Operational Excellence

Can Creativity be Counterproductive?

by Brad Egeland, November 17, 2014

We want project teams and team members to be thinking outside the box as much as possible when coming up with a solution to a client’s needs. No question about that – it’s part of the “game” of finding the perfect fit for that client to make them happy and feel like they are getting the biggest bang for their buck.

So, can creativity be counterproductive? I feel that we can sometimes be overly excited about pleasing our client and showing our creative skills that we can do too much for the client and go out of bounds on what we had agreed to as the scope of work for the project. When this becomes an issue, we may need to rein in the creativity of our project team. It isn’t easy, and you never want to undermine the great work your team is doing. Personally, I try to rein in creativity by:

Conducting regular team meetings. Conducting regular team meetings to discuss progress, client issues and interactions, and any team concerns with delegated tasks can help keep team members from being overly creative with their project efforts. Anytime team members are working very closely with client representatives it can become easy to gold-plate project work or make small tweaks that would otherwise go against the requirements for the project and cause issue with the budget for the creative project or ad campaign. The regularity of such team meetings is often dictated by the size of the project, but a good rule of thumb is to conduct meetings at least weekly.

Revisiting requirements regularly. During team meetings and at any other necessary time during the project engagement, revisit requirements to ensure that everyone is still on the same page. client needs may have changed – needs that may have been relayed to a project team member but not necessarily all the way to the project manager. It’s unfortunate when those communication breakdowns occur, but they do happen. Keep the project scope in front of everyone – paying close attention to the overall scope of the project will help everyone stay on track and recognize the need for project change orders when those project changes arise.

Include project budget status and goals in team meetings. Finally, include some sort of overview or discussion of the budget in every team meeting. If team members understand the critical nature of their work and how that can affect the health of the project budget, they are less likely to get “overly” creative with their design or marketing work for the client. Not that you want to squelch creativity, but you can’t blow every project budget out of the water either. There has to be a happy medium. And that starts with education of the creative team doing the work.


In my opinion, the final word here is “yes”, creativity can be counterproductive. Creativity is necessary. It is, after all, the nature of the work and the skill set of the very talented individuals who comprise the project team and do the work for the client. But too much creativity – meaning going out of bounds (intentionally or unintentionally) with work for the client on the engagement - can lead to projects being delayed by weeks and budgets going over by many thousands of dollars.

How about our readers? What are your experiences with too much creativity being thrown at a project? Are project managers to blame for lack of oversight or is it more of a communication issue with the team and client? Is this even ever a problem in your organization?


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