Organization: Tools for Teams

How to Collaborate: Try MoSCoW or the RACI matrix.

I like learning productivity strategies. I don’t mind if they’re borrowed from business. Some artists are allergic to productivity. It reminds them of work.

There’s a time to be creative—to experiment, play, brainstorm. Then, after you’ve chosen a direction, there’s a time to make tangible progress towards the shared goal.

I love clear communication around goals, roles, tasks, and timelines. I think this helps people have appropriate expectations and minimize the unpleasant surprises that lead to bad feelings. Here are some strategies I’ve learned.


Simply put, this just means prioritizing aspects of your project by:

  • Must have
  • Should have
  • Could have
  • Won’t have (this time)

Which parts are the heart of your project, that you must do?
Which parts are non-critical but important, that you should do?
Which parts are optional, that you could do?
Which parts can you let go of now?

In collaborations, MoSCOW could identify shared priorities so you can shed lower-priority tasks. For example, sometimes I’m afraid to ask a partner about eliminating one of their contributions, because I don’t want them to take it personally. But asking them to rate it on the MoSCow scale gives more nuance than choosing between doing or not doing it.

MoSCow could also help you manage your time on your own projects. If you have limited time, start with your must-do’s, then do your should-do’s. Don’t worry about could-do’s unless there’s time leftover.

This could help people avoid procrastinating on more difficult must-do items.


RACI Chart

In 2015, I did a survey project at Harvester Arts about creative collaborations. Many respondents expressed frustration around lack of clear roles and responsibilities.

Spread from Co-laboration zine about the most successful or most challenging creative collaborations you've participated in, and what made them that way, and why,

Spread from my 2015 CO-LABORATION zine. Download it at

I’ve also recently reflected on how, when criticism feels arbitrary—chaotic in its target or timing—it’s frustrating. Does everyone need to be consulted about every task? Can collaborators (including myself) be informed of something, withholding criticism for other areas?

M told me to look this matrix up. It’s typically presented in a different format, but for  newbs like me this version seems easiest to digest:

For each task in a project, the RACI Matrix ensures you assign individuals who:

  • are Responsible
  • are Accountable
  • need to be Consulted
  • need to be Informed

I haven’t used it yet, but the RACI Chart looks like a great tool for larger teams with hierarchies.

For example, if you’re making a publication, different people are contributing art, photographs, or text. Who’s copyediting? Art directing? Designing? Is there an organizational partner that wants to have input? At what stage do you involve them? Too early and you don’t have anything to show them. Too late and you’ll risk wasting time and having to ask people to re-do things they thought were approved.

For collaborating artists or non-hierarchical collectives, it can be hard to differentiate who should be consulted and who should be informed. For example, I once tried making decisions with 10+ collective members. Everyone consulted on everything. Individuals largely held themselves responsible or accountable. Only people who felt confident taking on complicated tasks did. It might have helped if there were smaller work-groups, where non-work-group members were informed, not consulted.

Another nice thing about RACI is it makes transparent who’s doing what. This could help make the distributions of labor and criticism more equal.

How Long to Spend on this? Is it a 1 or a 10?

BB, a chief preparator (basically a foreman {fore-person?} for art handlers), once explained a neat communication method for conveying how long to spend on a task.

Explain the level of finish of a task on a scale of 1–10.

10 means, “Take your time, and do the best possible job.”

1 means, “Just get it done, don’t sweat the details.”

In an ideal world, everyone does their tasks to a 10. But if you’re short on time, this helps you quickly express which tasks are worth a higher level of finish.

For example, if you’re patching a seam that falls under the artwork, where visitors will be looking closely, you would want a 10. Or, before someone puts three coats of paint on the underside of a shelf no one’s going to see, sanding in between coats, you could explain that it’s a 2.



Organization: Nerd Game Strong

How I organize my projects is itself a constant project-in-progress.

Sometimes I surprise myself with the levels of nerdiness I reach.

Since I wrote my one-year goals two weeks ago, I’ve been thinking a lot about organization, especially:

  • Useful past strategies.
    • Like hand-drawn tables of studio production phases in my sketchbook.
  • Strategies for collaborations.
    • Should I try Asana, Trello, or Google Sheets for collaborative task management? I experimented and I still don’t know. (Sometimes apps are too much, with the upgrades, gamifying, notifications.)
  • The simplest way to decide what to do next.
    • My one-year goals and weekly checklists are in Evernote, but every few days I hand-write a simplified checklist on a scratchpad. It’s great. Better than an app.
    • I try to use the urgent/important matrix, and the bias for the urgent but not important rings true for me: “Why Your Brain Tricks You Into Doing Less Important Tasks” by Tim Herrera (NY Times, July 9, 2018).
  • How to maximize your focus.
    • If you can, reserve your most productive hours in the day for your creativity- and focus-intensive art tasks (thanks Creative Capital and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi).
    • I’m still struggling with how to minimize distractions (and how not to get slot-machine-addiction on mobile devices).
    • I’m also trying to get better at resetting when my focus nosedives.
  • How to strategize longterm, ambitious projects with lots of contingencies.

I’ll share photos and screen shots of these periodically, in a new blog category, Organization.



Today’s Organization Moment: A Custom 13-month Calendar


Sometimes you just need a 13-month calendar that shows the months flowing into each other.

Doing graphic design is sometimes a curse, because it makes me more intolerant about how information is presented. Calendars that break months into discrete chunks don’t make any sense to me. Time doesn’t work that way.

For project management, I like to think in terms of weeks. For example, it helps me to plan if I know an exhibition opens in 10 weeks, but I’ll be traveling three weeks, leaving seven weeks to production. So I prefer to see months as a continuous flow.