How do we accomplish the impossible?
How do we make a big idea come alive? How do we make something that never existed before real? Everyone, will be asked at least once (although as project managers it seems like everyday), to make the seemingly undoable, doable. Under impossible conditions and overwhelming odds, we will be challenged to make crazy asks, happen.
In 1990, at the age of twenty-one, I was lucky enough to land my first job with a small creative marketing firm, where I was equally lucky enough to encounter my first mentor, Curt. Through the years, Curt would impart many, valuable lessons. He believed in creating a culture that support self-organized teams, where everyone was valued, contributed, played a role and helped each other to problem solve.
It was a collective of people that were united, passionate and full of energy. They loved to make stuff, whether for a client or themselves. It was that passion and constant activity that seemed to provide a never ending boost for everyone.
Over fifteen years ago I started writing about creative agency operations. It started out as a necessity, to teach the people in the agency’s 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.
Creative land can be stressful.
We have deadlines, demanding clients, and people that we work with that can drive us mad. The terms "creative shop" and “sweatshop" are too often used interchangeably when it comes to describing certain work environments. Working late nights, on the weekends, or on vacation is considered normal. A creative career with a positive work-life balance is often very hard to come by.
Truth be told, many organizations value “the work” above all else. The work pays the bills and keep the clients coming. Too often, we forget that it's the people behind the work that make it happen.
As employees, I think we are pretty savvy when it comes to deciding where we work. We know ahead of time what we are getting ourselves into. You can bet we’ve googled the company and its leadership, and checked out the dirt on industry blogs. Our friends have told us about the environment, the recruiter used certain words to clue us in, and quite frankly, the company’s values are pretty much out in the open.
Recently, I attended a panel on project management as an audience member. One of the topics that kept coming up was, “What makes a great project manager?” I don’t think the panel ever fully got around to fully answering the heart of the question.
Over the years, my project management style has certainly changed. But when I look back to when and where I was very successful, I can see certain patterns emerge.
Beyond the Mechanics and Taskmaster
If you have ever taken a project management course, or worked on your PMP, you tend to focus on the mechanics of how to manage a project. How to create a scope, a project plan, identifying tasks, navigating process, risk, milestones and deadlines are all things that are taught and learned. Certainly these are skills are important to know, a strong foundation in the basics means you can apply these concepts.
Indeed, knowledge of the mechanics is often one of the key things people look for in a project manager. However, if all you did as a project manager was to apply these concepts religiously, you may find yourself in the role and style of a taskmaster. I think this is where a lot of company’s get it wrong. If you are all business, and driven by tasks, productivity and outcomes, you might find yourself driving people on your team away from working as a team.
I’ll give you an example. I remember when I started at a very well known creative shop. First day on the job, I had a very senior project manager come up to me and announce, “Hi, my name is ______, and I’m a bitch. Get use to it.”
I raised an eyebrow, like I tend to do, and I thought to myself, wow — great first impression, I bet everyone just loves to work with you.
From the outside, upper management thought she was one of the most productive people in the company. And yes, this person got stuff done. This person valued outcomes and this is what management saw, and by providing positive feedback she felt empowered.
So yes, this person got stuff done, but bullied everyone along the way. Did anyone want to work with this individual? No, this empowered person, lacked empathy. While this style may push work through, it wreaked havoc on the creative teams. While this individual may have completed things on time, if you compared this person’s projects with other project managers, you would see some significant differences...
When it comes to managing how work gets done organization wide, advertising agencies are anything but typical when it comes to workflow & process. Part of what makes an agency special (besides the people that work there) is the agency's approach to how they create work. It’s also driven in part, by how the agency tries to carve out a unique place for itself among the hundreds of agencies in at the marketplace.
In the past, we often identified agencies by either being account or creative driven. Now, however, we identify agencies in dozens of different ways from being creative, account, digital, data-driven, interactive with varying 360° experience, a general agency with varying degrees of interactive experience, to name just a few. This fragmentation of focus and company values has lead to a greater variety in workflow paths among agencies.
As experienced managers we know the dangers and pitfalls of having a workflow process that leans toward one of these extremes. It's no wonder that many agencies are re-examining project management and redefining traditional roles within the agency. In the quest to better manage our agencies, we are tearing down traditional silos to create cross-functional teams, but on the opposite end we are also creating new digital silos with technical teams that seem to have a narrower creative function...