The Ever Changing State of Creative Project Management

Over fifteen years ago I started writing about creative agency operations. It started out as a necessity, to teach the people in the agencies I worked for how to get work done. As a creative producer, I knew that if I taught people how to work together and get their act together, then I would gain time. Time to craft, time to get ideas made, time to do more with less.

It started out as a survival tactic. If I could teach everyone in the agency what was expected of them, then when it came to working outside the normal way of doing things, then people made rational decisions.

Together, we will figure it out and get it done. 

That’s what my upcoming book is about. There are no easy ways to manage the process of creativity. The technology changes daily, everything has a digital component, narrative content and social expediency clash. We partner with our clients at all different levels, produce our own IP and products, build internal labs and content studios.

Creative firms simply do more today than ever before. 

If we want to stay in business, then we have to match ways of working that fit what we do. There is no such thing as best practices anymore. What works well for one project, can cause chaos for the next.  That doesn’t mean we have to re-invent the wheel, we just have to have a wheel house of basics to use as an arsenal when managing creative work.

As you grow, your project management needs change.

Can a creative firm scale its business while maintaining its crucial alignment between its competitive strategy and its organization design? How do you grow your business, stay innovative and keep the client / agency partnership strong?

Many agencies have shifted away from big functions, or “disciplines” (like production, design, strategy, design, and so on) and have shifted to interdisciplinary teams. The big shift from functional structure to team structures have presented both challenges and success.

It can be hard to not get stuck in old ways.

In Clayton Christensen’s “The Innovator’s Dilemma” he shows that most businesses fail to change because their cultures reflect long-standing client cultures. It may seem easier to stick with the old ways of working, but emergence of so many new platforms have made the old ways of working a poor fit.

Others have already moved on. Rarely will you find agencies that serve a particular boxed-in discipline. Your agency may have started out as a digital agency, but now you work across platforms, whether on the web, mobile or social. You now find agencies building new social objects, applications, products and in-house content.

Innovation has not been limited to digital media, in traditional media, the broadcast commercial is now content living long-form, or short form online. Storytelling and narrative has now opened up into conversations and experiences

The way agencies have build strategy has also changed. It’s no longer about brand or campaigns. User, social, service and customer experience strategy has changed the way we think strategically.

The complexity of the work and how it interrelates with a clients overall brand work continues to branch out in new and unique ways.

How an agency operates, what talent they employee, what processes they use pool into an agency culture that is built specifically for the ways the organization meets these challenges.

In my upcoming book, I will be looking at project management as a strategic way in which you can support your agency to meet its values, mission and goals. First off, I want to acknowledge some important shifts on project management in the creative services firms.

Today’s agencies embrace project management as:

  • Having a vital and central role.
  • Client facing.
  • Define and manage scopes-of-work.
  • Manage end-to-end resources and costs.
  • Billable role.
  • Strong team & project leaders.
  • Critical thinkers who are experts in specific technical areas.
  • Servant managers to self-organizing teams

However, being a project management is not for everyone. It takes a lot to be a successful project manager.  While I believe every project manager needs to be creative in order to be successful, managing creativity and innovation adds another layer of complexity to what you do.

You are a team member, a leader, a manager, a producer, an expediter and an organizer. You are part coach, shoulder-to-lean on, and one strong blockade busting force. As a creative project manager, you are going to be called upon to manage projects that very few people have tackled, or even attempted to build. 

You are not alone in this venture. While it may look to the outside world that you have superpowers, you are not a superhero. You are human.

You will get in over your head at some point. You may be assigned a project that you have no idea how you are going to do it, let alone being on-time and on-budget. You are human, as well. It’s okay to fail. (I know everyone says that right? But do they really mean it? Yes, and if they don’t, who cares, you tried and you learned something.)

Above all, you have a team. Use them. Help them and they will help you. Their voice can be valuable, and so can their perspective. Get a bunch of empowered people in a room and you have a bunch of motivated people that can figure out how to get almost anything done.

As a creative project manager you are helping to make something that never existed before. You are going to do it with a team you may never have thought you would be working with, ever. It’s going to be hard work. You may have to work long-hours with people that have very strong personalities. You may have to build new processes and ways of working on the fly and .We are project managers because we want to build too. We want to help the team get there, and see the company and our client’s succeed.