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Big Ideas

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

Great project management isn't about finding a silver bullet. It's about getting DIY. Here's an inside look at the tools and processes we use at Behance.

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.

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.”
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.

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, 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 Posts by Scott Belsky

Scott Belsky is the Chief Product Officer at Adobe and is the co-founder of 99U and Behance. He has been called one of the “100 Most Creative People in Business” by Fast Company, and is the author of The Messy Middle and the bestselling book, Making Ideas Happen.

Comments (38)
  • Leslie A. Joy

    I started a new system about a month ago that’s working out really well for me. It’s kinda similar, except my work is a bit different.

    Tom’s Planner:
    I use this to break down my ebook ideas, for my editorial calendar, and for any guest posts. I have a few different schedules.
    For projects I’m actively working on, I schedule due dates. For projects that are on hold, I mark the schedule with “For Future” and know I have it when I need it.
    One of the things I LOVE about Tom’s Planner is that I can color-code everything (such as paid blog posts, guest blog posts, and blog posts for my site) and easily tell at a glance what’s on my place for today, tomorrow, and the week. (I live and die by color-coding.)

    I use this to track all my correspondence, store emails, check outstanding invoices. In addition, I use the calendar and task features to keep a handle on all client work. This way all my client communication, assignments, and any documents is in one place and easily accessible.

    I find this to be an amazing catch-all for everything else on my brain that I don’t know what to do with. Some of it is personal stuff (for example, a cleaning schedule for my place and workouts) and some of it is professional (daily marketing activities), but it’s perfect for throwing all those pesky tasks that aren’t part of a big project, but are crucial to get done. This also keeps unnecessary things out of my project tracking tools so everything is cleaner and more organized.

    SpringPad is also great for organizing information and notes on blog posts. Check the schedule on Tom’s Planner, check SpringPad for my references and notes, then open up a new document and get to writing.

    As for handling Gmail, blog reading, checking analytics-“reactionary work” I set aside andschedule time and batch task everything at once. I have a color-coded gmail system and have it set-up for my analytics go straight to a filtered email folder and my social media updates go straight to a different filtered folder. Enables me to keep an eye out for anything important, but still manage to stay on top of everything.

    Works me for.

  • Leslie A. Joy

    Although I have been looking into CapsuleCRM because of the better Gmail integration.

  • tannerc

    DIY project management is the exact reason I created Try it out and let me know what you think, I’d love to hear feedback from the innovative readers of 99%.

  • Kyle Chicoine

    This is great insight into project management. After reading this, I now have a lot of ideas to present to the art department where I am employed. Thanks!

  • Eric Clark

    We at Elias Interactive are avid users of 37signals products, mainly because of the simple UI. We collaborate with clients, so it’s key to have a easy to use PM tool. Otherwise for internal PM, I can see your system working very well. Simple and collaborative.

  • leolo lauzone

    i’ve checked your site, great initiative but it would need a deadline list or the chance to get into more information… status, deadline… it’s just my opinion…

  • Ben

    Also, Agile is a great project management system.
    Here’s a quick run down:

  • Murilo Santos

    Usually I used to manage with Active Colab it is easy and have many possibilities, but as you said, it’s a done form to manage something. I’m changing my method with my team…

    Your post clean my mind in these questions. Thank you.

  • Ian Huet

    It is all well and good “to be attracted to something you helped create – and attraction breeds loyalty” yet it also breeds delusion. I have been suffering at the hands of poor project management for many years. in hindsight this is not something I can genuinely blame on anyone else. It takes mass co-operation to make project management really happen.

    Any system is only as good as the people who operate it. There is no substitute for honest, collective monitoring and control procedures. This is where the change and opportunity happens.

    You state that there is no silver bullet and I would agree. However, there are base principals based in common sense which are only visible to those who seek out the challenges that aren’t being articulated with a view to wholeheartedly addressing them.

  • GraphicDesignBoss

    For most smaller freelance design businesses the whiteboard is the most under rated, yet most powerful low tech project management tool I’ve ever used.

    No software. No crashes. No bugs. Just pens, cleaning and clear handwriting! works every time.

  • 99U

    Absolutely! We actually used a giant 12′ x 12′ whiteboard (or really, IdeaPaint-ed wall) for a long time, but at a certain point updating it became so too labor intensive, and something remotely accessible helped for folks on the road.

  • David Holman

    my mix:
    – Gmail with Priority Inbox enabled and a secondary inbox that picks up my ‘follow-up’ tag
    – RememberTheMilk for granular tasks
    – Evernote for project overview and brainstorming

    – I’ve just begun experimenting with Highrise to better manage contact history across e-mail, phone, and actual meetings (so far, so good)
    – for overall timeline plans, large projects go into Merlin (from ProjectWizards), and the shorter stuff ends up in a Google spreadsheet based on my initial project proposal.

