Project Management is key skill to creative’s and non creative’s alike. The more efficient you are, the happier you and your clients will be. Here are some methods that I use in my work that have really helped on both large projects and when multi-tasking on several small projects. These methods also make it easier to back track when you need to look through your notes for important information.
The Classic Project Triangle
I am sure most people reading this have heard of the Project Triangle (pictured), but it really is a very important tool in project management. The philosophy is that only two items on the triangle can exist at once. If it’s going to be cheap and fast, it won’t be good. If it’s going to be fast and good, it won’t be cheap.
Using this philosophy can make discussing projects with your clients much easier. If you present this ideal to your clients before a project begins, you are making them aware of limitations without overwhelming them with details. Let them know their options. If they need something in a day, it will either be poor quality, or it will be expensive. If clients understand this philosophy, it will not only help establish expectations early on, but it will keep everyone happy in the process.
The Behance Priority Timeline
Prioritization is always a challenge. At times, every project seems to be urgent and every client thinks that they are the most important. However, when you find yourself having a consistent flow of urgent projects, eventually, you will find that your work starts to suffer. Creating good work in a flash usually means losing sleep or working extended hours. Creating your best work in a sleep deprived and overworked state is a challenge, if not impossible.
So how do you bring sanity to an environment full of top priority requests? Visualize it. Find a space on a wall to make a visual timeline (like the one pictured). Make an area for urgent, high priority, medium priority and low priority on your time line. Next, make a note card to represent each of your projects. Finally, place the note cards within the timeline. Chances are, once you have them all on the wall, that your timeline will probably appear little top heavy. Now, it’s time to audit your urgent and high priority projects. Logically, the majority of your projects should not be listed in this area of the timeline. Some of these projects can be bumped down medium or low priority. Evaluate the projects and determine what has to be done, and what can wait. Sometimes, it takes a visual to bring order to the chaos.
To learn more about the Priority Timeline, visit Behance.com
The Circle To Do System
My colleague and good friend Christian Pascual recently sent me a link to the Font.is blog with the “Circle To Do List” system. It has changed the way I keep notes on projects in the best way possible.
The idea is to keep a journal listing all of your projects (which I was doing previously). What’s different about this method is that you put a hollow circle at the start of each task. As you make progress on the project, you fill in the circle at each step in the progress (see image for reference). You can customize what to fill in your circles as you see fit. For instance, I don’t have a need to show when a project is done “Halfway” like in the legend. So, a half circle in my system means that the project was approved or that it was sent to the printer. I also added a circle with a $ symbol to the right to indicate when a payment needs to be made to the vendor.
Harvest’s tagline explains it all – “Time is money, so be sure you track it!” Harvest allows to track your hours on projects, create invoices, bill clients and is PayPal integrated, so clients have the option to pay via PayPal online. They will soon be offering the ability to send and track estimates.
For all the Mac’s out there, Harvest is available on the iPhone or as a Dashboard widget that allows to start and stop your time on project’s as you work on them from your desktop. Harvest starts at $12 per month for solo freelancers, and is well worth the price. You can even export you data into Excel spreadsheets.
This application has really helped me make billing and invoicing much easier to manage. You can set up the invoices to generate themselves and to be sent on specific dates and set up reminders if a client is slow on payment. It’s like hitting an autopilot button for billing so that you can worry about your work more, and less about invoicing. It also looks professional, and is a green way to do your invoicing, by eliminating the need to send anything in the mail.
The Goal Chart Initiative
Remember back in elementary school when you would do a fundraiser and the teacher would put a chart on the wall that could be filled in as you raise money and everyone could see who was getting the most cash for the school? Filling in that chart with a big fat felt marker just gave you a reason to stick your chest out and hang your head high for the rest of the day. Until that kid who always won everything came in behind you and rose the bar yet again. Ah, good times.
