With an increased focus on innovation and collaboration as part of modern company culture, strategies to enhance creative efficiency have become a driving force for most in-house agencies. Technology can be used to harness creative operations effectively by offering collaboration and work management platforms to link all stakeholders.

Looking at the results of Cella’s 2021 In-House Creative Industry Report, the growing role that technology plays is obvious and, year-over-year, more creative teams are leveraging technology to collaborate effectively. 

Leading this charge, Workfront is dominating the enterprise landscape for creative operations. Thirty-eight percent of the creative leaders surveyed for our In-House Creative Industry Report said they use Workfront. Jira, another popular solution for enterprise work management, was cited by 11% of respondents.

Need staffing help?


When asked about satisfaction with project management systems, more than one in five teams say they are unsatisfied with the tool they chose, pointing to the importance of the selection process and ensuring a right fit. – Cella's 2021 In-House Creative Industry Report

Agile vs. Waterfall

As much as marketing and creative operations teams desire implementing a more agile approach to content production after seeing the successful use of agile in technical industries, trends show that waterfall is still the dominant process methodology for in-house agency operations especially when producing a multi-deliverable integrated campaign. Understanding the roots of each process methodology and their application in work management tools can help explain why this may be the case. 

Agile and waterfall are both project management processes that guide a project from start to finish. The agile methodology breaks down larger projects into smaller and more manageable tasks, which are completed in short iterations known as “sprints” (usually 1-3 weeks). Agile is best applied in projects that do not have a clearly defined scope as it allows teams to adapt to changing requirements. IT projects often fall under this category and, as a result, agile has its roots primarily in IT project management. Jira was largely adopted by IT teams due to its agile architectural framework and continues to be adopted by teams interested in leading with an agile-first approach to work management.

The waterfall methodology breaks down projects into a series of dependent and sequential steps that follow one after the other whereby the first step must be initiated or completed before the subsequent task(s) can begin. Based on the robust nature of deliverables within a marketing campaign and the various specialized creative stakeholders that contribute to those deliverables, waterfall has been largely adopted by creative organizations to manage both single-deliverable type projects and multi-deliverable integrated campaigns.

Whereas Jira is more agile-focused with waterfall capabilities, Workfront’s architectural framework is the reverse: primarily waterfall-centric, with agile capabilities. And while both tools have expanded to incorporate functionality to support both process types, it is important to recognize the fundamental use case of each when selecting a creative work management tool. This fundamentally explains why Workfront leads adoption against marketing and creative operations teams. 

Differences in Approval Needs 

One function essential in the creative operations development process no matter whether teams use agile or waterfall is the review and approval of content. Without a well-defined and standardized approval workflow, time and complexity is compounded and overall efficiency is significantly reduced. When defining an approval workflow, it’s essential to know when an approval is needed, who has approval permissions and what next action should take place depending on the review status. These requirements basically become a list of actions that become routine for approving ideas, task actions and deliverables. Automating and standardizing the approval workflow will give the team the ability to identify and assess ideas, filter which to proceed with, begin design and incorporate feedback in real-time so development and the creative flow never become bottlenecks.

Both Jira and Workfront provide the functionality to design, build and automate approval workflows, but the way each platform manages these are different. Creative operations approvals are more involved and subjective than typical IT-driven approvals, which are more straightforward, objective and black/white (for example, confirming if a feature exactly matches what is defined in the requirements and functions). 

Workfront supports intricate creative approval workflows by integrating native, robust proofing functionality directly within the platform. Instead of standard “approved” or “rejected” options, Workfront includes options such as “Approved with Changes” and full markup functionality, which allows reviewers to leave in-line comments directly on proofs before submitting back to the team. This functionality is a game changer when addressing the efficiency of the team, time management, and remote collaboration. Jira’s standard review feature does not support this level of robust feedback. To achieve similar functionality, an add-on is required to be purchased through the Jira Marketplace. In comparison to Workfront’s streamlined approval workflow for creatives, Jira native functionality falls short, but is best suited for the use case for which it was designed—more IT-centric review needs.

Stakeholder Count

The number of stakeholders is often greater in an average creative operations’ project than an IT-focused project. As a result, creative teams require greater collaboration out of their work management platforms to effectively manage their teams to a successful project close. While IT teams can manage their work effectively using Workfront’s issue object modeling, it’s much harder for creative operations teams to adapt to the already-issue-centric Jira. 

Better Together for the Benefit of All

Instead of adopting only one System of Record and forcing one group to conform, why not integrate for the best of both worlds? The integration of Workfront with Jira is a common use case as more organizations adopt a "best in breed" approach. In doing so, complex projects can be managed in Workfront in support of the PMO and Marketing teams’ needs and  developers can focus on routine task management by executing their work in Jira. 

At a high-level, when a task is assigned to the engineering team in Workfront, a new Jira project is created which includes the full development requirements that the team needs. As the team works in Jira, the status of the project is communicated back to Workfront for real-time visibility. Time logged by the team in Jira synchronizes to Workfront for full capacity and hours reporting.

Within this relationship, Workfront is the parent and Jira the child as progress is summarized from the individual channel which Jira supports into the total System of Record which Workfront is designed to deliver. Executive leadership prefers and depends on the visual and holistic overview Workfront provides which allows them to have insight into the numerous in-flight programs and projects across multiple departments, including both creative and development resources.  

Final Thoughts on Creative Work Management

By supporting both robust waterfall and agile solutions and an approval workflow that is fundamental to the efficiency of creative operations teams, Workfront keeps innovation and creativity at the forefront for creative teams. If development resources insist on Jira, consider an integrated approach, but acknowledge Workfront as the System of Record for the "parent" structure it provides.

No matter the technology type, Cella can implement, optimize, or integrate a successful work management solution which covers all needs of your organization.