Creative Operations Management: A Comprehensive Guide

By Joe Weller | April 20, 2023 (updated September 8, 2023)

Because creative work is subjective (and often includes hard-to-define goals), it is difficult to manage creative operations. However, creative operations management is crucial for improved collaboration amongst your creative team to make informed, data-driven decisions for your company.

That’s why we’ve created a comprehensive guide for leaders looking to streamline their internal creative operations and manage projects more collaboratively. Learn about the benefits of creative operations management as well as trends to watch for that are shaping how shared services teams create and deliver in an ever-changing marketplace.

What Is Creative Operations Management?

Creative operations management keeps the creative workflow process running smoothly.

When it comes to creativity, there needs to be some form of organization to keep things moving. Without it, ideas for projects may not ever come into fruition or get completed on time. Creative operations management creates structure for your creative team’s processes. It also helps with managing metrics and data to make sure your team is hitting goals and project hours.

Creative operations management and project management may seem similar from afar, but creative operations management is a bit more involved. 

Creative operations involves not only managing projects, but also managing the collaboration over strategies to produce the final products. Creative project management is simpler in that it focuses on the documented organization of the creative process. Creative operations requires team members to have an understanding of cross-departmental communication, as well as to stay up to date with creative strategy best practices.

3 Elements of Creative Operations Management

There’s a lot going on behind the scenes within creative operations management, but the three main elements are people, processes, and applications. 

Let’s take a look at each one in greater detail:

  • People: These are the people who make up your creative team and complete projects and creative tasks. 
  • Processes: Your creative team uses planned-out processes to complete the various projects and tasks. 
  • Applications: The processes are assisted by applications and technology that help streamline communication efforts, coordinate tasks, and organize all the work being done. 

As you can see, every element of creative operations depends on the others to function. In order to run like a well-oiled machine, each element needs to stay updated and fresh, whether that means updating processes or changing up the team dynamic.

6 Benefits of Creative Operations Management

Creative operations can improve your business in a variety of ways, including by enhancing productivity, improving cross-departmental communication, and helping you to manage your creative projects more effectively.

Here are six more specific benefits of creative operations management.

1. Improved Efficiency

Sometimes you can’t rush a project that requires a longer timeline. However, it doesn’t mean you can let the project drag on indefinitely. With proper creative workflow management, your creative team can accomplish projects and tasks within a shorter time frame.

2. Increased Consistency

Inconsistent workflows can lead to employee burnout. Using a single organizing platform can streamline how projects are assigned to team members, so they can deliver projects more efficiently at a consistent, high-caliber level. For example, within a management platform, you can create templates for certain types of projects. That way, each of these projects have the same workflow and number of allocated hours, which helps with consistency.

3. Collaboration Across The Team

Better organizational management typically leads to better collaboration within the team — and this is where the magic happens. And, a centralized platform keeps all team members looped in and up to date, which is crucial for companies that work in a hybrid or remote work environment.

4. Higher Security

Creative operations management provides additional monitoring of brand standards, while also allowing the creative team to concentrate on creating high-level work that meets those standards. This is important for ensuring compliance in the event of a company audit or evaluation.

5. Data-Supported Decision-Making 

While creative operations management adds structure to your processes, it should ultimately free up the creative process by giving you the stability to focus on the creative work itself. A management system can provide insight on previous project hours and timelines. With a solid system in place, you’ll be able to make decisions based on available information and data, get a clearer picture of resource availability, and have an easier time prioritizing projects.

6. Resource Planning

Along with decision-making, you can plan ahead based on available data from previous projects. This data may include dedicated project hours or days that differentiate based on the type of project. For example, if you notice a type of project requires more hours than what has been initially set for that project, you may need to build in more hours. That way, you can accurately strategize funding, resources, and time for various projects.

Collaboration and consistency are some of the benefits of creative operations management.

How to Create a Creative Operations Baseline

Now that we’ve covered the benefits of effective creative operations management, it’s time to get started creating your own upgraded workflow. These next steps will help you build out your personalized creative operations and meet operational excellence.

