top priority, but remind them the system has senior management support and ensures the most strategic work gets done first.

The 2015 In-House Creative Services Industry Report contains an example of how projects are easily scored and prioritized according to a point system. In this example, more significant factors receive higher points and vice versa.

For example, executives are allotted a higher number of points than other requesters; more immediate deadlines are also scored higher than those a few days or weeks away.

Deliverables such as videos and flyers are scored higher than SlideShare designs due to the fact that they require outside coordination with printers, videographers, and scriptwriters. Choose or create a scoring system that works to your team's specific workflow and needs.

Project Planning is Worth Its Weight in Gold

The entire organization benefits from thorough project planning and, more specifically, a proper work prioritization system. You don't need unnecessary meetings or emails to figure out who should work on what and when. Work is queued according to its appropriate level of strategic value.

And best of all, team members no longer have to cave to the person who yells the loudest because they have management support for the prioritization system.


Download "The Complete Guide to Planning Creative Projects" to perfect your planning skills.

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