5 Ways to Solve Creative Project Management Issues

5 Ways to Solve Creative Project Management Issues

Creativity in team collaboration has never been a simple thing to manage. In fact, it is a big enough question whether you can handle it at all. When you are a manager, your designers and copywriters might need an approach different from that you apply to the rest of your team. However, with specific knowledge of psychology, small communication tricks, and the ability to pay attention, you can turn even the most miserable situation straight into a win-win point.

So, what are the critical issues of creative team management? How to remove them and improve the quality of your work on the graphic design project? Let’s begin with more or less general definitions.

  • Project management is the ability to achieve your goals using work, intellectual skills, and the behavioral motives of other people.
  • That being said, since you usually have to work with many people, effective communication is 80% of successful management.

Yet, when it comes to creativity, many things can get unpredictable and gallop somewhere far beyond any rules. It’s chaos. I cannot imagine any person describing it better than Dan Wieden, co-founder of Wieden+Kennedy advertising agency and the developer of famous Nike’s “Just Do It” tagline:

Chaos is the only thing that honestly wants you to grow. The only friend who really helps you be creative. Demands that you be creative.”

But despite his particular affection for chaos, he gives probably the most valuable tips on creative management you’ll ever get in his beyond-interesting speech on creativity. And guess what — it’s all about communication:

In case you haven’t heard [our rules], here they are. These rules David [Kennedy] actually found in an empty file drawer when we were exiting our previous place of employment. Don’t act big. No sharp stuff. Follow directions. And shut up when someone is talking.

These are the guidelines I’ve tried to use in my creative management experience for years, trying to build the necessary atmosphere and communication principles with the people I’ve worked with. It’s like a certain philosophy that you can use as your starting ground to work out your own way. It has always been crucial for me to stick to the following points:

  • Inspiration for workers. You should always differentiate what motivates and demotivates employees. Also, the provision of team members with input references is vital.
  • Shared vision. I chose the scrum method for managing creative teams for myself because it helps to ensure synchronization of mindsets and work out a shared vision. Also, using the scrum method, we constantly check if everyone has understood the ultimate goal and their role in achieving it correctly. Though it’s fair to mention that even with this system, I’ve faced all the types of failures we will discuss (and some cost me a lot), it still remains my favorite. After learning from my mistakes and how to avoid them, I understood that the scrum method works best for me because it can elegantly eliminate all the failures described below.
  • Design project management software. I want you to keep in mind that managing creative teams is no easy task, and it is tough to do without proper assistance from the digital world. Online proofing software like Approval Studio was designed specifically to avoid the issues we will discuss by improving communication between all interested parties: manager, team, and clients. I suggest you try and add it to your list of creative collaboration tools. You might be surprised how valuable you will find it for managing your design review and approval process.

12 Failures of Creative Management

Keep in mind that most of these failures directly result from the stubbornness of many project managers. Here we will provide some brief examples of improper creative work evaluation, how it will influence your workers, and the outcomes it leads to.

Failure #1: Subjective evaluation and unconstructive criticism

What the manager says: “Well … It looks awkward. In general, a strange thing. I don’t know …Can you make something more interesting?”

What’s really happening: Insult of the other person’s taste, no specifics.

Result: Accumulation of hate.

Failure #2: Collective criticism

What the manager says: “Hey guys! Stop doing your job for a sec and go here, everybody. Look at this design.”

What’s really happening: Accumulation of negative feedback by inertia.

Result: Shock and demotivation negatively influence your subordinate’s mental state.

Failure #3: Feedback from people who know nothing about the task

What the manager says: “I showed it to my wife, sister, and 13-years-old niece, and they said it won’t work for the B2B market.”

What’s really happening: Poor judgment from unprofessional people.

Result: Distrust of the feedback, unwillingness to continue cooperation.

Failure #4: Aggravation of stupor

What the manager says: “Dude! I told you to loiter less … deadline is close, and you only have a week! We cannot afford it. Stay calm and carry on!”

What’s really happening: Accumulation of hate.

Result: Failure of the task. Even a nervous breakdown is possible.

Failure #5: Stating the problem in a way that already contains the solution

What the manager says: “Listen, it doesn’t work this way. You’d better draw a goose riding a beaver, and all this needs to sign in Helvetica, 45, but surely in bold.”

What’s really happening: Employee does not feel their importance in decision-making.

Result: After several similar cases, conflict or dismissal will occur.

Failure #6: Making specific subjective edits

What the manager says: “This image does not fit our business. Here’s a photo of my mom that I like very much. Create a mockup of it and paint in # 931234. But in general, you know, let me do it myself…”

What’s really happening: Employee does not feel their importance in decision-making.

Result: No one wants to work for managers who do not value their team members.

Failure #7: Directory management without context immersion

What the manager says: “What, you don’t know anything about the project? Me too, but it’s easy. Just do as I say.”

What’s really happening: Unprofessional and subjective judgment of something you don’t know about.

Result: You have a few months to search for a new “subordinate”…

Failure #8: Setting goals for an employee without control and moderation

What the manager says: “I need a presentation for tomorrow! By the way, are you doing landings? Listen, I’ve chosen a better rug here …”

What’s really happening: People taking over the responsibilities of other employees and, quite often, ignoring their own ones.

Result: Chaos not in the creative but in an executive way. Stress. Dismissal in a couple of days.

