top of page

Project Schedule vs Work Tracker

Project Schedule vs Work Tracker, that is the Question: Thoughts on Workflow Management for Marketing and Creative Teams


Whether ‘tis nobler to conform to long established practices vs taking arms against the status quo - and by opposing them chart your own path: that is the question.


I’m no Bill Shakespeare, but I do have some experience (and opinions) when it comes to identifying and implementing workflow management, tracking, and reporting in the marketing and creative space.


I doubt this will come as a surprise to anybody, but employing the K.I.S.S. (keep it simple, stupid) principle is nearly always the way to go. Unless you’re managing a complex, multi-tiered campaign that lasts longer than 3 months - keeping everything as uncomplicated and transparent as possible will make everyone’s lives easier - especially yours. That said, we still need to assign work, track deadlines, and report on progress to our stakeholders, right? So how do we ensure we’re gathering all the necessary data to ensure our stakeholders are happy and our resources know what’s going on? If you’re still with me, let’s dip right in…



How is a Marketing or Creative workflow different than any other workflow?


When you get right down to the heart of it, it’s not (mostly). Creative and Marketing teams are as unique as the content they create and send out into the world. That said, it’s all about producing deliverables and launching them – typically dictated by a brief.


Here’re few tidbits to keep in mind when ideating any sort of workflow:

  • Templatize, templatize, templatize. Whether it be creating a new logo or producing a social post, the steps can often be carried over from one request to another. Unnecessarily recreating the wheel sucks.

  • Ensure it’s documented and understood who’s in charge of what (reviews, approvals, etc.)

  • Have a well understood mechanism for measuring progress.

  • Have a strong file structure and naming conventions. This seems like a trivial thing to most, but I wish I had a dollar for every time I saw a process get tripped up by storing a file in the wrong location or calling it by something other than what others are used to. It’s real.  


Phases in a strong Marketing/Creative workflow


What phases you decide to implement are of course highly dependent on your specific process, but the following are what I’d consider a solid foundation. If you’re detecting some similarities to the design process, you’re spot on:


  • Define: Gather requirements, define objectives, and conduct research to validate the value proposition. In other words, lay out the need for what you’re doing and why. Often the output of this phase will be the Mktg/Creative brief.

  • Concept Development: Generate ideas, explore options, and develop concepts that align with the ask.

  • Review, Revision, and Approval: Get feedback from stakeholders, revise as necessary, and QA.

  • Launch: Delivery and go-live.  



Phase 1: Define


The importance of this phase cannot be understated. I’d equate delivering a subpar brief to building a house in a swamp. The results are probably going to make you sad.


Briefing: Gather ALL necessary information about the project, including but certainly not limited to:

  • Objectives: What does success look like?

  • Target Audience: Who are we talking to?

  • Key Messages: What are we trying to tell them?

  • Timelines: When do we need it?

  • Budget: How elaborate can we get?


Research: Only thorough research are we able to validate critical elements such as:

  • Market and Competitor Analysis: How saturated is the market? Who else is offering a similar product? How do we differentiate?

  • Audience Segmentation: Are we focused on the right consumers?

  • Trend Identification: Is the market ready to accept what we have to offer?



Capturing information via a form is a fast and easy way to ensure you’re getting the right information.

It’s also great for:

  • Ensuring the information is received in a standardized, easily understandable format.

  • You’re able to require certain fields to be populated before the entry will be accepted (my personal favorite).

  • Control over updates and iterations.

  • Custom permissioning to ensure the right people have the right level of access to data.

  • Loads more…


Phase 2: Concept Development


Concept development is an essential and critical stage in the overall process. This is where the rubber meets the road… pick your favorite idiom.


Ideation: Brainstorm ideas and explore different directions based on insights contained in the brief. Mind mapping, mood boards, and workshops are commonplace during this phase.


Concept Exploration: Initial concepts are developed and explored regarding how they can be brought to life via mediums such as visual design, copywriting, etc.


Concept Refinement: Concepts are tested and narrowed down based on feedback and feasibility.



When it comes to ensuring everyone knows who’s doing what and when it needs to be done, a good old-fashioned schedule with assignments and dates won’t let you down.



Kanban boards are fantastic way to give folks a more visual, interactive way to follow along and track progress. Also helpful to those who’re allergic to project schedules and Gantts.


