The Art of Managing Creative People and Projects

Illustration of man jumping into a pile of paperwork.

Creatives' unconventional minds make them capable of accomplishing greatness and solving problems in ways others may not have considered. But managing creative people and the projects they're tasked with can be a challenge.

When managing creative people, keep in mind that a happy team is not only more productive, but also experiences lower turnover. This means you retain all the wisdom that forms its greatest asset: your creative team's intellectual capital.

Leading: It begins with building the best creative team

To be an exceptional leader, you must begin by hiring good people. Know the skills needed to get the job done and then seek creatives with the right experience, expertise and personality. Then mentor them. This establishes good habits and allows them to grow to a point where they no longer need strong management direction.

On the other hand, having to manage a difficult person can cause friction on your team and ultimately derail timelines or entire projects. Avoid this situation by hiring thoughtfully and ensuring you get the right creative for the job.

Once creative teams are in place, listen to each individual's pain points. Remaining attuned to your employees' needs and concerns can help you avoid unnecessary turnover. Cultivate an ongoing relationship with regular one-on-one meetings, and then keep the dialogue going on a daily basis with five- to 10-minute chats, whether about work or not.

Managing creative projects: 3 Ways to drive creative ideas

  1. Define. During project kick-off meetings, a strong leader should begin by helping to define the problem and give key creative suggestions on how to approach said problem. Some creatives on your team will only need the barest of pushes while others might need more clear-cut suggestions. Either way, allow your team to brainstorm new ideas. If you only weigh in with specific direction close to the deadline, you risk wasting the team's time and effort. Get the ball rolling with your suggestions and let your team take it from there.
  2. Check in. On an average day, a creative leader can expect to jump back and forth on multiple projects. Frequent check-ins are integral to ensure things are moving smoothly and on schedule. By briefly touching base, projects are more likely to progress without stress or sudden shifts in direction.
  3. Be deadline driven. Once goals and processes have been defined, it's time to get to work and finish on time, despite needing approvals from clients, managers and other stakeholders. This is where the sanctity of the deadline is crucial. A team's attitude toward hitting its deadlines is not just key to making sure individual deliverables are completed on time, but also ensures the whole process doesn't fall apart.

Managing creative people and projects in a nutshell

In a nutshell, an effective creative leader is one who repeatedly finishes projects by the deadline while retaining the team members who have built up the core competencies that make those projects successful. This is where hiring and training good people really pays off; you can trust them without much intervention.

If I had to distill my creative management philosophy down to one main principle, it would be putting the team's needs first. If you look after them, they will look after you. In the creative world, that means providing feedback promptly and taking the time to listen to any concerns, even if you have less time for your own work. Time saved early on makes a huge difference when it comes to your creative team's stress levels.

Based in San Francisco, Rick Byrne formerly headed up creative for client-based advertising at CBS Interactive. Rick's team specialized in quick-turnaround advertising and design projects, which meant he had to assess work and give creative direction fast. Currently, Rick is creative director at Sitecore, a back-end CMS provider for well-known brands like Revlon and Sara Lee. Find Rick's thoughts on design and being a designer on his blog.

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Tags: Management