Project managers are not there to kill the creativity

 

I don’t hate Mondays. I really don’t. There was a time when I used to, but that was back when I was in a workplace where I felt I didn’t serve any purpose, where the given goals didn’t match my capacities and skill set. Luckily, I left my old job, played a bumblebee buzzing from one flower (job) to the other, trying to find the perfect team to join in. Eventually, I settled down in Saturized.

 

Now when I get up on Monday, I think about the people I will see that day at work and I can’t wait to actually get to the office and have those quick, yet essential chit-chats on the margins of the daily meetings. I have 10 to 12 of those, depending on the number of projects I am helping the team accomplish at a given moment.

So, as you would assume, I work as a project manager in a creative agency. Creativity and management. Seems like a bit of a paradox, doesn’t it? When you think of a project manager, you might think of a suit, bossing around his/her team, pointing at the clock and randomly muttering concerns about deadlines. On the other hand, when you think about creative industries, you would probably generate an image of a place bustling with endless creativity, the endless number of ideas, endless solutions, dreams, visions… So being a project manager in a place of endless freedom that allows people to express themselves can definitely be challenging.

What do I do to accommodate clients’ needs to have a fixed time and fixed budget with the needs of our designers who are artists and creative minds who usually don’t enjoy being limited, especially by time?

The answer is, as always in this line of work, both extremely simple and very complex — communicate, communicate, communicate. That’s the only thing you as a project manager can do. Ok, but what are the main points of this communication?

Communicate the needs and the vision of the client to your team

What does the client want? Is this design made in order to validate a certain idea? Maybe we don’t need to nail the perfect design, we just need to provide a rough sketch that will be enough for user testing and the client will want to work in several iterations until we get to the targeted conversion? Do they want an impeccable visual experience that will take them to another reality? All these questions can influence the pace of the project and by that, influence the time frame and the budget.

Communicate the progress to the senior management

Sometimes it happens that we need to re-estimate the agreed time frame (which is usually not such a big deal for the clients unlike the budget) but then it’s the CEO’s who decide that we are not going to charge extra for the additional costs. This again gives us extra time for creativity within the team.

Communicate with the client

When we estimate a project, we can’t estimate the level of creativity (which cannot be measured anyway). We can only say how much time we usually use for X number of website pages. When establishing the design direction, we take into account the time limit that we have, so that we don’t go overboard and try to design a super-hyper-trendy-flying-cutting-edge thing (what we would love to do with enough time on our hands 🙂 ) but try to keep it concise yet beautiful. However, this is sometimes not enough for the clients and then they do ask for something more wowy, which usually needs additional time. This is a good time for the PM to step in and communicate with the client. Usually one of the two scenarios happens: the client accepts a leaner (yet beautiful) design or they approve the additional time.

Communicate with the Art director

It’s absolutely essential that the Senior designer / Creative director / Art director and the PM understand each other. The PM has to understand the way designers think: they like to get into the flow, to experiment, to do iterations and refining all day long. They see those little flaws like Neo sees Matrix. But PM has to let them explore their creativity. So I turn into a Santa’s little helper and manage all those boring little tasks that annoy the average designer, like making Trello cards. On the other hand, the creative people have to understand that we need to fulfil our business needs, not just the creative needs of the designer’s soul.

Victor Hugo once said: “The human soul has still a greater need of the ideal than of the real. It is by the real that we exist, it is by the ideal that we live.”

After all, don’t we all wish to understand each other better? We all need to communicate better, to be better negotiators, to influence people, to lead them? To know how to evoke the best in people, how to motivate them? Sure, we do!

Work on your communicating skills

Listen and learn how to truly hear people. Then you’ll know how to manoeuvre every tricky situation, every now and then when you stumble upon one. Yes, the organizational skill is extremely important for a PM, but being a good communicator is important as well.

Get in touch and let me know about your thoughts and experiences.

Author: Agneš Asodi

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