Operational Excellence

Do Project Procedures Squash Creativity?

by Brad Egeland, September 22, 2014

In the best scenarios project management practices are somewhat rigid, fairly structured, repeatable, and somewhat boring. Unless you really love it, you may be hard pressed to find anyone who would say it really helps get their creative project management juices flowing. But I have found myself that there are creative things you can do when managing projects without ruining the structure of the project and that sticking to the methodology and processes in place help to ensure – rather than hinder the final successful outcome of the project at hand.

Understandably, managing any design or creative projects requires clearly defined and followed procedures. For complex tasks the project manager must be vigilant and detailed. This is not to say you need to be 'hands-on' and constantly interfering - absolutely not - creative people need to be given freedom to use their abilities or you might as well ask an accountant to do the job (no offense to accountants). However, you as project manager - or the client - need to allow for and anticipate everything that can arise. The key to this is establishing clear positive open communications at the outset, and then maintaining full mutual understanding at all times, irrespective of how much freedom is delegated.

In a creative management project, rarely is the failure point the result of the design or creative individual or team. They do what they do well…the key – and the hardest part of the entire process – is getting the project concept clearly defined and documented so that the creative team can run with it and turn it into the ultimate final solution that the client is looking for. Usually, when the client is disappointed in the final outcome, it is due the project lead deciding that some point in the process could be skipped or that the client did not adequately convey what the concept or design to the creative team. How do we get past that failure point? Well, if you have a solution that will work every time, bottle it because you’re going to make a fortune. My three-step recommendation for the highest percentage of success though is this…

Have a solid methodology or process and follow it every time. Meaning, don’t take short cuts if at all possible just in the name of time and dollars. Those shortcuts are likely going to come back to haunt you in the end.

Draw it up, review it review it review it, and sign it off. Seriously, this is critical. Don’t just go off of a discussion if it can be avoided. Document the desired outcome in writing and drawing or however you need to. And get it agreed to and signed off. This will be your go-to document time and time again throughout the project to make sure everyone is still on the same page. It will also be the basis of any change orders. This can easily mean the difference between a profitable project and one that loses thousands of dollars trying to make a client happy.

Have a detailed final review. This is obvious, but you want your client to be satisfied with the outcome. Have a detailed review or walkthrough of the final product or campaign or design. Even if you make less money in the end, the overall satisfaction of the project client is big – you want repeat clients (most of the time…I do realize there are those clients from time to time that you want to serve just once and let them ride off into the sunset). But happy clients mean return clients and referenceable clients.


Rigid processes don’t have to squash creativity. But they are required to ensure that you deliver the right creative solution to the end client. Stick to the basics, don’t take shortcuts, and keep communication and frequent review going throughout the engagement.

How about our readers? What are your thoughts on the subject? In what ways do you see projects getting out of hand and missing the mark upon delivery? What is usually the cause?

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