Illustration: Oscar Ramos Orozco

Do-It-Yourself Project Management (And How Behance Does It)

We’ve been getting a lot of inquiries about project management at 99U recently, so we thought we’d share a little behind-the-scenes on how we make ideas happen – quite literally – and then open it up to the community for more input on your tactics.

The first thing to note is that our project management system is constantly evolving. People often talk about “project management tools” as if there were a silver bullet. Alas, there is not.

Both the way we work and the technologies that help us work are changing rapidly – and they will continue to do so. As a result, we ourselves must constantly analyze and refine our project management systems – discarding the pieces that don’t work and adding in new elements that do.

In fact, we’d argue that the best project management tools are DIY. As Scott observed in his research for Making Ideas Happen, people with a do-it-yourself, home-brewed approach to project management are better at staying loyal to their systems over time. After all, you’re more likely to be attracted to something you helped create – and attraction breeds loyalty. So the more you can customize your process, the better.

There is no silver bullet for project management. 
As you consider the tools and practices of others (including the ones we’re about to share with you), bear in mind that your ultimate solution is likely a combination of different tools and practices learned in different places.

Project Management at Behance

Our project management system uses three key elements: Google Docs spreadsheets, Zendesk help desk software, and our own Action Method task management system.

1. Our “HitLists,” hosted by Google Docs, help us prioritize our big-picture project milestones and share them transparently among teams.

We use shared Google spreadsheets – called “HitLists” – to manage and prioritize the various elements and milestones in our projects. We have one HitList for our Design team, and another HitList for our Development team.

We have a project manager, who reviews the “HitList” objectives with each team every morning to make sure the day’s priorities/objectives are clear. The HitList can be viewed by anyone on the Behance team, so we have full transparency about what everyone is working on at any given time.

How the “HitList” Works

The HitList has three important tabs: Active, On Deck, and Idle. The items on the “Active” HitList tab of the spreadsheet are the priority items that we’re focusing on now – items to be completed in the next 1-2 weeks.

The “On Deck” tab holds the next elements on the horizon, and “Idle” captures elements we’d like to get to but aren’t a priority now. Finally, a “Completed Items” tab captures all the stuff we’ve already finished.As you’ll see from the snapshot below, each HitList specifies these elements for each line item: Product (for many of you this might be “Client”); Project; Owner; Scope; Target Deadline; and Status.

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A snapshot of our Design HitList.

Some line items are very small, like creating an “Advertising Sponsor Unit” for 99U (which has a production scope of 0.5 days), and they need little explanation beyond a simple conversation or email. Other line items are very large, like “Conference materials” for 99U, which includes designing a printed program, a badge, a poster, signage, motion graphics, and more, and has a production scope of 15 days.

This “scope inequality” happens because we deliberately don’t get too granular on the HitList. The goal is to track key elements and/or milestones that need to be hit on the way to achieving a larger objective. Many of the HitList line items actually function like mini-projects that will be broken down into a series of smaller tasks by their “owner,” and tracked through Action Method (we’ll get to that shortly).

2. Zendesk helps us track necessary fixes and bugs for existing products like the Behance Network, and products in beta development like ProSite.

Another aspect of project management for our team includes managing the ongoing influx of feature requests, bug fixes, and customer questions for existing online products, as well as rapid iteration and fixes for new, early beta-stage products like ProSite.
Managing a high volume of feature requests and bug fixes through Google Docs would obviously be a nightmare. So, instead, we use a third-party solution, Zendesk, that’s custom-designed for managing and prioritizing “tickets.”
zendesk_550
Detail of a Zendesk ticket.

We first began using Zendesk as a Customer Service solution (after first using Gmail, which we found wasn’t well setup for support tasks). With Zendesk, you can assign each Customer Service “ticket” a team member to handle the task and give it a status (pending, solved), priority (low, normal, urgent), and tags. You can also discuss the tickets amongst team members without the customer seeing the back-and-forth.Finding that the system worked well, we soon began using Zendesk for strictly internal issues and optimizations as well. As we evolve the Behance Network and Action Method and test our new ProSite beta, Zendesk allows us to record and track the progress of new features we want to add and bugs we want to fix.

Zendesk catalogs all site issues into an organized, searchable system, allowing us to move quickly without being slowed down by finding, combining, and rearranging requests. For example, when one of our designers submits a ticket for a bug fix in ProSite that’s already been recorded, the developer who receives it can simply merge the duplicate tickets.  When the ticket is solved, everyone who has been involved in the process – the fix requester and the problem solver – will be notified.

3. Action Method helps us manage “everything else.”

While it’s feasible that one of our web developers could spend all day just processing tickets for a product in development, there’s always the stuff that’s happening around the fringes.  On any given day, most of us are juggling a bunch of different ongoing and intermittent tasks – even if we’re sprinting to get a new product out the door. To manage the many tasks associated with the project elements on the HitLists – as well as other day-to-day tasks – we use (surprise, surprise) Action Method.Take me, for instance. Right now, I have a big, collaborative task that involves a number of Behance team members, which is designing the 99U Conference materials and getting them out the door.

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Detail of an Action Method Online screen.
Yet, as the Director of 99U, I have tons of additional ongoing, “maintenance” tasks that recur indefinitely, such as writing and posting new content to 99U.com, keeping our Twitter feed @99U lively, reaching out to potential writers, and so on.
Then there are the tasks that come and go intermittently, like curating speakers and partners for the 99U Conference, coordinating consulting sessions, putting together sponsorship packages, or crunching survey data, to name a few. And finally, there are all of the tasks for the many other projects in my life.
For the most part, I do these tasks on my own, so a “HitList” type of approach doesn’t make sense. I also want something that’s portable – think iPhone (although iPad and Android work, too). Who knows when I might need to add a small task that I think of on the subway? For all of these items, I use our own task management system, Action Method.
***
This piece is a bit more granular than we usually get with 99U posts, but hopefully it’s helpful. A similar system may or may not work for you. The most important point here is that there isn’t any one “right” way to do project management. No doubt, the project management approach outlined above will change and evolve as Behance does!
How Do You Manage Projects?
What system(s) do you use to keep your creative team and projects on track? We’d love to hear from you.

More insights on: Collaboration, Task Management

Jocelyn K. Glei

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As Editor-in-Chief and Director of 99U, Jocelyn K. Glei leads the 99U in its mission to provide the “missing curriculum” on making ideas happen. She oversees the Webby Award-winning 99u.com website, curates the popular 99U Conference, and is the editor of the 99U books, Manage Your Day-to-Day and Maximize Your Potential.

Sarah Rapp

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In addition to contributing regular interviews and tweets to 99U, Sarah keeps her finger on the pulse of Behance's immense network that stretches around the world. Aside from keeping Behance's customers happy and increasing our web presence, she searches for new ways to engage our members, both on and off-line.

Scott Belsky

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Scott Belsky is Adobe's Vice President of Community and Co-Founder & Head of Behance, the leading online platform for creatives to showcase and discover creative work. Scott has been called one of the "100 Most Creative People in Business" by Fast Company, and is the author of the bestselling book, Making ideas Happen.
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