Creative Project Management 101


How do you manage your creative projects?

It’s usually not much of a problem if you only work on 2 to 3 projects, tops, and finish these before starting something new.

But what if inspiration hits yet again, and you just can’t bring yourself to work on gazillions of unfinished masterpieces-in-progress? And when you finally decide to dig out one of your older crafts – “I haven’t touched this in 3 years!” – you have no real idea what brand or color of wool or paper or … you used in the first place?

Or when your project is so large, that you lose sight of the overview and details; like writing a comic book, where you think up a whole city including habitants. How do you keep track of all that?

Or if you want to make a second copy of a made-before item, and now you can’t remember the exact measurements or the pitfalls you ran into the first time?
Well, then it might be time for some project management.

Now, that doesn’t sound like that much fun, and certainly not for a hobby that’s supposed to bring you joy, but hear me out. Not knowing or forgetting some important piece of information can be a real source of frustration, too , especially when you’ve finally found some inspiration to work on a certain project. One of the joys of crafting, or any creative endeavor, is to finally end up with a nice finished item.

And keeping track of your projects certainly doesn’t have to be an all-encompassing task of bookkeeping that will take you days on end.
Now, I don’t mean to sound like an expert, since I’ve only recently began keeping track of my own projects, but I'd like to share some of my experiences and tips with you.

If you only have a few simple projects, that you put away for a few days only due to busy life, it may often suffice to just store a simple sheet of paper with a project with some notes on it, or keep tabs on your projects in a small notebook.
If you are knitting from a guide, for example, you can write on the back where you left off (which you probably already do) and make notes if certain stitches needed to be looser/tighter than what you usually do. Then if you can store the paper with the knitting, you’re all set. (If you use a notebook, store it in a fixed spot).

 

If you do have a lot of projects, or just large projects, with quite some time in-between, it’s easy to lose random sheets of paper, especially if these projects end up jingled together in the closet or drawer.
So if you need some serious ‘bookkeeping’ I’d suggest using a notebook or binder.
A binder has the advantage of adding and relocating pages whenever you need to, while a (hardcover) notebook may be sturdier and more portable. In case you intend to use a notebook, I recommend leaving a few pages for an index, bullet journal style, and then just fill the pages as they come.  
More on keeping a project book here.

My Craft Project Notebook
My Craft Project Notebook

Back to the project management.
A project (in business) is usually defined as:
a temporary endeavor with a fixed beginning and end, that is not a routine operation, but meant to gear towards a fixed goal, with limited resources and a defined scope.

In a creative hobby, the end is of course the finished project. Limited resources are usually material (or the cost thereof) and time, since life happens. You usually start a project with a goal in mind, whether that be a finished dresser or merely comparing various materials.
So let’s look at project management, then. There are many websites on project management for businesses, many of which define the process in the following 5 steps:

  1. Initiating – defining the goal, and determining whether it is realistic.
  2. Planning – what do you need to get there? Which materials, which actions? What is the budget and schedule? What possible problems may arise?
  3. Executing – Actually doing the steps. Tasks and responsibilities are distributed over the team.
  4. Monitoring/Controlling – project managers keep track of progress and adjust schedules etc. to keep the project on track.
  5. Closing – After the project is completed, an evaluation is needed to highlight successes and/or learn from missteps. 
painting stairs planning
The importance of planning: painting every other step so the staircase remains usable. The sticky notes were the 'safe steps' :)

Now, let’s translate these steps for a creative (hobby) project.

Initiating
what am I going to create? It usually works best to have an end-product in mind. I suggest reading about
The creative design process, to make sure your idea is more than a vague outline. (It may not be always necessary to have a finished item thought up; sometimes just testing out new materials or letting the creative juices flow, is fine too! But these may not warrant the effort of following project management guidelines.)

Planning
Which materials do I need? Do I have this fabric in my stash? Do I have enough watercolor paper? Planning basically involves checking your supply list and your inventory and then creating a task-list of what needs to be done, before actually starting your creative project. What problems may arise in the process?
Like the staircase I painted needed to remain usable; how do I make sure I don't step on a just painted surface when painting every other step?

What steps do I need to take to get to the finished product? Buy and prepare materials, print the guide, measure etc.) It's a real pain when you're busy with a time-sensitive step, like gluing or painting, only to find out you're missing a crucial tool or material!
Time is probably the most important resource when it comes to hobbies; they usually get last place in the priority list of life. It’s a good idea to ‘schedule’ in some time for you to work on a given project; free up some time for your hobby, and plan it as if it were an appointment. Some self-love is important, so make sure you get to do what you love! :)

If it is a craft that needs to be finished before a certain time, like birthday gifts, Christmas decorations etc., you may want to add these as a string of ‘creative appointments’ in your planner, to make sure you won’t need to plow through a massive last-minute session to get it done. That would take the fun right out of it!

Executing and Monitoring
Unless you’re doing your project with more people (building a dresser from scratch with your significant other, for example), you’ll be the one doing all the steps, and monitoring them as well.

Basically that means that whenever you execute a step from your planning (made in the previous step), you then check whether it has been done correctly, or whether some part of the coming process needs to be altered. You may also need to alter your planning during the project if it somehow doesn't work out.

 

Closing – This might be one of the most often forgotten steps for personal projects; the deliberate reflection of what went right and wrong and why, and how much you enjoyed doing the project. Of course, after any project you’ll either feel like; ‘never again’ or ‘amazing!’ or anything in-between. But how often have you kept track of these feelings, (preferably in written form), so you can refer back to them later? And use your past knowledge to prevent errors and not-so-fun projects is the future?

review write
Review your projects!

So in short:

  • Decide what you want to make, and check how feasible this is.
  • Make a planning and check your inventory. Keep in mind deadlines if applicable.
  • Do the fun parts!
  • While doing the steps, check back with your planning and progress and adjust whenever needed.
  • Reflect back after finishing your project. 
    [A post on reflecting/reviewing projects is on my to do list! ;)]

 

Now, most of this is pretty straight-forward, and you probably are already doing parts of this, but it can make a difference whether you do it sub-consciously or deliberately.
It’s like cooking: it’s way less stressful if you have the right ingredients ready, pre-cut and everything, and know beforehand when to add which one.

For me, the best way to keep track of projects, is to create a project book, (or binder) as I mentioned before. Especially if there are a lot of ‘ideas snippets’ or projects that I want to create a different variety of later. (Same project in a different color or size for example)

Happy creating!
 

J.