The phrase “creative project timeline” seems like an oxymoron. Creativity is fickle, right? It doesn’t run on a schedule.

We get where you’re coming from — this phrase seems counterintuitive. But, we’re also willing to bet that you’ve seen how quickly things fall apart when you don’t have a timeline in place for your creative projects.

Let’s set up an example for clarity. Imagine that you and your team are designing an email campaign as part of your product launch plan. You know the date of the launch, but beyond that, you don’t set any milestones or dates for creating the email campaign.

What happens next? You continue pushing that project to the back burner. Soon, launch day is breathing down your neck and you scramble to pull together that email campaign in a hurry. It’s not nearly the quality you were aiming for, but you just need to get something out the door.

Why creative project timelines matter

Sound familiar? We thought so. This is one of many reasons why schedules are important, even if they seem like a contradiction to creative projects. 

When you spell out a creative timeline, projects reap a ton of different benefits:  

  • Improved efficiency: First things first, you’ll meet deadlines. A timeline makes even your biggest projects seem more manageable by setting key milestone dates throughout the process. This helps keep you and your team on track, which is especially helpful for creative projects that can easily stretch into eternity.
  • Better resource management: When you know what’s happening and when, you can better allocate resources (from team members to software). The Project Management Institute (PMI) reported that resource dependencies, limited or taxed resources, and inadequate resource forecasting are all causes of project failure. So, being proactive about managing them can help you deliver more successful creative projects.
  • More manageable workloads: Creative professionals are already overworked. One survey of 400 in-house creative workers found that 85% of respondents serve 10 or more internal stakeholders. A separate IDC report found that 71% of creative workers were producing 10 times more work in 2015 when compared with 2010. With a timeline in place, you can better monitor your team members’ workloads and capacity. This helps you avoid spreading any one team member too thin.
  • Greater transparency: A timeline gives the entire creative team a bird’s-eye view of the whole project. This helps them understand how their work fits into the bigger picture and also boosts accountability. The person writing the copy for the email campaign can see that if they’re even a day late with the content, it sets the design team behind. When nine out of 10 employees cited accountability as one of the top development needs they want to see at their organization, the increased visibility you get with a timeline is a huge asset. 

Who creates creative project timelines?

Needless to say, planning out a timeline for your creative projects is well worth the time and effort. But, who actually handles this responsibility? 

The project manager oversees the ins and outs of the project. Ideally, they should be the one to set up the timeline and also ensure the team is sticking to it.

However, the project manager doesn’t need to create the timeline totally alone. In fact, it’s helpful for them to collect insights from the creative team to ensure they’re being as realistic as possible.

For example, perhaps the project manager thinks two days to draft the copy for the email campaign is more than enough. But, when they ask the content team for their thoughts on that estimate, they say it usually takes closer to four days to get the copy drafted and edited. 

See? By leaning on the expertise of the creative team, the creative project timeline is grounded in reality rather than assumptions. 

3 steps to set up your creative project timeline template 

Here’s the good news: You don’t need to create a timeline from scratch every single time. 

If your team has repeated processes — whether it’s securing approvals or creating email campaigns — you can set up a timeline template that has a lot of the standard information and workflows filled in for you.

How? Let’s walk through three simple steps, using this example of creating an email campaign to promote your upcoming webinar. 

1. Create a request form

Most creative requests come with a list of several looming questions. What size do you want the graphic? Who’s the graphic for? When do you need it? Do you have any examples of what you’re looking for?

Asking these questions up front in a request form saves your team from chasing down stakeholders. They have everything they need to get started on that request, without any delays or frustrations. 

Using our example of building an email campaign, here are some questions you might ask in your creative project request form: 

  • What is the objective of this email?
  • Who is the audience?
  • Do you have some examples of what the email should look like?
  • Who should approve the design and copy?
  • When should this email go out? 
The Creative Project Timeline Template You Need 2
Wrike request forms allow teams to gather project details upfront and streamline their intake process.

2. Establish dependencies and milestones

What are the hard deadlines? What needs to happen in order to reach those deadlines?

A milestone is a deadline that can’t be moved. In our example email, the date of the webinar would be the milestone, and all tasks must be completed before this hard deadline. After all, you don’t have the option to send the promotional email campaign after the webinar.

Dependencies are tasks that share a relationship with each other. Think of them like a relay race. Runner 2 can’t start running until Runner 1 has passed the baton. Dependencies are all about figuring out what tasks need to happen first in order for a project to move forward. 

Generally, dependencies work in one of four different ways: 

  • Finish to start: Task B can’t start before Task A is finished.
  • Start to start: Task B can’t start before Task A starts. 
  • Finish to finish: Task B can’t finish before Task A is finished. 
  • Start to finish: Task B can’t finish before Task A starts. 

In our email example, the goal of the email is to direct people to a landing page where they can register for the webinar. The branding for that landing page will need to be established before the email design can begin. The branding, messaging, and copy of the landing page are all dependencies for drafting the email. 

3. Identify stakeholders

Every creative understands what it’s like to be caught in a messy web of approvals. Too many cooks can make it difficult to move a project forward, and feedback can be contradicting. Understanding who the stakeholders are clarifies who needs to give the green light and what feedback to listen to. 

Before work on the email campaign begins, establish who will be approving the draft and assign the task to them once it’s ready for review. Assigning work to the approver also lets them know the ball is in their court, so there’s no waiting for last-minute approvals.

Keeping edits and feedback all in one place makes it easy for the busy stakeholders to quickly make edits on the design, so your team can focus more on the creative and less on chasing down approvals. 

Why Wrike is the best creative project timeline software 

Now that you know what it takes to create a creative project timeline, where should you set one up? You could use anything from a spreadsheet to a whiteboard, but your best bet is to use project management software.

Wrike offers a number of features and benefits that will support your creative team, including: 

  • Intake forms: Wrike makes it easy to streamline your work intake process with request forms. You can even set up dynamic request forms, which automatically tailor your forms based on the responses that are chosen. 
  • Automatic task and project creation: You can instantly turn requests submitted through those forms into fully-built tasks or projects that are created from preset templates, which you can customize. 
  • Customizable workflows: For example, you can set up a design project timeline and use that as a template, so you aren’t starting from square one. But, since no two design projects are exactly the same, you can also customize the workflow accordingly. 
  • Gantt charts: A Gantt chart is one of the easiest ways to look at your project’s timeline. Wrike’s dynamic Gantt charts allow you to plan your creative project, understand dependencies, and adjust when necessary. 

That barely scratches the surface on all of the ways Wrike can improve your creative projects. You can also keep all of your files and assets in one place, centralize your team’s communication, and create a single source of truth. 

Plus, we all know that even the best plans need some tweaks. When you use software like Wrike, you can make changes to your timeline without needing to manually adjust all subsequent dates. When you move something on your Gantt chart, all of the other tasks automatically adjust.

To put it simply, software makes it easier to manage the details and timelines of your projects so your team can focus on what matters most: harnessing their creativity to deliver winning projects. 

Ready to get started? Sign up for your free trial of Wrike now.