Strong project management requires an experienced project manager with many strings to their bow: time management, delegation, resource allocation – the list is endless.
But one mandatory quality they need is creativity. An often neglected one in project management that, when applied in the right context, can deliver stellar results and offer new ways of accomplishing tasks with greater rewards.
What about managing creatives themselves? How can project managers direct a team of creatives alongside other non-creative teams in a way that is conducive to the project goal?
In this article, I’ll take a deep dive into how you can get more creative with your project management, helping you meet your goals faster and smarter in 2019.
Merge creativity and management for fluid project completion
Project management is often viewed in a rather mundane manner. When a large task is on the roll, creativity and innovation are viewed as an indulgence, something that distracts from the task at hand.
In 2019, this is a rather Victorian workhouse way of thinking, but still common in project management. The fact is, creatives and project managers, have different values and aims when they set out upon a project, due to the nature of their respective work.
Project managers are typically left-brained thinkers, relying on methodical and analytical approaches to get the work done. Creatives, on the other hand, are right-brained. Intuition trumps logic, going for non-verbal elements such as visuals to reach their goals.
There are several other management styles you can read about in our full guide to see which one suits you best.
According to a research done by the Nobel Prize winning psychobiologist Roger W. Sperry, the left brain is connected to logic, facts, and linear thinking. By contrast, the right brain is connected to imagination, intuition, and the visualization of feelings.
Presenting logical arguments is a great quality for project managers, and left-brained thinkers are typically impersonal in their decision-making process. However, left-brained leaders that are able to demonstrate right-brained qualities can make even better project leaders. In addition to presenting rational arguments, they can promote a dynamic team environment and inspire people with innovative solutions.
Marrying the old with the new
Rather than existing apart, these two disparate styles should be married together. For example, rather than dogmatically relying on accepted methodologies, consider a more flexible approach that is tailored to the teams involved.
Take workflow for instance. In many organizations, creatives are given small, set briefs that only address the task they’re immediately assigned. While this might work for large corporations with extended, rolling projects, it might limit creatives working in a smaller business.
To that end, give creatives the whole picture when you brief them in. Deliver the whole brief from the start, as this will help them see how they fit into the bigger picture. The work they do will be geared towards the overall end goal, rather than just what’s in front of them.
On the same subject, let creatives know if there are similar projects being briefed in that might overlap with the larger overall one. This prevents work from being duplicated across creative teams, and could even encourage cross-project collaboration as a result.
Give your creative team full reign over their workflow. While you should provide the brief they need to follow, creatives should be allowed to reach that goal on their own terms.
Offer creative motivation and rewards for your team
Seeing a project through from start to finish can be an exhausting endeavor. Unexpected obstacles and challenges can arise, causing delays and impacting work. Unfortunately, this is an unavoidable part of project management, and you are only too familiar with it.
But one side effect of project management, especially one that draws on longer than forecasted or faces more difficulties than expected, is its impact on team morale.
You can have all the time and resources in the world, but an unmotivated team will burnout, and burnout is hard to recover from. Consequently, your project will struggle to make the cut.
Motivation can be the antidote that increases employee commitment, satisfaction, and efficiency.
A survey by Gallup reveals that only one in three workers feel like they have been praised or recognized in the last week for doing a good job. Employee rewards are an essential part of providing a clear link between effort and results. To be effective, those rewards don’t always have to be big either. From hand-written thank yous to healthy snacks, there are plenty of creative reward ideas that will help project managers to show their appreciation.
Tailoring motivational methods to your creative team
There’s no shortage of typical employee engagement methods that managers employ to motivate their team during a long project. Indeed, even giants like Google’s Larry Page are renowned for challenging their employees by asking: “Why can’t this be bigger?”
Great leaders like Larry Page, Tim Cook and Jeff Bezos have a wealth of advice for managers seeking to engage their team. These methods are fine — they work, and they get results. But when it comes to managing creatives, a more nuanced approach is needed.
Creativity is not a tap that can be turned on and off. A writer doesn’t sit down at their desk and write the perfect novel in one fell swoop. They go away and do other things. They might go for a walk or visit friends. They might even go and work on a short story or poem — still writing, but on other projects.
Similarly, you should give your creative team the freedom they need to work at their best. Let them take breaks from their work to spend time on side projects. Varying the type of work a creative does keeps them firing on all cylinders, which helps them return to the project at hand with a renewed sense of drive as a result.
Let your team flex their creative muscles when they’re working on your project. If they find a particular style or method that suits them, encourage them to pursue it. Ultimately, creatives know the goal they need to reach — just let them reach it in their own way.
And it’s important to remember that creativity thrives in a creative and relaxed environment. A stale, stuffy office is not conducive to creative thinking. Natural light, uncluttered working spaces, splashes of color — all these go towards fostering a creative working environment.
But think about other ways of achieving this beyond office decor. Encourage open discussion across desks, even social chat if needed, and create a shared playlist for your team to listen to.
Embrace visual means of communication
Good communication requires creativity. But what does this mean in terms of project management?
