Managing A Creative Team

Managing a creative team always has unique challenges.  Managing a creative team while managing a web design project creates an entirely different set of challenges.

Whether you’re a project manager at an agency, an agency client, or working with an in-house team of creatives, you need to know the common challenges of managing a creative team, and how to solve them.

Defined Budgets

Having clear budgets and time allotments are the most important things in having a successful relationship with your creative team members. Having the budget up-front allows your creative folks to do two things:

1. Create an approach that will allow them to meet that budget.

2. Allow them to raise objections to the budget prior to any work actually being completed.

Designers love to design. Sometimes it takes two iterations, sometimes ten.  If not given clear direction, they are going to want to do their best work for you and spend the ten iterations to get that perfect design. Having a clear budget expectation allows a designer to meet the budget as laid out in the proposal.

Your developers might be able to build a feature three different ways. If they have the limits of a budget, it allows them to properly pick a course of action that meets to amount of time available to work on a task.

Everyone wishes budgets didn’t exist, and that there was unlimited time to build the perfect project. Unfortunately, that’s almost never the case – but budgets don’t have to be viewed in a negative light!

Budget conversations provide opportunities for discovering what’s possible. Some agencies call this an upsell, which makes creatives uncomfortable. In reality, it’s an exercise in communicating what all the options are. If a designer or developer can clearly lay out how much time an additional feature might take, it gives the client the opportunity to decide if it is worth spending more money to get exactly what they want.

Defined Timelines

Whether you call it a project plan, a roadmap, or something else, visually laying out the timeline of a project and its deliverables really helps everyone succeed.

Something I personally learned the hard way in managing creative types, is that if you ask them to do something, they are likely to say, “yes,” regardless of availability. I think there are two reasons for this.

First, you are asking them to do design or build something. That’s what they do, that’s what they are passionate about, and if it sounds interesting or fun, they are going to say, “yes,” because they want to work on it.

Second, there’s an ugly trend popping up in the web design industry of getting work done no matter the personal sacrifice. This has led to people being fearful of losing a job because they aren’t willing to commit to an impossible deadline. At UpTrending, we work to have open communication with our team. We encourage them to push back when there isn’t enough time to complete the project or task, and we push for as much work/life balance as possible, because burning our employees out isn’t something that is beneficial for our team or our clients.

By clearly communicating a reasonable timeline to all parties involved, it allows creatives to succeed, makes the client happy to have deadlines met, and makes the company consistently look great. It really is a win-win-win situation!

Designers Design, Developers Develop

This one is bound to cause some controversy, but hear me out!

Even at UpTrending, we have skilled designers who can also develop and talented developers who can design. And yet, design and development are different skill sets. While people are more than capable of having multiple skill sets, usually we find team members excel at either design or development a bit more. From an agency perspective, putting team members in a position where they are able to produce their best allows them to be successful. In turn, their success leads to happy clients and a happy boss.

No Two Projects are the Same

This one really applies to the larger type of agencies. One of the things that can happen at any organization as it grows, is you begin to create reports and data and analytics on your team and their performance. There are a variety of reasons why this is important, but it can quickly lead to putting everyone in a box to meet goals that a management team member came up with.  

Judging a team member’s performance based on one project is a recipe for disaster. There are numerous questions that don’t get answered through reports.

  • Was the project the best fit for the team member’s skills?
  • What particular challenges did this project have that others didn’t?
  • Was the project budgeted correctly to begin with?

Ultimately, you realize that every project is dependent on a number of factors that are outside the control of the designer or developer.

A much better way to measure a team member’s performance is looking to see if they maximized the time they were given; they communicated throughout a project effectively; and they delivered the caliber of work your team expects. These are much more consistent measures of performance that do not always show up in a report.

Understanding Praise

One thing I learned quickly in working with creative team members was how to give them praise that they valued. Here are a few key things that seem to be consistent:  

1. Creatives would prefer you acknowledge the quality of their work, not the speed with which it was done.

2. Even if it was timeline or budget related, praise for a creative solution to a problem needs to go further than, “Thanks for getting me out of that jam.”

3. A simple, “thank you,” goes a million miles, especially when you have asked that person to go above and beyond in some way.

Creatives are People, Too

Ultimately, the key to managing designers, developers, copywriters, videographers and all other types of creative talent is simple: they’re people, just like you.

In the midst of discussions about budgets, timelines, assets, revisions, mockups and quality assurance, just remember that creative people aren’t vending machines, they’re artists. You don’t need to punch in your order and impatiently tap your foot until they deliver a predictable result. Instead, you need to give them the best tools to do their job, and build processes that enable them to focus on their craft with good boundaries.

At the end of the work day, creatives truly love to do what they do. And anything you can do to help them love their job more is going to result in some of the most spectacular work you’ve ever seen.