Failure #9: Removing decision-making and personal responsibility

What the manager says: “You don’t need any other information. Stick to what you have in your Jira ticket and be done with it.”

What’s really happening: Misunderstanding of the task, context, and responsibilities.

Result: Shift of the role in the company. Now your team lacks one more initiative employee.

Failure #10: Excessive perfectionism

What the manager says: “You know, we’re almost there … Let’s draw the 18th version, and we’ll see.”

What’s really happening: Overworking and lack of fresh ideas.

Result: Fatigue and unwillingness to start new tasks.

Failure #11: “Ad Hominem” or making everything personal

What the manager says: “Apparently, you did not have enough good signboards in Kyiv.”

What’s really happening: Personal attack on your worker’s background.

Result: Insult, long-term offense, inability to cooperate to your maximum.

Failure #12: Invalid feedback or lack of feedback

What the manager says: “In general, everything is OK, but you need to change this and that. Why? Doesn’t really matter; just do it.”

What’s really happening: Inability or unwillingness to explain your decision as a manager.

Result: Misunderstanding of situation, conflict, and a decrease in your managerial reputation.

How to solve the failures of creative management?

We have worked out 5 specific situations that precede most of the results above and 5 collaborative solutions. The best kind of problem is the one you’ve avoided. The best time to apply the solution is before your team aggravates stupor, anger, and mistrust. Mind you, using graphic design collaboration software like Approval Studio will ease the communication between the manager and the creative team itself, so I highly recommend you try our design proofing tool.

Situation 1: The manager disagrees with the designer’s decision.

What to do?

  1. Evaluate the proposed solution from the perspective of its testing cost — ask yourself how expensive it will be to test the correctness/incorrectness of the designer’s decisions. You must exclude personal preferences or unprofessional subjective opinions and act as a manager.
  2. Ask a designer to make some valid arguments for their decisions. You have to make sure that you have the best possible solution for a design task. Build a conversation based on reflection — the person should wonder if they did all they could to solve the problem.
  3. A Definition of Done developed commonly at the input is usually the best preventive measure. When it comes to graphic design workflows, this definition is usually formulated with the creative brief. To compare the task and result, artwork approval software like Approval Studio is a great solution.

Situation 2: Creative stupor

The task is formulated correctly and in time, but it is not processing because of the psychological state of the performer.

What to do?

  1. Personal conversation, identification of causes, isolation of reasons unrelated to the project. You always need to acknowledge powerlessness against the problem. Only after that can you start working out the necessary motivation for your employee. You can motivate them by knowing what they like and giving it to them — a day off, a movie, a book, and so on. You can ask your worker to prepare a presentation for colleagues to show support and recognition.
  2. Break the project into stages to understand what needs to be done, find a solution to the problem at a particular stage, and move to the next one. This process is called the Decomposition of tasks. Even the smallest project units can be divided into smaller pieces if you feel stuck; mind maps can help a lot.

Situation 3: The designer provides a result absolutely different from what was asked

What to do?

  1. Only an understanding of the problem worked out at the very beginning will help.
  2. The whole team must approve a Definition of Done and all Technical Requirements. It completely rules out overtaking the decision-making process, last-minute changes with no explanation, and aggravation of hate.
  3. Design manager software is an absolute must with this one. To match everything to the initial brief, you’ll need a design review software where you can highlight what’s wrong and compare it to the task itself and other mockup versions. This makes it easier to showcase mistakes and allows to see if the client’s edits are applicable.

Situation 4: Violation of discipline, being late

What to do?

  1. Personal conversation, identifying the causes of such behavior.
  2. Preventive measures – standups, sprint reviews, and retrospectives.
  3. Be careful with administrative sanctions. You should understand that it is a questionable thing that might not work as you expect it to. Applying penalties or ignoring them should be a conscious choice of a manager and hugely depends on the situation and the worker in question.

Situation 5: The designer offers innovations in processes or other initiatives

What to do?

  1. You need to work out the criteria for adequate assessment of changes and the mechanics of assessing the final result.
  2. Identifying possible losses (risks) and ways to measure them is also necessary.
  3. The initiator must present the cost of implementation and the ratio of possible benefits. Still, at this stage, the less experienced workers will need your help, and it will be an excellent decision to provide it. The point is, if there’s an initiative worker, they need to be involved, not overruled by your authority.

In conclusion, any of the 12 situations we’ve discussed can be resolved before its emergence. I repeat myself: the best kind of problem is the one you’ve avoided. You can try implementing strategies above it at least partially or with modifications to your situation; there will be fewer problems but more order. The main thing – in the first months after the implementation, you might think that it takes much more working hours to finish the project with this approach. Do not be afraid of it. The amount of time will decrease when you and your team fully adapt to the updated workflow design. Eventually, you will stop paying attention to it when you start spending fewer resources to complete quality projects. That’s what successful creative collaboration is all about. We’ll gladly help you with that using our online design review tool.

Keep in touch!

Matthew Roberts

Matthew Roberts

A guy with wide spheres of interest — from project management to board games and to spicy guitar riffs. Has a solid experience in marketing, creative team management, translation, teaching, and occasional freelancing masochism. Big and bald.
Matthew Roberts

Matthew Roberts

A guy with wide spheres of interest — from project management to board games and to spicy guitar riffs. Has a solid experience in marketing, creative team management, translation, teaching, and occasional freelancing masochism. Big and bald.

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