The art of project management is strongly influenced by the line of work you're in. In some companies, project management is a full-time job, overseeing large teams and multiple, complex projects. Whereas in others, teams are small and task distribution is pretty straightforward.
When it comes to managing creative work, the project manager is often also a team lead—and a team mediator. When everybody has ideas to contribute, managing a creative team requires you to assume the role of a funnel. Your team pours their ideas out and you need to combine all of them into something that makes sense.
These ideas aren't always compatible, so finding a common ground can be difficult.You need to make sure that stakeholders have a say during the development phase and visibility throughout the process, but you also need to make sure the project is finished on time.
With that in mind, here are some tips on how to improve your project management for creative teams.
1. Quality Communication
Regardless of your line of work, communication and collaboration are the keys to success. With creative tasks, this is especially true: people constantly get new ideas as they work, and it’s important that they can share and discuss them with teammates and with their project manager. These new ideas can improve the end product or even change it completely, so, since your product is evolving throughout the creation process, it's crucial that everyone on the team stays well informed.
With instant messaging apps, video conference calls, and collaborative work management tools, teamwork and communication are easier than ever. These work management solutions are often cloud-based, so everyone can upload their work, discuss progress, collect feedback, and access it from anywhere and on any internet-connected device. For distributed teams especially, these project management solutions are real lifesavers.
2. Set Boundaries
While you don't want to strangle your team's creativity, you do need to focus and set boundaries when it comes to brainstorming new ideas. If you fail to set a theme and clarify your creative project's goals, work will become chaotic and spiral in all directions. Truly creative minds use boundaries to fuel their creative problem solving abilities, add depth to their work, and thoroughly explore the possibilities within the set constraints.
On the other hand, if you're working on an open-ended creative project that is similar to Futurama, Adventure Time, or South Park, having an “anything goes” mindset might be a good thing. But it's still important to have some sort of theme that acts as an anchor, and to build on that foundation.
3. Create Flexible Deadlines
High-quality creative products can't be rushed. Of course, you should never allow a project to drag on with no clear deadline, but giving yourself flexible due dates or building in some buffer time around your key milestones can significantly improve the quality of the end product—and save your team a ton of stress.
You can create a far better video game and user experience if you take the time to ensure there aren't any bugs that interfere with gameplay. You'll produce a much more compelling story by slowing down and eliminating plot holes and irregularities. When you are in a hurry you can’t notice all of these minor details, but your customers certainly do.
So meet with all the appropriate project sponsors and stakeholders at the outset of your project and negotiate a deadline. Then plot out the key milestones you'll need to meet in order to make that deadline feasible—and don't forget to consider the possible risks and issues that could interfere with or delay your team's progress. Also, make sure you leave enough time for the necessary edits before your product is released.
These elements are crucial for successful creative project management. Remember to maintain healthy communication, define a common goal that anchors the whole team, and set realistic deadlines for your creative projects. If you can do these three things, you are much more likely to create something truly amazing.
David Miller is a researcher with several years of experience in the field of teaching, project management, and training. He is associated with prestigious brands and many leading organizations for his expertise in project management. He is currently researching the effectiveness of project management software, and is a contributing author with ProProfs. Connect with him on LinkedIn or Twitter.