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Creative Workflow: 8-Step Guide for Creative Agencies & Brands

Oroson  by Oroson  May 25, 2021

Creative work can be a challenge but can also  result in a big pay off at the end.

Delivering projects is a collective process and that’s why it should be flexible, yet within a framework that guides the process from beginning to end. 

Want to upgrade your workflow?

We’re going to look at:

With plenty of detail on each point. 

First, let’s look at the definition of what a creative workflow is.

8-step Guide for a Successful Creative Workflow Process

What is a Creative Workflow?

What are the Components of a Creative Workflow Process?

Why is it Important to Establish a Creative Workflow Process? 

Step #1: Define Project Scope

Step #2: Assign Responsibilities and Roles

Step #3: Plug in Your Project to Your Creative Workflow

Step #4: Choose Creative Workflow Software

Step #5: Facilitate the Review and Approval Process

Step #6: Arrange Regular Check-in Meetings

Step #7: Assess Progress

Step #8: Refine Your Processes and Repeat

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What is a Creative Workflow?

A creative workflow is a process map that will help you generate, approve, and sign off on creative assets. 

Within a brand or marketing agency, it’s a tool that will help keep the creative process on track without stifling talented team members from coming up with something amazing. 

Your creative workflow lets everyone working on a project know exactly what’s going to happen and in what order, ensuring that nothing gets forgotten about or duplicated along the way.  

Standardizing your company’s creative process helps you to reproduce success and reduce the chances of failure. 

Put simply, when you know what works, you need to make sure you do it consistently across all your creative projects. 

Lots of information goes into a creative workflow, covering details such as the timeline and budget of a project, and also the skills and tools that need to be on hand. 

Your team can use the workflow as a point of reference throughout the process, keeping track of who they need to seek approval from and what task to move to next. 

Having a creative workflow that can get you from an idea to development, and all the way through to delivery, will see more projects through to a successful completion. 

Having document templates will help anyone using your workflow to gather the right information and follow the correct procedures without having to start from scratch with each new project. 

Now you know what a creative workflow is, let’s explore in more detail what goes into one.

What are the Components of a Creative Workflow Process?

There are five main components of a creative workflow. 

Nailing down these components is going to improve your creative process and help you deliver strong outputs that perfectly align with your client’s needs.

Let’s look at each one in detail. 

Component #1: The brief

To kick off the creative process, you need to start with an idea

This will normally come from the client, in varying levels of detail to start. 

On a broad level, your brief needs to answer these three questions: 

Also included in the brief will be two key pieces of information: the budget and the timeline

To be able to answer these three points, you’re going to need to outline who will be working on the project, in what capacity, and what resources are needed to get the job done in terms of skills, software, and hardware. 

Defining the success metrics will create a tangible way to determine whether you have  achieved the aim of the creative brief. 

This could be measured through social media engagement or a page’s rank on the search engine results pages (SERPs), but can be anything from increased organic traffic, a set number of leads generated, or a prescribed amount of media coverage.

Component #2: The creation

Plans in place, it’s time to get down to the creative side of things. 

Your creative workflow needs to include the creation of the first version of the project, be it a prototype, a rough cut, or a first draft. 

From here, the people who are responsible for feedback need to add their comments. 

Each person in the team should have the opportunity to log their feedback before the designer or engineer goes back to versioning in their editing suite.

After each set of feedback has been implemented, the new version needs to go out for further feedback that will be implemented again. 

Once your feedback loop has been exhausted, you’ve got a final draft that’s ready for final approval.

Component #3: The review

Understandably, there will be a number of opinions during the creation of your content. 

However, there will only be a handful of people who have the authority to give the final go ahead. 

Sometimes, the people who are involved in the  final review will also have been involved in the editing process, so you can be confident that the project will be approved. 

In your agency, there will be someone who gets the final say on the product and decides that it’s ready for the client’s approval. 

Component #4: The launch

Some agencies will be tasked with launching and uploading the creative asset to its intended location. 

Other times, your agency will hand over the video, graphics package, photo set, etc., and the client will handle everything from there. 

Whichever way your agency works, the launch is a rewarding step of the creative process and your team can be proud of what they’ve done.

Component #5: The Debrief

After the project has been completed, it’s time to measure its success

This doesn’t just mean looking at the success metrics that you outlined in the brief, although they are important. 

You need to take in the project as a whole and assess the wins, weaknesses, how to repeat the good stuff, and how to build processes to avoid negative influences again. 

Once you’ve understood how successful the project was, you need to improve your creative workflow for the next project. 

