Ed’s Guidelines for Managing Creative Firms & Teams.

Learn to talk about what you do, and how you do it.

It doesn’t matter if you are an agency owner, an account person, a project manager or a developer, everyone in the agency needs to be able to talk to a client. You should be able to tell them why you are working a certain way, and why your way of doing things is important to your process. 

Creative projects, technical or not, require a high-level of client/agency trust. When everyone in the agency feels comfortable enough to talk to a client, then both sides can be at ease and have a clear understanding of expectations.

Clients need to feel that the agency has their back, that everyone is focused on the outcome.  Not every client is savvy technology wise. Make them feel comfortable, take the time to explain things using plain english.  If they don’t understand something, or don’t feel comfortable with what you are doing, a client can easily fall back into old thinking and habits.

Your client should also be considered as part of the team. If a process in your agency is compromising your client’s level of need, talk to them about it. Together as a team, you should be able to work together to ensure that client is cool with the way the team is working.

It’s also about the team defining and using the same language. In this blog, we may use the word project manager loosely — a lot. However, unless you define what that word means and the entire team agrees with what that definition, than it’s up for interpretation and confusion.

That goes for many of the words that you use around you agency, make sure everyone has the same understanding, to prevent misunderstandings.

Be transparent in all things... have no regrets about it.

Be as open as you can with all of your people, all of the time.
No conditions, no hidden agendas.

There is no way you can run a complex project, or an agency without giving people the information they need to effectively do there job. Operating with transparency means working in a way that it’ becomes easy for others to see what’s going on. 

Tell your team your goals, your expectations, when there are problems with them or within. Giving them all the information they need and that’s available is a must if people are going to effectively collaborate, cooperate and make collective decisions.

The sooner you get things out in the open, the faster you can concentrate on building change or working towards that goal. 

Want a project to be profitable? Want a client to be profitable? Provide the financial information that your team needs so they can stay with the proper constraints to be profitable.

When you are transparent and honest with information, your team will move mountains to make things happen. Want people to be engaged and accountable? Then they need to know that they have some skin in the game.

Simple rules for hiring folks

Who should you hire. 

No A-holes.
No “talented” Jerks.
No “one vision” Jerks.
Hire the person, not the role.
Not perfect people.
People that can teach you something new.
People that want to learn.
Hire for diversity of personality and views.
Introverts & Extraverts, Ambiverts and Weirdos.
Critical thinkers.

Tell people the truth when hiring...

What’s good about working for you.
What’s good about the agency.
What’s bad about working for you.
What’s bad about working in the agency. they feel open to the truth when interviewing.

Simple rules for firing folks

Who should you fire. 

Jerks & A-holes
Credit hogs
People who treat others poorly, because they feel the same about you.
Jerk Clients
Dishonest Clients
Poor Clients


As soon as you possibly can.

Innovation and iteration are different

The process is not the same to achieve both.

In our post-digital world, we’ve come to a place where we have seen the power of participation, creating value, doing things for people, creating experiences and understanding behavior is the new norm.

That doesn’t mean we should give up on being disruptive. Managing creative projects can call for both iteration and disruptive processes to get you to a place you want to be. 

The creative process is the generation of ideas, innovation and iteration are the gains made at the project’s outcome.

Sometimes you need to disrupt to move the conversation forward, to provide momentum and something a heck of a lot more useful than what was before.

When you are innovating, there is one simple rule, design the process to fit the project. The challenge for you is how and when you should modify your process. How you modify your design process comes down to how you view the world. It’s this view that will modify your process to fit your perspective on how to tackle the problem at hand.  

Traditional project management & agile can be two different worlds

In the organizational world, hierarchy breeds levels of management. Big leaders have little leaders, there is rank, and a verticalness that we were all taught at an early stage, to strive to climb the corporate ladder.

The Agile world is horizontal, flat. It is working dynamically to create work within small teams with a range of talented folks. Making money is only the result of the success of the team’s project.

In my upcoming book, I stress that Agile involves self-organizing teams working in an iterative fashion to deliver continuous additional value to customers. It’s working with speed and flexibility, that a world of hierarchy hinders. 

While a good portion of this book covers project management in a seemingly traditional sense, it does so with the understanding that project management of successful creative projects requires a collapse of agency hierarchy. 

Teams and project leads need to work as close as possible to clients and customers as possible, and that means that we have to have to honor new frameworks of what project management looks like.

The reason this site explores a range of project management thinking, is simple. Even in an agile environment, you will still run into projects and outside partners that will require a foot in both worlds to manage creative outcomes.

Align your process to your agency’s value system

Success of implementing real project management in an agency requires that company values and project management values are congruent. Good creative project management cultures are ones where the role & responsibilities of the project manager are clearly identified, supported at the executive level and understood by everyone in the company.

If you want project management to work it requires that company goals, objectives, and values be well understood by all members of the project team and the agency itself.

The old model of layers of account management running projects is at an end. If you have gate-keepers in your organization of any kind that prevent the entire team to move forward together, then you are not practicing these values.

Agency culture must support the basic values of team management:

  • Cooperation & Respect
  • Teamwork
  • Trust
  • Effective Communication
  • Collaboration

The values apply to all types of project management and project managers. It doesn’t matter what methodology or service you offer, the basics skills in this book build on these values to help form critical decision-making for the people in your agency that have an effect on the outcome of your projects.

Why Self-directed teams rule.

