The Pros and Cons of Creative Project Management

team of 3 working around a wood table in an officeAs a communications executive, I’ve dealt with the healthy (and sometimes unhealthy) tension between creative staff and creative project managers for years.  Tools like project schedules and reports are essential for managing any business.  Without them it’s next to impossible to manage resources, costs and to make sure all projects hit their deadlines.
Creatives are frequently drawn to their profession precisely because they want what they create to be fresh, unique, original.   Creativity is essential to develop unique brands and communication campaigns that connect with the client’s target audience.  But it is not something done best “on demand” so it’s challenging to put on a timeline.
Still, both creative and project management teams are essential for a successful project.   To borrow from one of Jimmy Fallon’s popular bits, there are Pros and Cons to both disciplines. For example:
Pro:  Creatives are frequently perfectionists who inherently want what they deliver to be as close to perfect as possible.
Con:  Without deadlines, the perfectionistic creative will continually evolve and improve the product, but it may never be delivered.
Pro:  Project managers are often Type A over-achievers that want most to deliver on time, on budget while meeting client expectations.
Con:  Without working with the creative team to establish realistic deadlines before communicating with the client, deadlines are destined to be missed and quality will suffer.
Pro: Both teams have the same goal- to deliver a product that knocks the client’s socks off and exceeds the anticipated outcomes with the end-user.
Con:  Frequently, neither team understands what it takes to do the other team’s job which can lead to frustration and dysfunction making for an ugly work place and a product that’s average at best.
In order to maximize the “pros” and minimize the “cons,” the two teams must ultimately become one.  To do that, they must communicate (surprise).  That’s where the project director steps in as team builder.
This isn’t an easy task, especially if there is a history of dysfunction in the department or organization.  Here are a few ground rules I use when building a new project team:
    1. Be Open- Minded. There may be standard guidelines but every project has its nuances. Everyone needs to be mindful of assumptions and the “it’s the way we’ve always done it” attitude.
    2. Do Your Homework. Has everyone reviewed the project strategy and creative brief? Looked at the client’s website? Does everyone know the client’s pain points? Do you, as the PM, know what it takes to do what everyone else on the project team does? I expect my teams to have this knowledge before going into a kick-off meeting so everyone is up to speed on the project. When everyone does their homework, we hit the ground running and go quickly to point #3.
    3. Listen, Ask Questions, Repeat- Often. Arguably the most critical elements of effective communication, this exercise should be ongoing between the client, project management, creative staff and the project director. When everyone on the team follows this ground rule, we can shave days, sometimes even weeks off of a project.
    4. Don’t Overpromise. Nothing erodes trust quicker than when a member of the team overpromises for themselves or others without first communicating with the rest of the team. More often than not, the overpromised deadline is missed resulting in distrust from the client that may never be recovered.
    5. Building the Project Schedule is a Team Sport. The PM may build the project schedule, but it should never be done in a vacuum. Only the graphic artist, editor, instructional designer or other creative staff member can estimate how much time it will take to complete a specific task and should always have input on developing the project schedule. This practice increases the accuracy of the project schedule and provides a measure of accountability for the creative staff.
    6. The Project Schedule is a Tool, but Not a Hammer. Once developed, the project schedule should be a management tool to identify bottlenecks or problems so adjustments can be made before something blow-up. It should not be used to pressure or hammer team members.
    7. Own It! One of my biggest pet peeves are team members who will only own their part of the project. Everyone on the team should be looking for ways to make the project better, whether the task is their “job” or not. Like all teams, we win or lose together.
    8. Take Time to Celebrate. Ok, it may not be billable, but it is essential for team building. The time spent celebrating successes, and closing out one project before jumping into the next one will result in increased productivity overall.
So, those are my tips for building strong, collaborative project teams.  What are your tips?