Following from that high-level breakdown of what goes into a creative process, let’s now look at why you need one in the first place. 

Why is it Important to Establish a Creative Workflow Process?

A creative workflow isn’t just a “nice to have”, it’s a document that’s essential to ensuring your creative projects are a success

When you work with creative people like designers, artists, filmmakers, and writers, you might notice that a lot of them are wonderfully chaotic in their working. 

You want to harness their creativity but give it structure and allow everyone else in the project to work with their creative energy to drive the workflow forward. 

In other words, you want to guide the creativity within your team to produce something of great value. 

Here are the key reasons why you need to have a creative workflow in place.

Reason #1: Save time

Having each step of your creative workflow outlined means that every team member working on the project knows what to do and when. 

This cuts out the need to constantly refer back to the project manager to wait for further instructions. 

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Having a clear plan will also allow you to automate areas of your project ahead of time

Getting automations set up before you’re in the middle of a project will make for a more streamline process. 

With  a creative workflow, you’ll avoid duplicating tasks and processes with everything being planned. 

Nothing will be forgotten, leading to a rush later on, which will make the project a lot more efficient for your teams.

Time to move on to the next reason.

Reason #2: More effective collaboration

Collaboration is key, from brainstorming to editing, and all the processes in between.

Effective creative workflow management means you’ll gather feedback at the right time and from the right people. 

Your marketing team might want to jump in with ideas on what the video looks like before the video engineer is done doing their thing. 

With a workflow in place, the marketers will be assured that they have a chance to weigh in so won’t start commenting before the first draft is even ready, worried they’ll miss their chance.

Agencies with a creative workflow will likely have implemented a range of software to help manage their projects, too. 

Using feedback, annotation, and project management software means teams will be able to work together in a much more effective way

Let’s get to the third reason why you should establish a creative workflow process.

Reason #3: Repeat your successes, avoid future failures

When things go right in your creative projects, you not only celebrate them but try to repeat them. 

Having a creative workflow set up can help you and your project manager see where things went right. 

Was there a really effective budgeting process that brought the project in without an overspend? 

Did the feedback loop in the editing process get managed clearly and succinctly? 

Having your successful processes outlined lets you repeat them when they work, but also amend them effectively when issues arise.

Put another way, keep doing what you do well and improve on areas you didn’t find success. 

Keep reading to find yet another reason why companies of all kinds should establish a creative workflow process.

Reason #4: Effectively engage stakeholders

When you have a plan, everyone knows where they fit into it; this includes your stakeholders

Clients have different ways they want to engage in a project and may request sign off at multiple stages, as the deliverables work their way through your creative pipeline. 

Outlining your workflow means stakeholders can step in when they’re needed without derailing a project by being too hands on or risking scope creep

The clearly defined opportunities for input and actions will give stakeholders the confidence that they will be involved where and when they are needed. 

Let’s now get into the steps to follow to make your creative production workflow a roaring success

Step #1: Define Project Scope

The first step in establishing and creating a killer creative workflow is to clarify your project scope

This means understanding exactly what the final deliverable is and knowing how you’re going to make it happen. 

Within this step of defining the project scope, there are three actions you need to take to ensure a smooth start to your workflow management process. 

Action #1: Engage with the client

To know the scope of the video or other content, you need to ask the person who’s ordering it – the client. 

As an agency, it should be quite clear who the client is; they’re the ones paying for the work. 

If you’re an internal creative production team within a brand, the client is generally whichever leader is commissioning the work. 

Whoever the client is, you need to establish exactly what they want.

 In your kickoff meeting, ask questions such as:

You also need to get to grips with the look and feel of the company you’re creating the project for. 

Ask for the brand book or branding guidelines and any style guides they have. 

This will help you fit your creation  in with how the client speaks and presents itself to the world. 

Once fully briefed, it’s time to move to the next action. 

Action #2: Make a plan

Client requirements gathered, you now need to make a detailed plan of each of the tasks that will go into production. 

The specific tasks are going to be different depending on the type of creative output being worked on, but there are broad issues that need to be covered. 

Having templates on hand for each stage of your plan is going to prevent bottlenecks and pain points to move your creative workflow through its stages. 

The important things that should be included in your plan are:

Your plan should work side-by-side with the creative workflow and guide your in-house team and freelancers towards the end goal. 

It’s time to move on to the next action. 

Action #3: Sign off

Seeking feedback on your plan is a very sensible idea – there will be technical experts on hand to check you’ve covered all the bases and not over- or under-estimated times, costs, or equipment needs. 

