How to be an Expert Creative Project Manager

Looking from the outside in, project management seems easy. A team following a well defined workflow to deliver output like clockwork, day after day. But, as any creative project manager will tell you, this is rarely the case. Between managing client expectations, communicating them to the team, handling internal conflict, revising work, all while still delivering quality work can give anyone a little more than a headache. And while such occurrences are commonplace amongst most teams, creative ones will have an additional layer of complexity to handle.

So, just what does a creative project manager do and how can they prepare better? Here’s a detailed rundown on what creative project managers do and how they can better prepare for the unique brand of tasks they face…

What Does a Creative Project Manager Do?

In a nutshell, a project manager’s primary task is to mediate between clients and his/her team. They take requirements from clients, break them into tasks, which are then distributed amongst the team members. He/She will then ensure the specified requirements are met within the timeframe.

A creative project manager on the other hand has to know how to handle creative minds. Simply forcing creative solutions via a carrot and stick policy almost never works either. Which is why creative team manager need to have a good handle on empathy and communication besides regular project management skills, too.

The Usual Challenges Faced…

Creative projects certainly work in unique ways. For starters, creativity itself tends to be highly subjective. What may be high quality for your team may find itself being discarded by the client. Creative blocks, endless revisions, nebulous deadlines, stress and poor quality output become all too common in such settings if they are not tackled proactively.

As the success of a project depends on a predictable workflow, project managers try and quantify each output. Unfortunately, creativity is a fairly hard thing to predict and cannot be triggered through brute force. Words and phrases like inspiration, being in the zone, revelation, serendipity etc are all too commonly used by creatives to describe their way of working which essentially means “it will come when it will come.” Obviously, such an inherently unpredictable way of working can make project management quite challenging.

Another persisting issue that creative project managers will face is client expectations. All too often clients will complain about costs and ask for revisions on projects only to run round and round in circles. This problem stems from an inability to understand the creative process with many people thinking that they can solve most problems simply by allocating more time or money. While such an approach may work for tasks where the workflow is well established, in more creative endeavors, it can backfire spectacularly. For instance, simply putting more time pressure on a writer cannot help him/her get over writer’s block. After all, you don’t want a mentally exhausted team.

One of the primary tasks of project managers is to help clients understand the complexity of creative works and find a middle ground between their expectations and the team’s capabilities. So, just what does it take to make all this hodgepodge of human entanglements work properly? Here’s how…

Understand the Creative Personality

Let’s face it – even if the creative process may seem as straightforward as coming up with an idea, refining, then presenting it, it’s almost always rather messy. It is not uncommon to see artists thrash a piece of work they have been obsessing on for weeks, musicians going back and forth over rhythms hundreds of times, and writers thrashing away entire manuscripts and starting all over.

To an onlooker, such behavior may seem odd, self-contradictory and utterly unproductive. But such are the creative ways. To turn this into a business process will require the project manager to understand the creative mind first.

A lot of research has been poured into understanding how creativity works. In their paper titled – “Towards an Integrated Model of Creativity and Personality”, psychologists Guillaume Furst, Paolo Ghisletta and Todd Lubart offer an interesting explanation which uses three super-factors to predict creativity – plasticity, divergence and convergence.

Plasticity means being open to new experiences and exploration.Creativity is essentially looking for new solutions to existing problems and creative people will often look for the most unorthodox solutions or expressions. This tendency is shared by explorers as well.

Divergence points to non-conformity, a lack of agreeableness and impulsiveness. While such people may come across as rude, oftentimes they are simply independent thinkers who are voicing their true concerns.

Convergence consists of qualities such as persistence and precision. Creative people often exhibit an insatiable drive to get to the bottom of an idea or create very exact pieces of work.

Your creative team members will exhibit various combinations of these three qualities and each will require a delicate approach. For instance, plasticity can help your team arrive at unique solutions, but left unchecked it can lead to a spiralling loop of never-ending “what-ifs.” Likewise, divergence can easily create discord between team members and convergence, while helpful for creating very high quality work can wreak havoc on deadlines.

5 tips for a Creative Project Manager to stay on track

1. Start with the Big Picture

Even if the different members of a creative team will be given their own tasks, it’s critically important for all of them to know what the complete thing will look like. Creative people work best when they know the context within which they are operating.

Your brief should explain the problem in simple language without becoming too instructive on how to go about solving it. Remember, your team members will work best if they are left to their own devices with some guidance provided should they get stuck.

>> Recommended reading: How to Boost Innovation Management at Your Company

2. Create a Creative-Friendly Work Environment

You cannot expect people to come up with top-quality work just about anywhere. There’s a reason why so many creative people go to isolated places, or prefer to sit in coffee shops/libraries/parks. Recreating the environment your team members prefer in your office can greatly help them tap into their creative energies.

This doesn’t necessarily mean your workplace has to have the latest and greatest tools. In fact, it would be best to bring your team into the decision making process and let them become creative with their place of work first.

Learn more on how to create a friendly, productive workplace here.

3. Have a Detailed Style-Guide

While tapping into a team’s creative energies is important, it also needs to be guided to ensure consistency in output. A style guide is a document that details how a brand is supposed to look and what it should convey. They consist of verbal guidelines, visual guidelines, branding rules, and any other cues that can help your team maintain one voice throughout their creative expressions.

Here’s an awesome article on creating relevant style guides.

4. Manage Client’s Expectations Like a Pro!

A good project manager can easily overcome the vast majority of problems simply by helping clients set realistic expectations. Many will make critical errors while communicating with clients in the initial stages of the project. Some of them are…

  • Agreeing to whatever requirements they have to secure the gig.
  • Not negotiating a deadline more conducive to the team.
  • Overpromising.
  • Not setting boundaries.


Fear is often the main cause behind projects not being negotiated properly. Instead of letting clients dictate each and every project parameter, help them come to a more realistic outline. Also, keep them in the loop continuously as the project progresses. This will allow them to make midcourse corrections and will save both the teams a lot of time down the line.

5. Measure Time and Productivity With Modern Cloud Based Tools

Modern cloud based productivity tools are ideal for helping creative people achieve their full potential. Not only are they far more intuitive to work with, but can be accessed remotely. Creative people sometimes work best when they are away from the workplace. Psychological distance as it’s known dictates that we are more like y to come up with solutions when we remove ourselves from the problem itself. By using cloud based tools such as, you can enable telecommuting and BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) within your organization that can help your creative teams to work the way they want to.

Furthermore, also allows you to track your projects from start to finish, managing the workflow. Time tracking becomes all the more important for creative projects precisely because they are hard to track. All companies need to know the total number of billable hours and which areas require improvement. With a powerful time tracking tool, creative project managers can keep a close eye on how each task is progressing and which requires immediate attention.

>> Recommended reading: Why Implementing Project Management Tools is Beneficial

Concluding Thoughts

A creative project manager needs to know how to navigate an exceedingly complex labyrinth of talent, emotions and expectations. The ideas mentioned above are some of the more critical skills that a project manager needs to be equipped with, and suffice to say, there is far more that will need to be mastered.

With the right combination of skills and tools, creative teams can be guided to produce excellent work time and time again. The creative process, much like anything else can be mastered and with each successful completion, your team will only become faster at delivering high quality solutions.

Interested in learning more? Feel free to give us a shoutout and we will be happy to help you find more efficient ways to reach new productivity heights.

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