Anybody who works in a creative industry knows only too well that creativity flourishes on flexibility. Creative teams blossom when they have the freedom to play, experiment, and explore new ideas. To push boundaries and test the limits.
This can cause a headache for project managers of creative teams, whose job it is to keep a project on schedule and to budget. So how can you maintain the structure and organization of a creative project without smothering the creativity and productivity of your team?
1. Draw up a project plan
Planning is an integral element of any project, so resist the urge to dive right in as soon as you receive a new brief. By correctly managing the planning and research stage, you’ll be much better equipped to keep the project on schedule, to budget, and produce your best work for the client.
Draw up a plan in consultation with your client, determining the details during your initial meetings, and sign off on the agreed plan together.
Your plan should include an overview of the project, such as the project aims and objectives, how you’re going to tackle it, the needs of the target audience, and the key milestones, which will help you to draw up a realistic timeline. Include the defined roles and responsibilities of everybody involved, the project budget, and set out the agreed communication methods.
Remember, aspects of a creative project are likely to change as you progress, but this will give you a great foundation as you get started.
2. Use a project management tool
Email is a great tool but it can get a little unwieldy, especially when you have a large team. Did you copy the right people in? Does everybody have access to the same information? Did you remember to pass on the latest updates? And on the flip side, there’s little more annoying than an increasing chain of unnecessary “reply all.”
Leaving people in the dark about an important decision or the project status can cause critical hold ups, which in turn can lead to annoyed clients. The best way to overcome this is to use a project management tool.
Project management tools are excellent. They enable you to create task lists, assign tasks to different team members, set deadlines, and keep an eye on progress. Plus, all the important documents are in the same place, on the same update. Many tools also allow you to invite the client into the fray so they can keep an eye on progress, too.
There are various tools, each with different benefits. Some of my favorites are detailed in this article.
3. Set realistic deadlines
Creating a realistic timeline for the project can be a headache, especially if the client wants everything yesterday! While keeping clients happy is our aim, simply agreeing to their demands to keep them on our side will only end in tears.
Creativity can be a tricky thing to tease out, and creative teams need time to play, sketch out designs, and brainstorm ideas. Instead of forcing teams to meet a tight deadline – the best way to stifle creativity – explain to your client how the creative process works and only agree to a deadline that’s possible. If your client has a rush project with a non-negotiable deadline, be realistic about what you can achieve during that time.
4. Communicate regularly
Regular communication is key to any creative project. Don’t leave it up to your team members to chase deadlines and verify information – use your project management tool to keep everybody updated on progress, notified about any problems or issues, and informed about any updates.
The same goes for your client. If you disappear after you’ve agreed to the project plan and only reappear once the work is completed, they may discover at a critical late stage that the project wasn’t quite what they had in mind.
5. Regularly monitor and review
Remember that big ole plan you agreed to at the start? Ensure you refer back to it regularly throughout the project to check everything is running as planned.
Things inevitably change as you progress, so ensure you stay flexible and adapt accordingly. Record any changes in an updated plan and agree them with your client. That way they won’t have any nasty surprises when you charge for the additional work they requested.
If they add a chunk of work to the project, make sure you have the available resources to deal with it efficiently.
6. Resolve any issues promptly
Projects can run into trouble. Your client may not be happy with an aspect of the work, one of your team may make a costly mistake, or something could work out more time-consuming than expected, pushing things drastically over budget.
If you do meet a hitch, don’t try to cover it up. Honesty is always the best policy, even if it means a difficult conversation or two.
Where possible, try to meet your client in person to talk over any issues face-to-face. Explain any decisions you’ve made, discuss any problems they have, and remember not to take it personally if they don’t like something. Be open and receptive and determine the actions you can take to reach a solution that works for everybody.
7. Be flexible with working hours and environment
Everybody has their own sweet spot when it comes to creativity. Some like to rise at dawn and let their creative juices flow before anybody else is up, while others produce their best work in the dead of the night. One thing’s for sure: creativity doesn’t fit into a regular 9-to-5 schedule.
To get around this, when possible, give your team the flexibility to work at the time that’s best for them by assigning them the work they need to complete rather than dictate the hours you want them to work. This is likely to improve the quality of their work, and you can always stay updated via those useful project management tools!
The same goes for working environment. Some people flourish bouncing ideas off each other in an office, others like to hide away in their own private space, while some like the buzz and anonymity of working in a coffee shop. Giving people the freedom to choose the environment that’s best for them can have outstanding results.
8. Encourage constructive feedback
If you want to produce a design masterpiece, you have to invite constructive feedback. All members of your team should feel confident about expressing their honest opinion about the design. If they worry about upsetting somebody’s feelings or feel their opinion isn’t important, you could end up missing something crucial and morale in the team will fall if people don’t feel their input is worthy.
Likewise, remember to ask the client what they think at important stages of the project. This allows you to identify any possible issues and rectify them before they become too costly and unwieldy to untangle.
Successful feedback is about respecting others’ opinions and openly discussing what is and isn’t working. Who knows, that discussion could spark a brainstorming session that results in a genius idea!
9. Provide a little extra support
Finally, once you’ve signed off the project and handed it over to your client, don’t simply send a final invoice and walk away. Be there to offer support, see if there are any issues or niggles that need ironing out, and check the client is happy.
A few weeks down the line, follow up with a call or email to see how things are going and if they need anything else from you. Delivering a great project and showing that you care about their needs is an excellent way to encourage repeat business.
Do you have any tips for managing a creative project? Can you add anything to our list? Tell us in the comments below.
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