Phase 3: Review, Revision, and Approval

We’ve gone through the concept phase, we’ve (hopefully) weeded out the more odious ideas, and we’re ready to refine. In order to successfully deliver the concept, we’ll need some stakeholder perspective and ultimately sign-off.


Stakeholder Feedback: Present work to stakeholders for review and gather feedback on how well it aligns with the vision, the requirements, and any relevant guidelines.


Revision and Refinement: Incorporate feedback and make revisions as necessary to align the deliverable with the requirements. This can often take multiple rounds of iteration. Pro-tip: Be as patient and positive as you’re able. It’s easy to get attached to work. Leave the subjectivity at home.



Having a proofing tool (either embedded in your workflow platform or standalone) is helpful in capturing feedback, responses, and revision history. Timestamping is clutch when it comes to capturing the who and when with regards to iteration and approvals.


Phase 4: Launch


Congratulations! The concept has been approved and now it’s time to send this labor of love out into the world! But wait, there’s more…. It’d be a shame to hit the bullseye in terms of the deliverable and not be able to validate that it landed, right? Pics or it didn’t happen. This’s where our Analysts and Performance Mktg friends come to the rescue.


Launch or Implementation: Once you’ve cleared the approval hurdle, your marketing materials need to be launched in accordance with the marketing plan or brief. This can involve deploying digital assets, printing physical materials, or hitting the go button on a campaign.


Performance Marketing: In order to know whether you’re moving the proverbial needle in the correct direction, we need to monitor ongoing performance via key performance indicators (KPI’s) and analytics. This doesn’t just help validate the work, it provides valuable insights into the effectiveness of the effort and informs future decision-making.


Optimization: Based on performance data and feedback, make adjustments to optimize for better results. Similar to the concepting process, iterating here is crucial to maximizing your return on investment (ROI).



As you’re wrapping up and analyzing results, it’s important to be able to zoom in/out so you don’t lose track of other campaigns that might be coming up or running concurrently.


Reporting and Visibility


Let’s be honest, if you’re reading this section, it’s because you’re an organizational leader who feels they’re lacking in the visibility department…. or you work for an organizational leader who has asked you to help bolster their visibility into what you’re up to. Fret not, you’re amongst friends here.


So how do we get there? Well, I like to remind myself that any journey worth your time and effort usually starts with a single step… that, and a map of where you’re going, a healthy dose of give-a-damn, and some good shoes. In the PM biz we boil that down to the elements that comprise the triple constraint theory: Scope, Schedule, and Cost. But you’re not here to talk PM theory… let’s digress.


So far, we’ve covered intake forms and ways to track and assign work. Next, we’ll get into how we condense and convert all of that hard-earned data we’ve collected into a format that’s easy to understand and digest.


By far, the most efficient way to pull information and filter it for consumption is to generate a report based on your source data. My favorite thing about reports is that they update themselves.


If this report looks familiar to the schedule/tracker shown prior, that’s because it is. The magic of reports is that you can pull and aggregate information from multiple sources. This comes in handy when you want to report on status across more than one team or workstream.


Next, we’ll want to filter the data to display the specific elements that we want to share. Bear in mind that we’ll likely want to generate multiple reports. This allows us to break the data down into bite-size chunks.


Typical examples of how me may want to filter down the data in our reports could be:

  • Projects by phase

  • Upcoming milestones, reviews, deliverables, etc.

  • # of tasks assigned to a given resource

  • Upcoming due dates, e.g., next 7 days, next 3 days, past due, etc.


Once we have a few reports filtered down to the data we want to display, we can translate them into dashboard widgets.


Here I’ve taken nothing more than the information that was captured in the trackers shown above, translated them into reports, and displayed them in a manner that (I think) shows a high-level view of status and assignments.

Data displayed in the dashboard:

  • Pie chart showing the total amount of assignments by type.

  • Column chart showing total number of assignments and who they’re assigned to. Great for allocation and resource planning.

  • Gantt chart showing the current planned duration of the 2 campaigns we’re tracking.

  • Bar chart showing total amount of tasks by status.

  • Interactive Kanban board showing tasks (as cards), sorted by status.


For the purposes of this article, I used Smartsheet to illustrate examples - Not because it’s what I’d recommend or prefer, but because it’s what I currently have at my fingertips. Your favorite workflow management platform or combination thereof can almost certainly provide similar results.


In closing, I hope this helped you sort through some lingering questions or thoughts. If this has sparked any good conversation or unblocked anything for you, that makes me happy.




bottom of page