Project management plays a critical role in the world of in-house studio projects, and it's important to have a strong framework in place for managing projects. But what skills and tools are most important for your PM team? Maybe you've asked or have been asked if your project management team members should be working toward getting their PMP certifications.

That's a good question. It's true that the Project Management Professional (PMP) is recognized globally as the preeminent certification for project managers. The PMP is recommended for a wide variety of experienced project managers "responsible for all aspects of project delivery, leading and directing cross-functional teams[1]." Therefore, it might follow that receiving the PMP certification should be the obvious objective for all project managers--regardless of focus.

Yet the PMP framework was designed for large, complex projects likely beyond the scope of anything our in-house teams will see. In fact, if applied directly to our in-house projects, the scale and detail of the process included in the PMP training might actually create inefficiencies and be counter-productive. A modified framework whittled down to those essential steps that add value is what we need for the in-house studio.

But is there a benefit?
Is it possible to understand and follow the essential steps of the process without knowing the full-blown methodology? Absolutely.

Can we apply the fundamental analytical tools without knowing more advanced techniques? Without a doubt.

So then we should next think about the ROI of pursuing the PMP. There is a significant hurdle in terms of time and cost to document experience, complete the coursework, and study and sit for the exam. In my case, earning my PMP gave me a broader and deeper understanding of the process and methodologies that might be employed by PMs (on very large-scale projects), but it did not change the way my team or I managed projects. What it did for me was give me the confidence to know that our Studio was already adhering to best practices and the basic framework prescribed within the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK).

Before I began preparing for the PMP, we were already implementing selected components within each of the phases of initiation, planning, executing, controlling and closing. Within that framework, we had been operating and continue to operate rather flexibly, taking into consideration factors that include the uniqueness of each project and the need to keep costs low. As an in-house team constrained by project budgets, we must be able to use common sense in our approach to projects so that we operate in a "lean and mean" way. This does not mean that we ignore steps of the process we have defined, but rather that those steps are scaled to meet the needs of the individual project. For example, a large, complex, and/or new creative project will require more extensive planning documentation than a low-tier project, yet both require written documentation of requirements and scope that have been reviewed and approved by the client/sponsor.

The skills that matter most
Ultimately, the most effective PMs of creative projects are those who have a firm grasp on the creative process and are skilled at effectively managing the constraints of time, scope and cost. Within the world of in-house creative, these organized individuals can often be a good balance of right- and left-brainedness. The PMP exam, on the other hand, places some heavy weighting on tools and techniques that may be geared more toward those with a left-brain inclination. The training goes heavily into tools and techniques that are beyond what we will need in our in-house studio such as:

  • Performance measurement and tracking techniques including EV, EVM, CPM, PERT
  • Project control limits, e.g., threshold tolerance
  • Cost analysis techniques
  • Trend analysis
  • Workflow diagramming techniques

My own in-house group uses metrics and data extensively to track the successes and efficiency of the Studio. Despite our heavy use of analytics, our PM team is rarely tasked to go much beyond creation of an estimate to completion or variance analysis. I cannot envision us using tools and techniques such as expected monetary value (EMV) analysis or earned value management (EVM) analysis in our day-to-day project management.

Once the in-house group establishes the basic framework, the project management team will need to employ a host of skills to drive successful projects. Working with creative teams requires a fair amount of emotional intelligence. Effective PMs need to demonstrate empathy and team spirit to inspire and lead their project teams. Skills of collaboration, communication, empathy, and effective meeting management are vital skills behind our team's success in creative project management.

The application of critical thinking and learning more about one's tradecraft is always beneficial in some way, so this is not meant to discourage someone who is interested in taking the steps toward obtaining the PMP; rather, this is meant to explain why development of other skills is far more applicable and beneficial for in-house creative PMs. Meeting facilitation training, leadership activities, and team building exercises that build collaboration will be more applicable and important to the day-to-day tasks of PMs than the PMP certification will be. Project management is a key ingredient to successful projects, and PMs who are collaborative and communicative leaders are the most successful for in-house teams.