When your agency’s full of smart, creative people who can achieve almost anything a client could ask for, what’s the point of project managers? Yes, they know their way around a spreadsheet, but won’t they just restrict all that creativity with piles of process?
Well, first up, a quick sorry to all the project managers out there. That intro was a great big sweeping slur on your profession. And second, hell no. Creatives create. They think big. They let their imaginations out of the box. And giving them the freedom to do that means putting someone else in charge of deadlines, deliverables and day-to-day planning.
Someone like a cracking project manager. Because project management is a hugely important, often underrated discipline that will keep your agency shipshape. Neglecting it will consistently derail projects, waste resources and undermine morale.
With this in mind, we’ve put together four tips for creative agency project management. Take them for a spin. Together they’ll give you a great foundation for running an agency by delivering smooth-running, successful projects that make your clients – and your team – happy.
1. Know your team
Like we said at the top, your creative team is probably full of amazing people who are great at what they do, whether that’s designing, developing or copywriting. But it’s also important to realise that they’re all completely different.
Each member of your team will be motivated by different things, prefer working in a particular way and respond differently to criticism and praise. Powerful project management means understanding how to get the best out of everyone – and that means knowing how to keep them engaged and productive.
It’s also crucial to recognise the strengths and weaknesses of each team member, and avoid forcing anyone into a role they’re not comfortable in. For example, Michael might be an incredible graphic designer, but if he’s terrible when you put him in front of the client, don’t make him explain his design concepts to the entire board.
2. Have one centralised location for all your project assets
So yes, everyone works differently, and this extends to how people organise their work and assets. John might save all his copy in Google Drive, while Ellen keeps all her design assets on her local machine and Jess organises her time using spreadsheets she doesn’t share with anyone else. Go team.
This can cause issues in small offices, so imagine how problematic it could be if you had team members working in multiple locations, or even across time zones. It’s not a great foundation for collaborating – or making the most of what you’ve got.
Having a single location for storing project assets, whether that’s Google Drive or a digital asset management system like ResourceSpace or Bynder, makes sure everyone knows where to find the latest designs or copy, fast.
A single communication platform also helps to keep the creative team aligned. If some conversations are happening via email and others on WhatsApp or text, you’re going to lose visibility over aspects of the project. Pick a platform and bring everyone on board.
3. Push back against ‘scope creep’
Possibly the biggest enemy of the project manager, ‘scope creep’ leads to projects overrunning – and eating into your profit margins. The best defence against this is to have a clear brief from the outset which doesn’t just set out what needs to be done, but also specifies what’s ‘out of scope’ so people know where to draw the line.
That doesn’t mean you can’t be flexible when things change – it’s pretty much inevitable – but these changes have to be within the scope of the original brief. And if they’re not, they’ll need to be planned and paid for separately.
Scope creep won’t always come from the client. It can also originate from within your team. It’s important not to squash creativity, but if anyone’s getting carried away or diverging too far from the brief, a good project manager should tactfully rein them in.
4. Define deadlines and check progress regularly
At the start of every project, the great big task ahead should be broken down into stages, and each stage given its own deadline. This should include not just what’s required of your team, but what’s required of the client too. Without the right input from them, you’ll quickly get stuck, and managing your client takes a special degree of skill, patience and tact.
For example, you might have a deadline to complete a certain aspect of the project by the end of the month, but if the client isn’t aware they need to sign off designs by the end of week three, that could easily impact your overall deadline.
Everyone on your team should be responsible for hitting their own deadlines, but when it comes to keeping the whole lot of you (internally and externally) on track, that takes real project management skills. Monitoring progress regularly enables you to pick up on niggles before they become problems, and risks before they become real issues.
Checking in might take the form of daily or weekly stand-ups, or using project management software like Asana to track tasks. Probably both. But the main thing is doing it. And the best person for the job isn’t your quirky designer, your quiet writer or your deeply-techy developer. It’s a super smart project manager – so make sure you’ve got one.
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