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Benefits of Instituting Project Management

Throughout the growth and evolution of the Creative department, there will come a time when the approach of clients bringing projects to their “favorite” designers for consultation and completion will no longer be workable. The volume will become too great. What then? In departments where intake and project assignment is centralized, but the project spans multiple team members and requires management of client involvement who is accountable for the project’s outcome? You? That doesn't seem scalable or sustainable. What approach will work when your current one no longer does? Project Management.

Project Management is the first step in “specialization” in the Creative department evolution. Rather than each designer/writer/editor/etc. working with specific clients, possibly getting overwhelmed by increasing client demands and spending much more time on administrative and client tasks than on their core function, project management allows specialization of the administrative function to “free up” your specialists to do what they do best …what they were hired for: design, writing, editing, etc.

So where does the process begin to institute project management?

1. Specify people to be project managers.
These can be existing team members who are good at organization and administration and want to focus all their talents in that area. Hiring people (depending on head count) is also an option—and probably the better option, but a challenging one in today’s world. Background in a creative studio or ad agency doing project management is helpful. In-house creative project managers need to understand deadlines, as well as be detail-oriented, very organized, and unflappable.

2. Consider distinguishing between internal project management (traffic/department workload) and client project management (client-facing people skills)
When beginning to add project management into the Creative department process, like Stephen Covey says in his book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” begin with the end in mind. In other words, how is the project management function going to be used? Managing the flow of projects in the studio is just as critical as being client-facing. And the skill sets are different. Internally, you work more with creative, with certain sensitivities and outsourcing, whereas client-facing skills are another specialty (a delicate balance of diplomacy and firmness). Consider what your department needs and design the role/s to meet those needs. If you must hybrid the role (as many creative departments do), keep both sides of the role in mind in the hiring/selection process. It is imperative to place people in the project management function where they will best be successful for the entire department. You can have Project Managers of different flavors—internal and external facing. Some groups will call the external facing one an Account Manager, but the role isn’t really an Account Manager by industry standards—just a way of distinguishing the different audiences. In my experience, it is worth the ramp-up time and transition to have at least 1 Project Manager in each specialty. The work will be more organized and go smoother, as each specialty is a separate focus.

3. Project management is the foundation for ALL workflow in the Creative department
Project management is the organization that ensures the on-time, on-budget (work hours or client dollars), on-target delivery of projects. It maximizes designers’ time, creative reviews, client meetings – everything that the larger organization will “grade” your department on, It also helps keep your designers “fresh,” growing, and non-frustrated. With all the information accumulated, deadlines managed, and communication with vendors and clients handled, the designer can focus on creating the design solution.

At the most basic level, Project Mangers need to put basic tools in place such as an Excel spreadsheet with all the jobs and their deadlines and delivery milestones—but more sophistication will come quickly. You as the Creative Leader can in one glance know the status of every job and designers’ workload in your shop. It is a huge timesaver as a management tool. Project management also creates efficiency. With all material from the client, deadlines, specs assembled before the job starts, the designer can be much more efficient with his time and effective with the project’s results. What a joy for designer, leader, and client alike! And finally, project management just makes workflow, delivery, and meeting client expectations much smoother, easier and organized, because someone is paying attention just to those details – they’re not part of someone’s job, they are someone’s job.

4. Don’t get myopic with the details
As mentioned above, Project Management is the foundation for the efficient and effective flow and delivery of ALL projects in the Creative department. And it isn’t the ONLY thing to pay attention to when managing projects. Sometimes Project Managers can get so focused on the details of the project they forget the client objectives (if they are client facing) or the specialties and sensitivities of designers (if managing internal workflow) – thus not maximizing the function of project management. Getting so caught up in the details of the project, you forget the client objectives or assign the wrong job to a designer is analogous to being “unable to see the forest through the trees.” So, when instituting project management, ensure the project manager is capable enough to handle the details while keeping the “big picture” of the client or designer in mind.

5. Project Management tools are essential
Excel spreadsheets are basic for tracking the Creative department workflow (traffic) of projects, but instituting a specialized software tool designed for that function is better. As for tools for client-facing project managers, Creative Briefs, Schedules, Change Orders, etc. are essential. In addition, to keeping the project organized, the perception with the client is that your department is professional and that the Client-Studio relationship is a partnership — each respecting the talents and contribution of the other. Use customer relationship management tools and approach at the beginning of instituting the client-facing project management function so that best practices are the norm up front.

Growth is always tricky. There are so many unknowns. But with a few tools and “hints” as to what to expect, the growing pains can become less painful and more about achieving the project and department goals that will make life easier and more effective for everyone – both designer and client alike!


Susan Hunnicutt

Cella Consultant Susan Hunnicutt is an expert in using marketing and communications to achieve business objectives. She works with organizational leaders to assess their needs, determine their goals, analyze their resources and develop an action plan and recommendations to meet these goals. Susan’s value proposition is taking a growing in-house creative team “to the next level,” not only in metrics but also in systems and processes, quality control and increasing the number of high-profile and quality client projects.    

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