Project Managing a Creative Team

By Leslie Godshall on April, 20 2017
Leslie Godshall

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What it’s like to try bringing a sense of order to the creative process.

Every week is different when you work in a happening, creative design studio that serves industries -- including foodservice and manufacturers -- where the various outputs range from brand development to website design to facilitating marketing focus groups.  theFUZE team is known for its agility—although each individual has a vertical of expertise, we are a group of multi-talented folks who wear many hats and back each other up on all types of media and marketing projects.

I have a unique perspective in the group – instead of directing or producing at the hands-on level on the creative end of things, the Project Manager has a high-level understanding of every open project the team is tackling.  My focus is to support our efforts to meet clients’ expectations of high quality designs and hard deadlines because this is sound business.

It’s my distinct pleasure to uphold expectations of quality in creative output and scheduling for an operation that thrives best in the absence of limits.  My role is to hold these two ends of the scale in balance.

This is the condundrum of herding cats… ahem, I mean.. leading creatives. 

 A Day in the Life of a Cat Herder 

While the creatives are filling up with coffee – caffeine is a prerequisite to productivity – I assess our open project docket to ensure they’re all appropriately resourced and hitting milestones as expected.   

Although creatives don’t necessarily like boundaries, deadlines or restrictions, they need these to help effectively stay on task. (www.ronedmondson.com/2016/10/7-quandaries-of-leading-creatives.html).  So, each Monday morning we have a set 9am team meeting to ease into the week, which starts promptly after everyone has trickled into the conference room but not before they have caught up on each other’s latest news and general musings, and never at 9am on the dot (but usally before the clock turns over to 10!).

I come into the meeting with a list of what needs to be covered – a proper agenda.  But with creatives I’ve learned to keep the agenda to myself, and eventually among all the outbursts of ideas and solutions, with a little reeling in from time to time -- each agenda item still gets checked off.  Just never in order, that would take away from the fun!

Balancing Structure and Creativity in the Team

We also have a terrific project management tool that keeps all project tasks listed and scheduled in writing and visible to the entire staff, but this is a team of verbal processors.  If we don’t say it aloud, it might get missed. 

This is also when a lot of great new ideas tend to surface – the creatives need to be in a group that is talking, spinning around ideas and thoughts that although on the surface don’t appear relevant, are a critical necessity to the creative mind opening up and finding new solutions for the tasks at hand.  They feed off each other—it’s great. 

To quote Ron Edmondson, “Brainstorming can be loads of fun and beneficial with  room full of creatives,” but they “need more structured people to help make sense of things.” 

And that’s where a Project Manager steps back in. My role is to pull on the reigns if the off-topic rambling gets people forgetting that they are still at work.   I try to do things with a smile to not be too much of a buzzkill.

It’s a tricky job because if you pull too abruptly, the creative process gets stifled and this is no good.

Spinning Plates

For projects that require every team member’s input, we keep the group in the room and cover open action items, review the best way to tackle things (because today’s best way might not be what we thought was best last week).  This is the time when the quieter ones will finally speak up about things they were saving until “the end” of the meeting.   If we don’t linger long enough, we would miss their valuable input. 

All of this will take between 1 and 2 hours, depending on how many tangents we take.  “Squirrel!” At this point everyone stops hating Mondays because they realize they love this team that is so creative and fun to talk to and work with, they have the energy now to tackle the week with gusto!  After we break, everyone gets to work.  There may be a few separate pow-wows if a Creative/Art Director needs to provide more guidance to the production and design folks. 

My work with Cat Herding is done for the time being.  I get back to my other roles as admin and financial analyst. 

Depending on the projects that week, I will circle back with folks to ensure deadlines are met and clients are kept abreast of job status.  I also perform a final proofing round before handing off a solid finished product to clients.

Conclusion

I believe I’ve found a healthy balance of allowing for the team’s creative juices to flow and the accountability that comes with serving clients well.  The results are appealing designs that reflect our clients’ quality brands well.

Examples of our team’s successes on behalf of our awesome clients can be found the Fuze.net

See Our Work

 

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