Use visual materials to appeal to visual thinkers
To start with, it means embracing visual communication to convey ideas and concepts. Many people find a written brief sufficient to get the project done. But as I mentioned earlier, creatives are right-brained thinkers. That’s why they often prefer visual cues to help ideas crystallize in their mind.
Charts and graphs are the most commonly used form of visual aid. For creatives, simple timelines of project overviews can help stakeholders better understand their role in the bigger picture.
Create color-coded timelines for your project, with smaller timelines at a lower level for individual teams and individuals. Paymo’s resource scheduling software offers a visual representation of your team’s schedule, helping you track and organize your resources in an advanced manner at a project and user level.
Photos or mockups of the end product give your team a deeper knowledge of what it is they’re striving towards as well.
Providing physical samples of project elements for the creative team to touch can aid with their understanding of the project. These help flesh out written briefs, placing them in a real-world context that creatives can better engage with.
Leave the boardroom behind
But what about going beyond the boardroom?
Try and take your meetings offsite and visit locations involved in your project (where applicable). Even simply switching up your project meeting locations is enough to get the creative juices flowing in your team.
A change of scenery does wonders for mindset, so look beyond Conference Room B for your next meeting. An outside space such as a park will suffice, as would a coffee shop or bar. Just be cautious of confidentiality issues if you’re discussing client matters in a shared space.
Take inspiration from other industries
Some of the most innovative individuals of our time have seen further by standing on the shoulders of giants. Similarly, you can enhance your project management by seeking inspiration from the successful projects of other industries.
Agile project management for creative solutions
One source, in particular, that can help you improve your project management skills is the tech industry. Many project managers working in this field use agile project management frameworks to help them achieve their long-term goals (and with great success).
Agile project management (APM) involves breaking down a project into smaller phases (Kanban remains an Agile method that is not necessarily iterative) that begin with initial design and integration and run right through to testing and final review. These phases are known as sprints. Once each sprint has been completed, the project moves into its next iteration, and the process begins again.
Agile working is nothing new, and the practice dates back as early as the ‘50s. But the practice lends itself particularly well to the wave of tech startups that have risen in recent years, in part due to the trial-and-error nature of SaaS product development. It’s easy to roll out a product in beta, testing for a select group of users, and then edit it in the backend following focus group feedback.
This is creative project management at its finest — allowing you deftly roll with the punches, quickly overcoming obstacles as they show up. Creative solutions can be formed on the spot, without posing too much of a risk to your progress.
Creative project management through creative integrations
While we’re on the subject, the tech industry also provides ripe inspiration for creative project management through its use of integrations.
Integrations make it easy for managers to juggle multiple elements from single pieces of software.
For example, Paymo promises to help you “work happy” by providing a range of tools in a single hub: task management, team scheduler, time tracking, reports, and so on. Project managers can coordinate projects in a simple overview, letting them work in a creative, agile way through integrated technology.
The integration of siloed processes into a single place provides a creative solution to project management. Not to mention the costs saved by using one app instead of several ones glued together like a 3rd grader science project.
Set aside time for failure and experimentation
Time is the most valuable resource at your disposal — but it’s also often the most scarce.
As hours turn to days and days turn to weeks, you’ll find your deadlines just around the corner while you’re still in the testing phase. Consequently, your project management timeline should allocate ample time for discussion, experimentation and, yes, even failure.
Setting aside time for this might feel like an indulgence that you can’t afford. But as I mentioned earlier, creativity can’t be turned on or off. Left-brained creatives need time and space to play and explore, which can actually drive innovation.
Not pressed by the pressure of time, creatives can feel comfortable trying new ideas, even if they feel frivolous. As a result, they will have the space to find innovative ways to reach your shared goal.
Give creatives time and space to plan — or fail
This extra time is also great for encouraging debate and discussion. Give each creative team member in the project the freedom to share their thoughts in an open forum. Your team should respond thoughtfully and open-mindedly, providing constructive criticism and giving genuine thought to the idea.
Take this time to consider your past projects, whether successful or failed. You can learn a lot from our previous successes, and even more from our failures. Pinpoint what went right or wrong, and look at them in terms of your current project.
Remember to not place limits on this extra time — encourage collaboration. This is a joint exercise in which ideas should flow freely, with each team member chiming into the other.
Get all departments involved in the project during this phase, no matter how far removed they may be from each other — your recruitment manager should sit shoulder-to-shoulder with your lead designer.
Use this time as well to set goals, not from a top-down point-of-view, but collaboratively.
Each team brings their own perspective to the table, providing a unique set of fresh eyes that will help everyone involved get a better grasp on the project and create new, insightful ideas.
Creativity and project management might seem mutually exclusive at first glance. But they actually go hand-in-hand. Injecting a little creativity into otherwise mundane project management can help you — and your creative team — reach your goals in new, innovative ways. Follow the tips above and breathe fresh air into your projects this year.
Kayleigh Alexandra is a writer and campaign designer for MicroStartups, a website focused on the charity world, and microbusinesses. With years of experience in the sustainability, marketing, and creative industries, Kayleigh has an in-depth knowledge of how to grow a business from scratch. Visit her blog or follow her @getmicrostarted for the latest startup, entrepreneur, and charity insights.