Step 1. Outline Current Creative Workflow

In order to implement meaningful changes to your creative operations process, you first need to get a clear picture of your current process. Start by outlining your current creative workflow, as follows: 

  • Get Team Input: It’s important to get feedback from your creative team members before executing any large changes to your processes and workflow. They can offer a different, more on-hands perspective on the current creative process, which will provide more context when making impactful decisions.  
  • Observe the Current Workflow: Take time to observe the current creative workflow in action. Sit in on creative meetings and evaluate communication styles on projects to get a better grasp of the team’s internal operations. 
  • Document Current Processes: Once you have a good idea of the current inner workings of the creative process, write down or illustrate the workflow to document it formally. 

Documenting the current workflow will help immensely with the next two steps.

Step 2. Identify The Issues

Now that you have a better picture of the current creative workflow, you can start identifying what’s working and what needs to be worked on. 

  • Review Resources and Timelines: Look at available resources and project timelines. Is your creative team following those timelines, or do they often miss deadlines? Are there enough resources available for the projects to be completed on schedule, or are you allocating too many resources to projects that don’t require it? This step can help you identify opportunities for reconfiguring resources. 
  • Review Digital Tools and Platforms: Creatives like designers and marketers tend to use multiple online tools for creating assets. Evaluate your current tools and see if you can consolidate down or if you need to adopt a new tool to improve efficiency. 

After identifying any issues, organize them by priority to solve. Prioritize issues that have a great impact on the overall creative workflow. In solving larger-scale issues, you may end up also resolving smaller issues.

Step 3. Establish The Solutions

Once you’ve identified the issues your creative team is currently facing, you can better determine the best solutions for correcting the current workflow. 

  • Map Out Your Ideal Creative Operations Workflow: Using the documented information, outline your ideal creative workflow. Start with mapping out the start and end points, and then work on each step in between, one at a time. 
  • Develop Your Solutions: Now that you’ve evaluated issues by priority, tackle the higher priority issues first. Keep in mind that solving these issues might involve turning to additional solutions or experts, such as the following:
    • External Tools: Using a project management tool can help provide visibility of your team, current projects, and resource gaps.
    • Third-Party Consultants: Try hiring an experienced consultant to help draw up solutions. Sometimes it’s easier to have someone outside of your organization take a look at your workflow and determine a plan of action.

Once you’ve established your solutions, document your new and improved creative workflow. Hold an all-team meeting to go through the updated workflow and share documents and illustrations so everyone is on the same page.

Creative Operations Roles

You’ll find a variety of different roles within a creative team, like strategists, copy writers, and designers. However, there are a few roles that are crucial for keeping creative agency operations running smoothly. 

  • Creative Operations Manager: This role involves project management of all creative projects and processes. They must have a good understanding of marketing, brand(s), and product design. They work with the creative operations director to address issues and maintain cross-departmental communication.
  • Creative Operations Director: As the creative operations leader, the director must have both a creative and a business mind. They lead project management and strategic planning while working with the creative operations manager and coordinator.
  • Creative Operations Coordinator: The coordinator organizes the day-to-day creative operations. They help organize project timelines, resources, and reporting. They also oversee project hours and must be able to effectively communicate across multiple departments. 

Without these three roles, the creative team lacks the necessary infrastructure to complete projects on time and maintain an efficient creative process.

5 Creative Operations Trends to Check Out

Looking for some real-world examples of creative operations in action? Read on to learn about five current creative operations trends for inspiration as you manage your own creative operations.

1. Digital Content Consumption 

Over the last several years, digital content consumption has shifted significantly. Today, we’re seeing a transformative digital space, and as both a creative and marketer, it’s important to stay on top of digital content trends to stay ahead in the game.  

In 2022, the digital advertising and marketing industry was valued at $460 billion. It’s forecasted that we will continue to see more emphasis on digital content and advertising.

2. Personalization at Scale

A one-size-fits-all approach to marketing is no longer an option. Not only will it waste time with off-target campaigns; but it also runs the risk of losing potential customers for good. Today’s customers have come to expect the buying journey to be tailored to them. For example, they want companies to remember previous purchases, make relevant suggestions, and craft offers just for them. 

Done right, personalization can increase customer engagement and loyalty. It also benefits the organization. According to a report by Twilio Segment, almost 80% of business leaders say consumers spend more when they have a personalized experience with the brand. 