Building real self-directed teams in an agency require more than just identify values, its making them part of the way you do business. Agility comes from teams that are empowered to make change, allowed to experiment, and are as much doers as they are thinkers. Self-directed team cultures take the values of project management one step further, by applying them to every level of the organization.

If you want self-directed teams to work, it requires agency values that allow them to be independent. In my upcoming book, we will explore the connection between agility, being agile and working under Agile methodologies.  The shift to self-directed teams and an agency culture that supports them are not new concepts.

We can however, look to the origins of working Agile the, “Agile Manifesto,” to seek out values that will help us build effective teams.

Individuals and interactions over processes and tools

Working software (or stuff) over comprehensive documentation

Customer collaboration over contract negotiation

Responding to change over following a plan

Working under this manifesto means, while you value items on the right, Agile values the items on the left more. These values are the philosophical part of how Agile works, to gives your teams maximum agility.

From a practical stand-point, formal Agile Methodologies have to be translated into what a creative firm does everyday.  This is where the real value of Agile lays — helping organizations to think with agility. 

Let’s translate how a creative firm can use the “Agile Manifesto,” and it’s values to help guide building agility into our firm.

When we focus first on individuals and interactions, it allows for flexibility in the way we work, to find ways of working that work best for each client and each project. However, if their are better ways to collaborate with your client — go for it. You may develop standard workflows that you use for most projects, but if it’s not working, ditch it for something else that works.

When we think about Agile, we tend to think about it from a software delivery process. Your firm may be delivering a lot more than development projects, but the focus on creating things first is important. The focus should be on giving clients solutions that meet their real needs, cutting out formal steps that lengthen the process of getting to the building stage.

Agency contracts have certainly changed in the past years, the biggest challenge for an agency is getting to a point where everyone is on the same page of what’s happening, why it’s happening, and where things are going next. It’s about setting expectations and acknowledge that task-based estimating doesn’t fit with the ability to have the agility to have anyone in the agency working on their projects depending on the final solution.

Responding to change means focusing on contract building that allows as-needed course corrections to projects without stopping the project, renegotiating and re-estimating. While every agency still does a fair amount of planning, change is going to happen. This means that you do need to structure a way of working that accommodates both flexibility, and expectation-setting for what you can get for the amount of money you are getting for a fee or project. 

If your agency is not already working with Agile methodologies,  I think you will find that you may already be applying some of these principals currently in your agency. The core Agile principals, while developed for the software industry, can apply to almost any project where change is a constant. Some of them may be a fit for you.

Build an agency that provides the best client and employee experience

The old agency model worked because it fit a certain type of environment. We can still learn a lot from the old ways of working, if only to consider how we can deconstruct it to meet the needs of today’s diversity of projects.

What creative firms do is called the creative process. — they develop an idea and then they make it.  

How they do it is determined by their process, culture and their people. This combination of factors is what makes an agency unique or best suited to providing certain types of services.

There is no such thing as a new agency model, there is only your model, your world and your business. It’s about getting the people making the work in your firm as close as possible to the idea. Getting out of the way of your teams so they can deliver work that is unique to the ask.

Think about how you want your firm to operate at the experience level. Organizational Experience Design (or OxD) forces us to think about the way an organization operates at the experiential level. 

  • OxD helps us to build the agency from an experience level:
  • Creates frameworks for the way we work over process.
  • Seeks to reduce logistics so that clients have the best agency experience.
  • Seeks to adjust the way the firm works to best fit a particular project.
  • Builds in ways to continual learn, experiment and do more with less.
  • Seeks to eliminate redundant, inefficient or outdated ways of working. 

An effective creative firm...

Puts young (and old) creatives in front of clients,
letting them hear unfiltered problems and insights.

Allows creatives to be “creative.”

Provides value to their clients that others can’t. 

Laugh with each other, support each other.

Values and allows everyone to contribute and be creative.

No longer has “accounts,” they have projects that breed
projects that lead to new projects.

Has senior project managers and senior team members,
that are supported in a learning environment.

Is comfortable with creating narrative that is crafted,
adaptable and responsive.

Works hard and stays humble.

Talks to each other, and says “Hello, Goodnight & Welcome.”

Has thinkers that are makers.

Builds to learn.

Casts for talent, mind-sets and unique skills not titles.

Thinks of every team member is a stakeholder in the work and in
the organization

If the work sucks or is not good enough they trash it and start over.

Craft and design still count as much as functionality and usability

Within the chaos in which ideas are born, is the acknowledgement that as much as we are original creative thinkers, we are the craftsmen of ideas. As makers for hire, we take on the responsibility of building something that is worthy of being talking about and shared.

When we put our all into a project, we put our heart into making something special; the originality and emotion shows. Our goal in today’s world is to make stuff that our audience finds interesting, wants to share and will find relevant months from now.

We are past the days where awareness is the single end goal. We want our work (and our clients’ brands) to be the favored choice. Every consumer dollar hard earned, they analyze every purchase and truly take into account how passionate they are about a specific item before they make a purchase.

As consumers ourselves, we are equally as passionate about our choices. 

In a creative shop, crafting is part of who we are and is one way of refining our chaos. Crafting shows in both small and large ways -— it’s important to allow crafting a chance to happen for it evolves the work, refines our targeting, and will tell a better story that people will want to share.

How we craft creative work versus getting something to market in an iteration environment needs to balance storytelling, the importance of strategy, and creating content that sticks.