Once you’ve got feedback on your plans, it’s time to send it off to your client and other stakeholders like your line manager for approval. 

From here, it’s time to move on to the next step of your creative workflow.

Step #2: Assign Responsibilities and Roles

The next step you need to take, after planning your work, is to decide which of your team members will do what activity

You may think this isn’t necessary when it’s just you and your assistant – a two-person team taking on the creative aspects of the business. 

On the contrary, every team that creates media and assets needs to know exactly who will do what within a project, no matter how many people are on the team.  

Understand the skills of the people at your disposal and assign tasks accordingly

Don’t be afraid to delegate at this stage – your own name shouldn’t be next to every single task just because you can do it!

Along with knowing what people can do, understand what people working on your production workflow can’t do. 

This can be anything from your video editor not being able to work with Final Cut Pro X to your assistant not having an Instagram account so they can’t be assigned social media posting. 

Having a good grasp of the roles required in a creative workflow will also be useful when you’re looking to scale your creative team in the long-run – you know when one person needs some tasks taking off their plate by recruiting a new team member. 

Ensure that each and every task has a person assigned and they have clear instructions on:

Now you know who’s doing what, it’s time to move on to the next step. 

Step #3: Design and Optimise Your Creative Workflow

You’ve got the “what?” laid out in your brief and the “who?” figured out in the previous section, now it’s time for the “how?” – laying out your creative workflow for the entire project. 

Photo by Kaleidico on Unsplash

At this point, there is a fork in the process – if you already have a creative workflow in place, this stage will feel a little different to working with a brand new one. 

Working with an existing creative workflow

If you work in digital marketing or content production for an established company, chances are that a creative workflow has already been put together to help people keep track of projects. 

If it’s been working well for creative operations until now, there’s no reason to change the bare bones of the workflow. 

Use the workflow as a starting point to plug in the elements of your project. 

Think of the workflow as a template that your brief and planning can fit into

There’s no need to reinvent the wheel, so go with what’s already in place in the  business.

Spend time understanding where your requirements fit into the workflow. 

If there have been issues or difficulties in the past, amend the workflow accordingly. 

Working with  a brand new creative workflow

Starting a design team from scratch or setting up a creative agency on your own has lots of tasks involved. 

One such task is having a creative workflow in place for you and your team to work with. 

Creating a production workflow for video production or other creative tasks will ensure that your project management for creative assets will be a success in the long run. 

With new creative work, you need to figure out where each of your tasks will fit into a workflow and pay attention to issues as you start the process for the first time. 

You’ll need to work through your creative workflow a few times to make sure it pulls the best out of all your team members, and conversely that your team members can move around the workflow with ease. 

With your creative workflow optimised for the creation you’re producing, you need to move to the next step.

Step #4: Choose Creative Workflow Software

The next step on the path to working with your creative workflow is to choose the software that will work best on your journey

The market is replete with Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) companies offering services that will better facilitate your creative processes. 

There are two key elements to consider – what tasks the software needs to complete and what functionality you need to support each task. 

Using software will help you to automate processes in your workflow, allowing you to focus on what’s truly important – bringing your project to life. 

Let’s have a look at some of the software needs you’ll have and which tools can be helpful in the process. 

Software need #1: Project management software

Software that lets you track your project and all of the tasks within it are becoming increasingly important in project management. 

Not only does it remove the need for reams of paper templates, but triggers are automated, everyone on the project is informed in a visual way, and it can even provide analytics on the performance of your project against KPIs. 

Project management software takes some of the hassle out of running a creative project. 

You want a tool that can:

You may also want to have time tracking available, but this may not be useful on creative projects; the focus should be on the end result rather than how long it took.

Popular project management tools include:

To name just a few. 

Software need #2: Editing software

There are lots of factors to take into account when choosing the type of editing software you need.  

Different projects will need different tools – Adobe Photoshop for image work or Adobe Premiere Pro for video production, for example. 

Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash

When hiring freelance team members, you can expect them to have access to their own software, but check they will be able to produce the file types the client is expecting. 

Using an in-house editor or producer, you’ll need to check they have access to the right tools for the job and invest in software when needed. 

Software need #3: Collaboration and annotation software

Whichever type of digital files you need to work with, you’ll need to be able to store and access them safely and reliably, using a review and feedback tool such as Oroson. 

It’s part of project best practices that you backup your resources online – you’re less likely to lose all your hard work if you have both cloud and solid storage solutions. 

Combining storage with a tool for your review process will help keep costs down and reduce the amount of log-ins that need to be shared with team members and stakeholders. 

