“Absolutely, I can project manage at a creative agency. . . I’ve been managing projects at large corporations for years!”
Little did I know, the corporate process would not equal success for a creative agency. In addition, the very definition of “project manager” varies wildly from one creative agency to the next.
Agencies are aware of the 5 ONs: Scope, Schedule, Budget, Quality, and Resource Management, but creativity comes first, not rigid process. That being said, as I have spent time through trial and error to define what works best for my team, I’ve determined three must-haves in order to effectively balance projects in the creative agency waters.
1. Balance how each person works best
One of the things I needed 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. I’m not here to lead a process, I’m here to work with my team to come up with a structure and approach that works for everyone.
- Communication – This may be different for every person on the team: email, text, phone call, face-to-face, web conferences. I’m happy to accommodate all of it; however, depending on agency size, multiple options can be challenging. Have a conversation with the team. It’s critical to slim down the desired means of communication.
- Tracking Tasks – Everyone has a different way of checking off that “completed” box. Once again, understanding this informs how I manage each project, while staying flexible.
- Digital Tools – So many!! Trello, Slack, Harvest, Dropbox, DevOps, Asana, JIRA, Confluence, Planview, etc. So, why can’t I implement ALL of them now? It’s NOT all about process. To gain consistent use across the team, focus on the tool most beneficial for the agency first and slowly add others as needed. I prefer Team-Success to Failure-by-Annoying-PM!
- Meetings – Lesson Learned: Clearly MORE meetings is NOT the answer. A quick fly-by my coworker’s desk may be all that is needed.
2. Balance the agency process with the client process
Unlike corporate projects, where the approach and methodologies are the same from one project to the next, creative projects evolve and change from project to project.
Task 1: define the creative agency process. Easy: Flexible, Relational, Collaborative
Task 2: Align that process with the client process. What? What happened to my way or the highway? Here is where I reiterate, a good project manager is dedicated to making the client experience smooth and enjoyable.
Here are a few key ways to balance the expectations of both the internal and client-side teams:
- Management Styles – Depending on the client, I need to be open to different styles of project management–from directed to team-oriented to self-organizing.
- Tools – So many options for tracking projects, testing protocols, status reports, etc. A great PM is always ready to learn and use what works best for all, so long as duplicating efforts is minimal. Collaboration is key!
- Communication – Client + Agency = We . . . “We” are a team working together to the make a killer deliverable. When we work internally, we never refer to our clients as “they.” Their priorities are our priorities. We are always looking for ways to regroup and respond to “Lessons Learned” with transparency and humility.
3. Balance the project with a master timeline
It’s a well-known fact that Project Managers wear many hats Guess what? So does everyone else at a creative agency. Clearly there are SMEs for every area–but when a client has a critical request, it’s ALL-HANDS-ON-DECK. Sound like a PM nightmare? Nah, we are used to juggling! But what is the best means for keeping the team informed? With so many moving pieces, a high-level, master timeline makes shuffling schedules and work a breeze.
- Touch Base – Teams meets twice a week to review what’s planned and what might derail the plan.
- Document – Craft an easy visual of every project’s timeline. This makes shifting resources a snap.
- Central Location – Everyone has access to the master timeline in order to confirm assigned projects/schedule.
Whatever methodology your agency uses, the way you handle building project management into the process can either make or break a project’s success. Keep these tips in mind and you will be a valued and successful member of your creative agency team.