Most creative professionals have experience managing projects in some capacity, and everyone has different viewpoints and preferences concerning how those projects can best be accomplished. But project management goes far beyond ensuring deliverables are completed on time and on budget. Your team may be preparing to, or has already begun to, implement project management methods such as Agile, Scrum or Waterfall. Regardless of the methodology, it’s important to adhere to some core project management fundamentals. Here are 10 creative project management tips that anyone, no matter of their position on a creative or marketing team, can use to oversee projects with greater efficiency and effectiveness.
1. Set the tone: Calm is contagious
This project management tip is first because it is the top priority. Navy SEALs use the mantra “calm is contagious” as a reminder that cool heads prevail in stressful situations. Dealing with what seems like an impossible deadline? Lead by instilling calm in even the most challenging and hectic situations. As the project manager, remember that others will take their cues from you.
2. Know the basics: Who, what, when, where, why
Before getting started on any project, make sure you know (and have agreement on) the basics. Who is this project for and who needs to approve it? What are we doing or creating? When does this need to be finished? Where is the end product going to be seen, stored, sent or displayed? And most important, why are we doing this creative project? These details will help streamline the path from concept to final deliverable, so get everyone involved and on the same page from the very start.
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3. Time management: There's almost always enough time if you work smart
Creative project management and creative time management go hand in hand. Even when the timeline is tight, the most important work can still be done if unnecessary tasks are eliminated and other priorities are reordered. When making a pivot, realistically plan for how much time the tasks will take. Think about the time both you and your team have available to accomplish the work. Something always comes up and tasks inevitably take longer than expected, so budget time to allow for those contingencies. Also, be sure the activities being performed truly add value to the end deliverable.
4. Risk management: Think backwards to think ahead
Plan, plan, plan—and plan some more for the unexpected. Take a moment to imagine that you just finished a project. What does that look like? How did you get there? Now think about all of the bumps and surprises encountered along the way. What were they? How could they have been avoided? What couldn't have been avoided and how could you have been better prepared? Give attention to those areas of risk now to steer clear of having to deal with them down the line. Future you will thank the present you.
5. Emotional intelligence: Read the room
Understanding how your team collaborates is key so pay close attention when the group or a team member seems to be off their game. Take note if there's a heightened sense of tension, more snarky comments than usual or if energy has dipped. If there are troubles between team members, it can be difficult for them to work effectively together, particularly when the pressure is on. Remember: No matter which industry you're in, you are in the business of people. You have the ability to influence the outcome of a situation, project or interaction by how you choose to address it.
6. Organization: Making tools and systems work for you
You get out of systems what you put into them, and tools only work if you use them wisely. Take a good look at the project or process you manage, and consider where you excel and where you need some help. Create an organizational system that caters to those strengths and weaknesses and use tools that will serve you best in any areas of need. Whether you turn to your iCal to set reminders, use Boomerang for Gmail as an accountability tool, or simply create a paper-and-pen to-do list, set up a system with whichever tools work best at helping you keep track of everything coming in and going out. Think of them as a safety net to catch every detail for you.
7. Communication: Do it well, do it often
Communicating on a project is all a balancing act. Communicate frequently, but not incessantly. Give as many details as possible, within reason. Err on the side of overcommunication, but make sure you are sending information in the most digestible form possible. Cover all of the "must knows," some of the "nice to knows" and never forget that bullet points are your friend.
8. Prioritization: Work on what's closest to the dollar
Time equals money. Sometimes this may mean working on the most urgent deliverable first. Or the one with the most money riding on it. Or the one that an executive is expecting by close of business today. Evaluate what tasks have to be done when—and why. Prioritize your to-do list by what is connected to the most money or what has the most pressing deadline and needs immediate attention. Even though it might feel good to check the easier items off your list, always get what matters most done first.
9. Budget: Show me the money
Run your project's budget as if you were spending your own money. If possible, pad the total with some extra dollars for unexpected issues and then be excited when you come in under budget. Vendors, materials, tools, and services all typically cost more than you expect. Just like your own personal expenses, you don't want to go over budget and then need to ask for more money
10. Documentation: Pics or it didn't happen
Document everything you can in real-time. This isn't just a "CYA" tactic. Having documentation to reference will boost your efficiency in the present, and save you valuable time on projects in the future. Remember, knowledge is power, so arm yourself with thorough, manageable and easy-to-access information
Final thoughts on creative project management
Consider how you manage your work and collaborate with your team in a holistic way. (If you’re looking to boost your project management prowess, you might even consider taking a Project Management Institute course.) Remember that staying calm in the midst of stress is key to leading any project successfully. Plan ahead for both your time outlay and potential project pitfalls. Work on sharpening your soft skills and make organization your top priority. Communicate succinctly to be clearly understood, and follow the money when it comes to prioritizing work and managing your project's budget. Throughout the process, and at the end of it all, document, document, document.