Defining Creative Project Management

A project manager’s role is to apply his or her knowledge, skills, experience, processes and methods to achieve a projects objectives. In creative projects, where the objectives are, well, subjective, they often play the often un-discussed role in shaping the creative. A creative project’s objectives are often very undefined, and the choices you make as a project manager, can directly effect the outcome.

This is a power that can be used for both for good and evil. You can just as easily kill a creative idea or support a whole new avenue of discovery. 

As a creative project manager keep that thought in mind, as you are making the important decisions. If anything, I want you to focus on one of the hidden rules in creative project management; the gut check. This reminds ourselves to ask, “Would I want to use this? Is this right? Is this good enough?” While you should always be asking yourself this question, seek the final answer with the team.

As a creative project manager, one of the things you have to recognize in creative land, is that off-the-shelf project management just doesn’t work when it comes to managing creative people doing creative things to make something creative.

Even the definition of a what a “project manager” is and does is going to vary wildly from one creative firm to the next. Creative project management is not leading process, it’s about working with your team to come up with a structure and approach that works for everyone.

How the agency approaches a project from one to the next, will often change team member roles, and what a project manager does, from one project to the next and from one creative agency to the next. 

Project manager, interactive producer, digital project manager, integrated producer, product manager, team leaders, scrum masters are just some of the titles in creative land that are tasked with having a role all or in a part as a project manager. Even creative, strategy, technology and account leads can play a project manager role in the agency at times. If you hold any of these titles, the content in this book will help you along in managing creative projects. 

What’s Different About Managing Creative Projects?

Unlike projects where the approach and methodologies are the same from one project to the next, creative projects evolve and change from project to project. Creative projects are well known for switching directions significantly mid-project and with each iteration. 

Whatever methodology your agency uses, the way you handle building project management into the process can either break or make a project’s success. At the same time, we will work to identify what skills and abilities a creative project manager is going to need to be a valued and successful member of the agency team.

Be Flexible

Be flexible while working within process and structures. Use your creative and strategic thinking in the way that can help mold and shape teams. Build your range of hard and soft skills competency so that you can balance team needs with project outcomes. 

Project management no longer covers one discipline. Today’s creative project managers may embody many of the traits of a digital project manager, but they are really multi-disciplined project managers. Interactive projects are just one of the disciplines a project manager is going to be called on to manage during the course of their career, or their day.

A creative project manager has to be flexible while providing governance to the process and structure, tracking budgets and the team. Be ready and willing to push back when necessary, and to refocus the team. Get ready to be client-facing and be ready to interact.

A project manager is also responsible for fostering a healthy team dynamic. Creative teams will often encounter conflict while refining ideas and making decisions. This is a normal part of the creative process. A project manager is in the unique position to help cool things off when situations get complicated. 

As a creative project manager you are going to have to be comfortable with using different styles of project management, from directed, team-oriented to self-organizing. The complexity of what a pm does can be chaotic, just remember, you have the ability and the capability to be flexible enough to get the job done.

Project Management Basics: Defining a Project

A project as defined in the PMBOK by the Project Management Institute (PMI):

• is a temporary endeavor with a beginning and an end

• creates a unique service, or result, which we call a deliverable

• is done for a purpose

• has interrelated activities

• is progressively elaborated; that is, the distinguishing characteristics of each unique project will be progressively detailed as the project is better understood

• must meet specific criteria of quality, cost, and schedule (these three factors are called the triple constraint)

Creative & Innovative Projects are often;

• Time Bound, specific periods of time that it isn’t endless; it has a start date and an end date.

• Unique, meaning that it is unlike any other project. It may be similar to other projects but it is never identical to one. Let me note, here, that this is what distinguishes a project from a process. A project is unique; a process is repeatable and strives for consistency, standardizationand no deviation from a standard.

• Deliverable means that it has an outcome.

• Purpose means that there is a reason for doing it. Generally there is a technical reason (utilize a new or existing platform), a communication reason (what information needs to be conveyed), and/or a business reason (beating or eliminating competition).

• Interrelated means that the activities in a project depend on one another; the activities are not performed in isolation. When developing a new product, the design, supply chain & marketing activities are interrelated.

• Progressively elaborate means that more knowledge of the project is revealed as the team understands the project better. Sort of like peeling away the layers of an onion.

• Quality means the project satisfies the objectives for which it was undertaken.

• Cost means meeting the total planned cost of conducting the project; it includes both human and physical resources; soft and hard costs.

• Schedule means meeting the total planned time to complete the project, as well as the milestones along the way.

The Three Project Objectives for Creative Projects

Whether complex or simple, high-budget or low-budget, lengthy or short in time, all projects have the same three general objectives: meeting quality criteria (aka performance or scope), meeting time constraints, and meeting cost boundaries. These three objectives are called the “triple constraint.”