While companies have started the process with a few channels, they may struggle to take the marketing tactic to scale across customer touchpoints. A unified approach within an organization is needed to put processes and practices on the same page.  

Personalization requires acting on behavioral data and setting triggers for actions. These triggers then need to be tested. If proven successful, they should become a business rule that is shared across departments.

Personalization also requires more creative assets, such as custom messaging for stages in the buying journey and targeted messages for all of your different customer personas. Your teams will use data to design the assets, but the volume will increase. A digital asset management tool can provide transparency and help you stay organized.

3. Distributed Teams

Today’s marketing team is probably not in the same building and maybe not even in the same time zone. The prevalence of remote and hybrid working arrangements — combined with a reliance on vendors and agencies — can lead to siloed work.

A platform that gives the team end-to-end visibility into the creative process can foster alignment, collaboration, and accountability. Not only can creatives and project managers see all of the work in one place, but they can also use automation to distribute proofs and capture all feedback and approvals in one place — no matter where stakeholders are.

4. Increased Complexity of Omnichannel Marketing

According to Adobe’s Digital Trends Report, 79 percent of leaders believe customers' expectations are constantly reset to match their best omnichannel experiences. In addition to personalization, customers expect consistency — an omnichannel experience across all a brand’s channels.

Implementing an effective strategy can be difficult when teams are siloed or lack a singular vision. Nonetheless, it’s important. Companies that take a cohesive marketing approach can improve customer satisfaction.

To ensure brand consistency across channels, marketers need transparency during planning and implementation of advertising. With a single source of truth, from planning, to creation, to digital asset management and distribution, organizations can build narratives across channels to tell consistent brand stories.

5. Rapidly Shifting Campaigns

With the rise of distributed work, the needs of consumers are changing drastically. To stay relevant, marketers need ways to meet the moment and their customers’ most current needs. According to Adobe, there’s an emphasis on immediate needs versus long-term marketing planning. 

By sharing the insights in real time in a centralized platform, organizations can tap into the information they need to quickly pivot campaigns for a fast-changing environment. Marketers can collect data on effective campaigns as well as those that fell short. They can also respond to market feedback in real time.

By understanding the trends, marketing leaders can be better informed while designing plans for the future. Meeting customers where they’re at is how you continue to build relationships going forward.

Industries That Need Creative Operations Management

Creative operations management can be of use in a variety of industries — not necessarily just in a creative agency. Below are a few industries that you may find creative operations management in the works.


Effective digital advertising and trending content is imperative for a retail company to continue to thrive and make a profit. Retail companies need to spread brand awareness, and also attract customers to purchase their products. A creative team in a retail space may need to create online graphics, run photo and video shoots, and mock up social media posts. This can require a creative operations management system for keeping track of marketing projects, as well as making sure assets follow brand guidelines.

Advertising and Marketing

This is the most common industry in which you’ll find creative operations — advertising exists because of creative teams. The creative team may be required to create content for all types of media channels on hard deadlines. They may also be able to effectively convey a brand’s message through these assets. 

For this industry, an effective creative operations management platform is a must. Not only can it track individual hours, but also project hours and timelines. It also can make scheduling team members to projects easier, as you’ll be able to see future scheduled projects and member availability.


Today, you’ll find that publications have moved more from paper to digital, such as tablets and e-books. Despite this change, publishing teams still may have short timelines with tight budgets to get a book promoted and out online for readers to purchase and read. With a creative management platform, publishing timelines can be managed more efficiently, as the work is passed between teams such as editors, cover designers, and other groups.

Streamline Your Creative Operations Management With Smartsheet for Marketing

The best marketing teams know the importance of effective campaign management, consistent creative operations, and powerful event logistics -- and Smartsheet helps you deliver on all three so you can be more effective and achieve more. 

The Smartsheet platform makes it easy to plan, capture, manage, and report on work from anywhere, helping your team be more effective and get more done. Report on key metrics and get real-time visibility into work as it happens with roll-up reports, dashboards, and automated workflows built to keep your team connected and informed.

When teams have clarity into the work getting done, there’s no telling how much more they can accomplish in the same amount of time. Try Smartsheet for free, today.


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