Scratch project management. In the long list of skills that successfully get me from one day to the next, I’d say that people management ranks as one of the most valuable skills anybody can have in any profession. Its significance is no less in the creative field. Designers and developers are definitely, for the most part, an ecentric group. Brimming on creative genius-ness and madness (sometimes all at the same time), managing a creative group can certainly take some extra umph.
While I promise to never depict designers and developers as a breed of mad scientists again, you have to admit that people management plays a big role in helping a creative team channel their energy appropriately into effective deliverables. Throw into the mix the fact that you run a virtual company, and you’ve got yourself the weight that sits on my shoulder every day.
I’m certainly no Atlas, but to keep the creative magic flowing, here are a few tactics and values I subscribe to.
- Start a Team Communication Portal (aka start a team blog). Termed by one of my technology-buzz-worded partners, establishing a TCP basically consists of starting up a team blog. This allows you to open up the floor to your team to free their minds and interact with each other (rather than working in isolation on their individual projects). Moderate as you please, but the best TCP environments are mod-free! Plus, for WordPress supporters, Registered Only is a great plugin that’ll keep your TCP within your T (enough with the acronyms already).
- Personalize your creative brief. I’ll be honest, I don’t know what the common industry practice is around the use of creative briefs. But in my personal experience, I’ve found it useful to translate client-provided creative briefs into personalized creative briefs for your creative team. In my personalized briefs, I know who I’m writing the guidance for and I know how they work best, and can thus convert client direction into a more accurate end-product. Besides, passing down a brief that was provided by the client will often overlook the finer and often more important details that conversations with the client commonly encompass.
- Remember: you are HR. If you run a small [virtual] creative agency like I do, you’ll understand the idea that you are often the CEO, Accountant, Creative Director, Account Manager, Sales Manager, and Designer/Developer (lucky for me, another trusty partner has relieved me of my accounting duties – and rightfully so). What you also have to come to realize is that you are also Human Resources. Thus, remember to allocate another part of your day to ensuring that your team is smiling and that any accounts of negativity spawning from work are dealt with. Afterall, a happy creative team is a… well, you know the rest.
- Help them achieve their goals. Believe it or not, some designers/developers actually aspire to be something more than a designer/developer. In such cases, it’ll be important for you, as their manager, to help map out a path to help them meet their goals. Perhaps they’d like to develop their client management skills, or maybe they aspire to be a creative director. Do what you can to help them reach these targets by exposing them to new experiences, or sharing some of your own insight. Doing so demonstrates that you are invested in their long-term well-being and not just in their work.
- Plan to meet face-to-face periodically. In the end, no amount of Facebook poking or blog commenting will amount to the value of a good ol’ fashion handshake. Plan to have your virtual team come together periodically in a physical location to help them match faces to the screen names. If you’re looking to keep productivity up, there’s no better way than to inject some human interaction to boost up spirits. “Wow, you’re a lot shorter than I thought you’d be” would probably be the only downside to meeting face-to-face.
I’m no HR specialist but I am human. And from my clever arithmetic, that makes up half the Human Resources role. And that’s really the underlying point. Your creative team is made up of humans. Manage them well, and they will perform well.
But I’m sure the designer part of your multi-faceted position could have told you that long time ago.