Creative agencies must be one of the most exciting places to work, especially when developing a project that requires a lot of imagination. All creative projects are challenging to explain and may not be apparent to others as it is to you and your team members. Creativity requires time, which not many of us can afford. It seems that lately, the market's demands have shifted in favor of efficiency and productivity, which has put a lot of pressure on creativity.
To keep up with demand, creative teams have to rely on a growing network of partners. As this network keeps increasing, more stakeholders are introduced. They all want to be engaged in projects, provide inputs, and approve assets. Eventually, you are faced with a classic case of too many cooks in the kitchen. With more people demanding attention or wanting to be heard, creative individuals are more focused on pleasing everyone than actual work.
But there is one thing project managers could employ, and that's creative time project management. In this article, we discuss what it takes to manage creative individuals efficiently and what challenges managers have to overcome along the way.
What's a creative project manager?
Let's start with the basics! While a project manager's role is to mediate between clients and team members, a creative project manager is in charge of handling creative minds. Their work primarily focuses on copywriting, graphic design, UX design, photography, or some other branch involving a high level of creativity.
Imposing creative solutions or making your team members think inside the box will never work here. That's why a creative team manager needs to possess a great deal of empathy and communication, along with traditional project management skills, to ensure successful project management for creative individuals.
How to manage a creative team?
There is a fine line between creativity and control, and we all know that creative minds don't like limitations. As a creative team manager, you are well-familiar with the fact that creativity sells your products—convenient features, innovative solutions, catchy headlines, beautiful design, and so on. Creative work is much more complicated than just coming up with a brilliant idea, and the final result usually depends on how the entire process is organized.
The Big Book of Team Culture
However, leading a team of people without understanding their personalities is nearly impossible. Before you implement any creative project management strategies, get to know your team members well. Now, let's focus more on how you can efficiently lead them.
Start with a big picture
You can always work out the details later, but it's crucial to start with a broad idea. Your developers, writers, or designers need to be involved in a project in its infancy. Creatives are the best people to determine realistic processes and deliverables. If you opt to provide them with prescriptive instructions, it will kill the innovation process.
Brief them properly
Your team members are the ones who will solve the problem. So, to help them find the best solution, you need to present the nature of such clearly. Work on all aspects and cover all the project elements, like inspirations, research, desired outcome, earlier campaigns, and target audience. When it comes to timing, try to avoid harsh deadlines. Talk to your team about the importance or urgency and decide together on due dates.
To keep the creativity going around the office, you need to make sure that your work environment encourages teamwork and boosts collective problem-solving. Some of the most productive workplaces facilitate solo work, idea sharing, mood boards, and storyboarding. Also, don't neglect the influence of colors and natural light on the working space.
Set up a style guide
Putting a reliable style guide in place will help you ensure the brand's consistency across all campaigns and help new team members adapt faster. Don't be too strict with the rules, but define the best practices such as titles, treatment of photography, colors, logos, typefaces, etc. This will significantly reduce the time on unnecessary edits.
Educate your team
As a creative manager, it's your responsibility to educate other team members about your creative processes and roles. The support of your coworkers is crucial here. A better understanding of your position will lead to better cross-departmental communication and respective and cohesive company dynamics. Additionally, you will avoid dealing with unrealistic demands and requests, which will save you a significant amount of time.
Have confidence in your team
While you can manage budgets, timings, and other outputs, you can't dictate time. Don't engage in micromanagement, but delegate the tasks accordingly. Trust the talent and ability of your coworkers. Sometimes, the most challenging part is learning the art of surrender and letting go of control while relying on your team's superior knowledge. Don't hesitate, do it! You will see results immediately, the quality of work will increase, as well as your working relationship.
Even though creative freedom is imperative, at some point, your team will require guidance and feedback to accomplish the best results. Host frequent catch-ups to ensure everyone is on the same page and has realistic expectations. Each campaign demands some level of compromise. You might be settling for a less innovative project, or expanding a budget, or pushing deadlines. This is particularly true for creative teams working in high-growth companies or startups where the budget is stretched, and priorities change as we speak.
Tips for managing creative teams
Project management for creative teams is quite a challenging experience. As a person in charge, you need to be involved in every step of the process to track your team's progress, but at the same time efficiently detached to let them work freely and independently.
In that case, you should be motivated, a great communicator, and a highly organized person. With that being said, we put together a list of tips that can help you overcome bumps on the road.
1. Don't impose too much administrative work on your team — They might occasionally estimate time remaining on specific tasks, record time, attend status update meetings, or generate reports, but that's not the primary line of work they should be dealing with. Keep your team members focused on tasks where they will show their creativity and productivity.
2. Teach your team about problem-solving methods — The majority of your team members will be unfamiliar with problem-solving. Try to explain techniques such as human-centered design, mind-mapping, lateral thinking, and brainstorming.
3. Allow new ideas to emerge — Try to avoid unreasonable deadlines and strict schedules. Instead, focus on time-bound milestones for the end of each phase of the project.
4. Let your team work — Constant oversights and check-ins can be bothersome. Let your team enjoy its creative process.
5. Encourage open communication — Ask your team to communicate with each other openly; don't make them dependent on you.
6. Help relieve stress — Have your coworkers work through issues before problems escalate further and reach your level.
7. Allow interdisciplinary collaboration — You should promote cross-fertilization across all disciplines, for instance, marketing, business, design, support, quality, etc.
8. Keep challenging their work ethics — Encourage your team members to keep discovering alternative ways of working. However, be supportive of those who don't meet the required expectations.
9. Approve failures — Create an office environment where mistakes and failures are part of the creative process and a new learning opportunity.