Experts Weigh In on Creative Project Management Software Features

By Joe Weller | July 27, 2016 (updated June 22, 2023)

Whether you’re working in an ad agency or managing a team of creative professionals, one thing is certain: they do things just a little bit differently. As such, traditional project management software doesn’t always fit the bill. Yes, the creative team still needs to solve a problem, reach a goal, and meet deadlines, but the manner in which they accomplish those tasks differs from the business approach.

Creative people are more visual and often excel in an environment where they have the flexibility to pursue varied ideas. Managing a creative team can be a bit of a roller coaster ride, but you’ll be amazed by the innovative solutions they create. Using the right project management software can help provide the structure needed to meet deadlines.

We asked creative project managers and experts about features in project management software they find most useful. Many of the ideal elements are similar to what you might find in traditional project management software, but the differentiator is the implementation. Read on to see what experts think are the top creative project management software features.

5 Must-Have Creative Project Management Software Features

Wondering what the pros use when managing a team of creative professionals? We asked creative project managers to share their insights on the top features they look for in project management software. Here’s what they said:

1. Simple UI and Integration with Other Tools

When choosing which creative project management software to deploy, it’s imperative to get buy-in from the people who will be using it. If you pick a solution that doesn't streamline tasks and make things easier, the team most likely won't use it.


Abbey Brown​

“If it's not quick and easy (to use) with a bunch of integrations for good measure, it's difficult to implement and get a team to use it. Something flashy with bells and whistles won't be used as much as an equivalent with fewer features, but a better UI,” says Abbey Brown, Marketing Manager at UK-based FM Outsource. “It’s an odd thing to consider, but getting a new software sunk into a team depends on them liking it, and a big part of that is ease of use and visual impact.”



Bruce Harpham

A simple user interface (UI) and the ability to integrate with other agency tools can go a long way in getting people to adopt a new software. Bruce Harpham, Founder of, recommends looking for software that integrates with programs you already use such as Adobe for design, and MS Outlook for scheduling. A simple UI is also a flexible one. If it’s too hard to add the fields you need or customize the software to meet the requirements of various projects, it’s likely not going to be used as much. “The ability to define custom fields matters because creative projects may have one-off client needs that do not easily map in traditional tools,” adds Harpham.



2. Milestones and Tasks





Ben Thompson

Ben Thompson, Co-Founder and Chief Customer Experience of GitPrime, has spent his career working in design and understands the importance of sharing the overall goal with the creative team. This information gives the creative team autonomy to do what they do best. To keep a team on track, it’s important to set milestones.

“It is critical to set clear time boundaries on all deliverables. Creative work is never truly ‘done’ in a traditional sense. Since tasks tend to expand and fit whatever container they're given, it’s beneficial to break up large tasks into small, regular milestones,” says Thompson. Creative project management software that allows you to create sub-tasks and set milestones is highly beneficial.



3. Collaboration and On-screen Commenting

In traditional project management there are a lot of tasks which are marked as done once complete. Creative agency project management has different requirements since so much of it uses mockups and illustrations. It’s imperative to have an easy way to share those files and an option for adding input about the design. Creative project management software that allows for on-screen commenting can make a world of difference.



Jon Lee

“It’s a nightmare if we had to describe problems that exist within a mockup instead of pointing it out directly on the screen. This is especially true when you’re running creative work through different departments within the company — everyone describes illustrations differently, so there tends to be a lot more confusion without on-screen commenting,” says Jon Lee, Creative Director and Founder of Rabbut.



4. Visual Timelines

At the end of the day, as a project manager, you still need to make sure deliverables are turned in on time. Since a creative team tends to be more visual, creating timelines using Gantt charts provide a simple way for the team to see deadlines. “Creative teams work well under pressure and tend to make the most progress as a deadline approaches. Compressing timelines into short bursts keeps creativity, focus, and morale high,” says GitPrime’s Thompson.

There’s no reason you can’t use other project management methods when working with a creative team. Kanban boards and Agile methodologies aren’t just ideal for developing software; they can also be highly useful tools when working on ad-based and creative projects. “Try not to sink yourself in the detail,” says FM Outsource’s Brown. “Using Agile methodologies and Kanban boards will help you move quickly and deliver results.”



5. Accurate Data

When creating ad-based projects, data and research are essential. Look for a tool that lets you quickly run reports to generate the data you need to steer or surface. If you already have a program in your arsenal that does this, then pick a product that either integrates with that software or lets you keep all the research in one spot so everyone on the team can access it.

“Ad-based creative projects require significant data and research into the industry. Most creatives can create something that looks nice, but won’t actually do well in the market. An example would be Facebook ads. Regardless of how good your ads look, if you’re selling a product or service directly, you’ll find yourself wasting money. Most people on Facebook want to be taught rather than preached to, and this is a classic example of why you need insight from a marketing perspective,” says Rabbut’s Lee.

What It Takes to Be a Good Creative Project Manager

At the heart of all project management is knowing the problem you’re solving and sharing that information with the team. Creative project management isn’t all that different. Project managers of creative teams all recognize that it’s important to provide structure, but also foster an environment where they can excel and aren’t bogged down with the day-to-day details of running a project.

Once you have a shared goal, it’s easier to devise a plan to accomplish it promptly.

“Rather than giving step-by-step directions, it’s far more effective to paint a picture of the goal, and give autonomy to each contributor. Creative breakthroughs happen when people have the freedom to solve the problem from any angle,” adds GitPrime’s Thompson.

Be Flexible and Know that Creativity Takes Time

If you want to foster creativity in your environment, you need to provide some flexibility to let people work on their own project. This isn’t to say that’s all they should be doing; there is still a job to accomplish. While this idea may be in direct contradiction to how work is done in other business units, it can be highly beneficial to a creative team. “Creative insight comes in bursts; if you work continuously without taking a break, you’re more likely to produce subpar designs. Spending 20–40% of time on personal projects actually helps with inspiration and at the same time allows the creative to further their skill,” says Rabbut’s Lee.

See Why Smartsheet Is a Useful Creative Project Management Software

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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