  • Kevin Davison

    Since 2007, we’ve used a number of tools and methods @Quevin LLC. Now, we use Merlin PM to manage projects internally and Unfuddle for client-facing projects. Merlin can integrate with all kinds of systems, even MS Project. Unfuddle has just what we need, including Git source control. More importantly, IMO, we use Quickbooks to track business finances and project profitability.

  • Rixner Design

    I use TeuxDeux for simple task management and reminders, my moleskine for project tracking (I’m a freelancer so interaction with other employees isn’t necessary). Anything that’s long term planning, goals, potential clients, collaborators I slap on my white board. Billing, estimates and invoices I use Ballpark from Metalab. It’s a system I’ve changed numerous times over the last 2 years.

  • Andrew Hoeveler

    What’s the matter, don’t want to load a big whiteboard on the road? That’s what hatchbacks are for. 😉

  • Andrew Hoeveler

    The way I see it, at the most basic level, we all need these organizational tools:
    1. calendar
    2. to-do list (GTD)
    3. note list
    4. collaborative job management (optional)

    The issue I have had, as a freelancer, is the mixing of business and personal can be overwhelming, and it’s easier to keep my head screwed on when things are separate but flexible. This is why I prefer having a few specific tools rather than an Entourage-style all-in-one app (managing to-dos within iCal is just miserable, for example).

    Personally, I use:
    1. iCal
    2. (The BEEV! An amazingly well-built, online, collaborative to-do with an iOS syncing client app, AND it’s FREE for two people!)
    3. Evernote
    4. Action Method Online

    p.s., does anyone ELSE feel that Basecamp is over-hyped?

  • Charlotte Clark

    Great article. I’ve just been reading the section of your book with the picture of all the to-do lists on the wall. What a fabulous working environment. Only wish more workplaces were so forward thinking.

  • Per Lund

    Hi Andrew,

    I actuelle thinks that Basecamp is over-hyped. It really doesn’t do it for me. I miss a little structure and better editing tools.

    Producteev is a killer. Love it.

  • write my paper

    the picture in the beginning is awful and even scares! but everything else is good. i liked this article and wanted to say thanks to the author

  • Rj Dollen

    The ever evolving workspace. It changes all the time both in the physical world and in the digital world. I’ve tried a number of different project management tools including MS Project, ZohoCRM (as a project management tool), Gnatter and a handful of other sites/softwares trying to get in the game. No one tool has it all is what I’ve found so far.

    Currently I use Google Spreadsheets. I’ve created a template that allows me to duplicate a tab and assign each project a tab that I order from left to right by priority.

    The template is broken down into tasks, by time, who does it and by due date. Each task can be weighted and produces a “what is taking up all of my time” graph.

    Screen Shot =

    Once the project is done and the loop is closed the tab/sheet is moved to an archive spreadsheet document for long term storage and quarterly updates to the people who write my checks.

    I adopted this for my day job from the spreadsheets I used for my photo shoots

    Screen Shot:

    On the fly reminders and notes are all with Reqal (brilliant app)

    Great article, kudus for sharing.


  • Andreas Sundgren


    Been an avid user of Unfuddle and Basecamp over the years as a marketing director and CEO of but still was frustrated with the lack of visuality and also over the fact that at least Unfuddle took longer in some cases to manage than project tasks themselves (a problem that riddles a lot of the systems/services available) It caused endless meetings in which we had to verify that things were actually done because the system demanded it.

    Basecamp is great but still does not entirely do it for me. Lacking visual overview (this might be merely psychological but still…) and entirely list based.

    Anyway, decided to build a tool of my own to get closer to the way I worked/wanted to work and also catering to the fact that most teams are small and that they need flat learning curves, not huge arrays of features,

    Very much boiled down to the very bare necessities in terms of messaging etc. In general I think there is a lot of superfluous stuff going on in project management. Many times the running of the project in the right way gets in the way of shipping products or reaching milestones.

  • upravljanje projektima

    I use microsoft project manager

  • Tiffany

    Has anyone worked with Cohuman? Simple, intuitive and efficient!

  • essay writing service

    no, but i’ve heard a lot about ))) thanks for the link

  • Dscientific

    I’m working with a weekly time planning sheet: Based on an MA research project it helps to seperate productive (quick, short term to-do things) from creative (long term developments) tasks and organise them with fixed commitments and appointments on a weekly overview sheet. Quite analog, but the straight forward keeping an overview on the sheet helps a lot: Check out if interested.

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