Using collaboration tools for creative review will make your creative workflow run like clockwork, with real-time feedback supporting a strong ethos of teamwork. 

Your team can work in close collaboration, leave feedback, and work together on your assets to ensure nothing gets missed, as you can see above.  

As well as allowing everyone to work together, your tool needs to have the functionality to bring in new people when needed. 

Sending invites and requests for approval when they’re needed, like in the image above, will make sure you involve everyone at the right point and don’t frustrate people with too many notifications. 

Let’s move on to the next step in using a creative workflow. 

Step #5: Facilitate the Review and Approval Process

Moving through the process with your creative workflow, you need to make sure there’s effective review and approvals built into your process

Through the work you did defining the scope in the first step, you’ll already know who needs to be involved and at which point during your creative journey. 

Each person needs to be notified when their contribution is required, from checking the production schedule before it’s finalized to approving the final product. 

An online proofing and approval tool like Oroson allows for just that. 

It’s useful at every step in the process, from getting sign off on your creative brief, confirming your schedule with technical experts, and collaborating on the editing process. 

All types of documents are supported, from PDFs to HTML5 banners and pretty much everything in between, allowing for comments to pinpoint at the exact second or the exact line where a change needs to be made. 

The features that Oroson offers are easy to use for a project manager and it’s simple to bring in people to leave feedback and sign-off on projects. 

Now you’ve got your review and approval processes laid out, it’s time for the next step.

Step #6: Arrange Regular Check-In Meetings

Keeping everyone in the loop through great approval and feedback software is one thing, having regular sessions to check-in with your creative workflow is just as vital. 

If you run your production project management with the Scrum methodology, you’ll be having daily check-ins with your team, whilst with Kanban management you’d expect a weekly replenishment meeting. 

Photo by bantersnaps on Unsplash

Other methods of running your creative project like Waterfall and Agile will also require regular meetings with the whole team to touch base and brief about the project success up to that point.

As well as these opportunities to catch up in person or via video call with your team members, be sure to schedule meetings with key stakeholders throughout your project. 

This gives your client the chance to give general feedback and make any amendments they see fit. 

It also presents an opportunity for them to give updates on things like their audience and engagement on the platforms that your project deliverables will be presented on, for example.

Let’s see what the next step in the process is. 

Step #7: Assess Progress

The seventh step in the process of using your production workflow is to regularly assess your progress. 

Even with the best will and the most succinct creative workflow in the world, you still need to monitor your project to prevent it from getting derailed or missing targets. 

This is how you know that your production is on schedule and is hitting all the due dates you set at the beginning. 

By following up on your targets, you will know if you need to use your time or budget contingencies and how that’s going to affect the delivery. 

Continually assessing progress ensures that everything in the project is going smoothly and any issues can be reported and fed into the workflow optimisation phase that we covered in step number three. 

There are two major elements of your creative project that you need to monitor the progress of – the budget and the schedule. 

Let’s see how you can monitor both.

Monitoring the schedule

Keeping to the project schedule should help every other element of your process stay on track. 

With so many moving parts, you need to keep your creative team ticking off the tasks and moving across the Gantt chart, or whichever other method of time management you’re using. 

Use reports generated from your project management software to keep on top of your schedule. 

Reports should help you understand where the bottlenecks are and if you need to intervene, e.g. prompting team members to contribute their feedback. 

Monitoring the budget

How much money is being spent needs to be closely monitored to make sure the project is going to add value

If the budget of your creative production overruns, then your agency could be looking at reduced profit margins or your brand team might need to make economies elsewhere during the financial year. 

Tracking invoicing throughout the project, rather than gathering all spending at the end, will help you keep on budget. 

Whoever is responsible for the financial element of the project should generate weekly reports of money spent and track it against budget estimates. 

This gives you time to rearrange other costs where necessary. 

Let’s now finish up with the last step in our creative workflow process. 

Step #8: Refine Your Processes and Repeat

The final stage of putting your creative production workflow to good use is to refine your processes and repeat your successes

As you work through your project, from the ideation phase, all the way through to final approval and launch, you should be gathering feedback and assessing your progress, like we discussed in the previous step. 

Let’s break this step down into smaller stages so you can be sure you get it right. 

Stage #1: Ask the right questions

Sending out an email to all the team members and freelancers you’ve worked with along the way and saying “Please give me feedback” isn’t the way to go. 

First, you need to be much more specific, and once you hone your questions, an email chain isn’t going to have the functionality to help you collate everyone’s opinion.

Using the software you chose in step five, upload a document that poses the questions you want answering. 