In my last position with B2B Web Ventures, our fearless leader Duane Badenhorst brought that sense of competition and ownership right into the workplace. We had a massive project that had seemingly endless lists of to-dos. Everyone was feeling the pressure and no one had a sense that the end of the project would be obtainable in the amount of time we were given. The solution? Duane made charts of all the small parts of the projects. He made a block for each piece of each project (i.e. if there are 25 category banners on the site, there would be 25 blocks under the title “Category Banners”). Each group picked a color of marker and as they completed the task, they filled in the blocks. Slowing but surely, the wall of projects started being filled with color. You could see where each team contributed and you could be proud of the blocks you filled in.
The big idea with this initiative was that it made an end to a massive project seem achievable, and it created accountability. If the design team was filling in a lot of red blocks, the copywriters felt motivated to fill in more green blocks. In short, it made the project more fun, and created a stronger bond between the different teams working together on the same goal.
What project management methods have you discovered work for you?
The creative process is something that can become both illusive and overwhelming. It can seem like creativity comes out of nowhere. However, there is a path to creativity. Creative professionals have numerous methods for finding inspiration.
I have compiled four paths to creativity from my research and experience as a designer. Inspiration is out there. Here are some ways you can find it:
1. Think Outside the Box
One school of thought came recently from an amazing book I would recommend to anyone (no matter what your path in life) called The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It For Life, by acclaimed choreographer Twyla Tharp. In the chapter “Before You Can Think out of the Box, You Have to Start with a Box”, the idea is that any big idea involves several little ideas. You have to do your homework in order to compile all those little ideas and arrange them in a way that is new and fresh. The little ideas are basic things: research your audience, build a design file, collect images, select a marketing outlet. The better your preparation ahead of time, the better the big idea will be at the end.
The recent example of this kind of creativity is the Toyota Prius. In 2000, when the Prius was first launched, the SUV was king in America. American automakers did not see the need to develop the technology for an “eco-friendly” car. GM’s vice chairman of product development Bob Lutz was quoted as late as 2004 that the Prius was, “an interesting curiosity,” adding that they didn’t make sense with gas at $1.50 a gallon.
Toyota was a pioneer for the first time in its history as an automaker. The Prius was almost instantly on back order when it first arrived in America (back orders are anticipated for the most recently launched Prius Generation 3 this year). Toyota followed the steps. They researched, developed, and did their leg work to create something that people didn’t even know they needed or wanted. They combined all the little ideas in a way that the end product was not only successful, but something completely new to the marketplace.
2. Learn from Your Mistakes
Everyone experiences failure. But without failure, you may never learn what the right way for you to do something would be. It is improbable that you will come up with anything original when you do what is expected, or when you already know the outcome. The best way to be creative is to not fear failure.
When I am brainstorming on a project with a group, there is almost always the initial “silent, but thinking” moment. To break this silence, I encourage everyone to say whatever pops into their head out loud. Even if it’s embarrassing or sounds stupid in your head, just say it. You may have a horrible idea, but write it down. Look at it. Dwell on it. Write more bad ideas. You can still learn from those ideas on the way to finding a good one.
3. Understand Your Audience
Social science and creativity go hand in hand. If you don’t have a general understanding of people and how their brains work, you will not be able to reach them; no matter how creative you are. I recently attended the Big (D)esign Conference, where speaker Stephen P. Anderson spoke about “The Art and Science of Seductive Interactions.” During his speech, Stephen requested that everyone in the audience think of something that describes people – in a general sense. People are curious, they enjoy novelty, they like to be in control, but they also like to be guided, etc. What do you know about people that would help you know what can you do to motivate them? What would make them intrigued? What would make them want more? Understanding people in a psychological sense can guide you in your creative process.
4. Be Open to Inspiration
At times, creative blocks happen because you are too consumed with the task at hand. You are so focused on getting an idea, that you are not allowing yourself to be open to inspiration. What’s the solution? Give your brain a breather. Do something monotonous that will give you room to receive inspiration. Get up and clean your work area. Take a walk and take pictures of things that interest you along the way. Clear you head by listening to your favorite music. Get lost in some activity that allows you to be a receiver, not an implementer. Inspiration is everywhere…you just have to find a way that works for you to be able to receive the information.