This can be as simple as a SWOT analysis, with pins in each segment, like in the screenshot below, or a list of more specific questions where everyone you tag can respond. 

Using shared tools to invite feedback and critique will make the process smoother and more collaborative, too. 

Stage #2: Analyze your feedback

With a copy of your creative workflow at hand, you need to work through all of the feedback you’ve gathered – including your own ideas for how to improve. 

Every comment and suggestion you’ve gathered will fit an area of your workflow. 

You might only be told about an issue that came up, whilst other people will give you constructive advice on how to resolve the problem next time. 

Both are equally valuable, but you’ll need to spend some time thinking of potential solutions when you’ve only had the problem identified.

Be sure to consider the positives as you drop the comments onto your document. 

This will help you understand what can be improved while making sure that your successful processes won’t get changed.

Stage #3: Update your workflow

An absolutely vital task when reviewing your creative workflow management is to make changes to improve on what you do

You may find that team members can find efficiencies that’ll drive a new project forward better. 

This might be in the form of running some tasks concurrently, changing naming conventions for your file versions, or simply reducing the frequency of your check-in meetings. 

What’s also important is to not make unnecessary changes. 

Just because something was a challenge on your most recent project, it doesn’t automatically mean that it was a problem with your project management or workflow. 

Stage #4: Repeat

Once you’ve implemented all of the suggested changes and updates to your creative workflow, it’s time to repeat everything from the beginning

Every new project should be taken as an opportunity to hone your creative workflow and how you operate within it. 

Each of your projects should become more streamlined and nimble, with your automation tool’s feedback loop becoming better each time. 

Now you’ve reached the end of your creative workflow process and optimised your best practices, it’s time to bring this to a conclusion.

Now Over to You 

We’ve taken you through the whole process, from what your workflow is and why you need one, all the way through the steps to take to put yours to good use. 

We’ve covered how to prepare to use your creative workflow, plugging your project into it, and how to keep it on track using the right tools along the way. 

Finally, we’ve talked you through how to continually improve on your creative workflow to keep your team working at their absolute best. 

Having made it this far, you’ll understand the importance of a tool to be able to manage all the stages of feedback and approval that your projects need. 

Oroson is the perfect tool to work alongside your creative workflow, allowing a whole host of different documents to be proofed, annotated, and signed off. 

Want to give it a try

Our platform is ideal when you’re working with: 

Plus, plenty more creative assets.

Contact us using the form below to request a demo with our team and check out what we can offer you.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Creative veterans and those fresh to a creative role will each have questions about the creative workflow process.

We’ll cover the most common ones here. 

Q1. What does workflow mean?

A workflow is a process map or a chart that shows the steps you take whilst working on a task. 

It lays out the broad tasks that need to be completed and the order to do them to make sure that everyone working on a project understands what comes next. 

Q2. What are the components of a workflow?

A creative workflow has five main components:

  1. The brief, setting out what needs to be done
  2. The creative process that makes it happen
  3. Editing and collecting feedback to hone the project
  4. Launching the project to the project
  5. The debrief where you work on how to improve on the process for next time. 

Q3. What is creative project management?

Creative project management is the process of seeing a project through from ideation to the final product, where the outcomes are a creative asset like a video, set of photographs, a blog, or anything else that’s artistic. 

Q4. What is the difference between creative workflow and project workflow?

A creative workflow is a process of work specifically for a creative project. 

A project workflow is the same basic idea, but can apply to projects where the outcome might be a piece of software or a new HR process. 

Creative workflows may get called a project workflow by some people. 

Q5. What is the best workflow for creative work?

The best workflow for creative work is one that allows your creative people freedom to create whilst keeping the project on track. 

Every workflow will be a little different but will broadly follow the pattern of briefing, creating, reviewing, launching, and debriefing. 

Q6. What is the difference between a workflow and a process?

A process is a series of tasks that needs to be completed, whilst a workflow is the way to arrange these tasks in a way that’s productive and efficient. 

A process can spring up naturally as you get used to completing a task a certain way and a workflow analyzes that work to document and optimize it so it can be repeated. 

Q7. What does workflow management software do?

Workflow management software has features that automate your workflow. 

This can include allowing for files to be stored centrally, inviting feedback on works in progress, facilitating team collaboration, and requesting approval on sign off.

Q8. What is the best creative workflow software?

Here at Oroson we’re proud of our creative workflow software and believe that it’s the best tool out there to get the job done. 

We let creative teams keep their work in one place, share their feedback, bring in one-time collaborators, request sign-off for final approval, and even work on honing their creative workflow after each project. 

Featured image by Leon on Unsplash.

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