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The Ultimate Guide to Creative Project Management

The Ultimate Guide to Creative Project Management

There are days when you are beaming with creativity. It feels as if there is an overflow of ideas, and you’d like to share or implement them all. What’s more, you don’t feel like stopping at all.

But when it comes to putting all the loose ends together, realization strikes – you feel lost. This is exactly what happens when you embark on an adventure without preparation. Whether you are working solo or managing a team, goals need planning, management, and execution.  

Now when we understand the importance of project management. It helps you execute tasks successfully, handle nitty-gritty, and manage all the unexpected chaos. However, the ‘one-size-fits-all’ philosophy is not applicable to handle different types of projects. 

So, when it comes to creative projects, you need to apply different methodologies of project management. And while you are at it, challenges like resource scarcity, unrealistic deadlines, and more can hamper your progress. It would produce no effect if you’ll replace one creative with another or if you tried to add more resources to finish the design sooner. 

Now the question that arises here is, “How will you manage creative projects?” We’ll address this question and all similar questions in this post. You’ll also learn about the techniques and best practices for creative project management.

We have created this ultimate guide after researching on points such as definition, challenges, principles, and factors related to creative projects. So settle down and read about the ultimate guide to creative project management below.

We Aim to Cover:

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What is Creative Project Management Process?

Creative project management process refers to managing roles and responsibilities of creative folks such as designers, copywriters, art directors, and others rather than working with software developers, engineers or construction teams.

But how are the practices of traditional project management different from creative project management?

Well, the difference between the two is how you wish to approach the planning and execution process. Other than that, the project management process implementation tends to differ, depending on your team and the agency you’re working with.

The way success is measured differs from one team to the other. Furthermore, the result isn’t always directly proportional to the time and resources invested in the project. Sometimes, it takes seconds for a perfect idea to strike, while it might take a fortnight on other occasions.

The fact is that good concepts and designs are born out of inspiration; you can’t force them. You have to give the creative project manager sufficient time for the magic to happen. Austin Kleon (A New York Times best-selling author) at some point said, “creative people need time to just sit around and do nothing.”

Although at the end of the day, it’s still a project which has milestones and deadlines to adhere to; so, it’s the job of a creative project manager to balance and push team members to optimize their productivity while also developing their talent and creativity.

Challenges in Creative Project Management

Do you think the challenges end after learning how to become a creative project manager? Well, there’s nothing in this world that comes without obstacles.

Initially, project management was meant mainly for construction, finance, and information technology (IT) sectors. But now, there is project management for creatives. The conventional project management is often inadequate for creative projects. Creative projects are unique, and to deal with particular challenges, you require novel approaches.

First things first, know what you’re up against. Half of your problems are solved if you do that. To help you know your challenges under creative project management, we’ve curated a list for you. 

1. The Conflict Between Creative Professionals & Project Managers

The main problem in creative project management process is the miscommunication between the needs of project managers and creative people.

A project manager wants to quantify things, while creatives wish to qualify things. The former wants to break down complex activities into smaller tasks and also monitor the project progress by tracking KPIs, while the latter wants out-of-the-box things.

Managing the expectations of creative people as well as getting them to meet deadlines is part of the challenges you’ll have to face as a creative project manager.

2. Absence of Historical Data and Best Practices

Project management for creatives is still an infant in comparison to the timescale of project management. It emerged only 25 years ago with the invention of the web. Thus, you can’t rely on any historical knowledge, unlike a construction project, which has a rich history (at most 100 years existence).

Furthermore, the introduction of cutting-edge technologies from time to time upsets conventional workflows of creative projects. For instance, the process of laying a roof sheet hasn’t changed for decades, but the tools to build a website change every few years.

This unsettling due to fresh technologies further complicates a creative project manager’s work. Hence, a project manager has to find a balance between conventional knowledge, the latest technologies, and best practices.

3. Managing Impossible Client Expectations

Have you ever met a client that wants your designers to design a poster in a few minutes? If yes, you’d understand this better.

Apart from dealing with different resources, you also have to manage impossible-looking expectations from creative projects occasionally. The problem arises due to a lack of understanding of the client regarding creative processes. Most of the clients still believe in the notion that “the more resources you add, the quicker the result you’ll get”, Which is not the case with most of the creative projects.

Aiding clients understand the in-built complexity of creative projects is one of your main challenges.

4. Creating a Creative-Friendly Environment

Creative work can’t be done in isolation. The most innovative companies most times spend billions of dollars on developing the perfect environment (both physical and psychological) for their creatives.

One of your responsibilities as a project manager is to develop a creative-friendly environment. For instance, the moment your designers are scared of making mistakes or conscious of strict deadlines, you’ll struggle to maximize their skills.

5. Managing Upcoming Changes

Ask your clients what exactly they want from their creative project, and you’ll be stunned with some of the answers.

The moment they don’t have a clear goal that means you’ll struggle with scope changes in creative projects. And when this happens, you have no other choice than to go back to the drawing board.

Managing such changes is one of your key responsibilities as a creative project manager.

To tackle the challenges mentioned above, you need to adopt a fresh set of principles and practices listed below.

The Core Principles of Creative Project Management

The management process used in creative projects is complex, thus, creating a need for guiding values in the first place.

To help you understand the core principles of creative project management, we’ve listed a few of them below. Let’s dive in!

1. Importance of Creativity

Creative teams and agencies thrive or become extinct, bestowing to the quality of their creative output. Meeting deadlines and working according to the budget is important, but it mustn’t come at the cost of creativity. Ultimately, the project won’t be successful if that happens.

Your project manager must be reoriented before you place creativity at the center of your project. You have to find a balance between meeting your primary duties while performing a role in fostering creativity.

2. Effective Collaboration

Nowadays, creative projects are scarcely isolated exercise. For instance, website development projects need effort from different experts such as; designers, developers, SEO guys, and so on.

This means you have to exploit collaboration at every corner of your project management practices. For instance, you have to involve your team members in goal setting.

3.Empathy is essential

It’s very important to understand your team members and their challenges to get the most out of them. In summary, creative project management requires empathy.

How to Become a Creative Project Manager

Have you thought about becoming a creative project manager? If your answer is yes, then it is important to learn some of the best practices first.

And, to become successful as a creative project manager and earn $67,379 on an average per annum, you need a deep level of creativity, and better understanding of project management. Also, understand your team and their gradations to extract the best results.

So for those who want to choose this career path or are just seeking to develop their skills, listed below are some of the best practices you can apply to manage a creative project team.

1. Familiarize With Preconditions That Come With Creativity

What does working on a creative project mean? It means working with people who are “right-brained”.

According to the left brain/right brain theory, such people are more visual and intuitive. What’s more, they always find it hard to follow laid-down rules as opposed to their logical, facts-driven, and left-brained counterparts. Since your job is to establish processes and plans, consider the challenges and characteristics that come along working with a creative individual.

Advice: Try having bi-weekly sessions with such creative minds to know what they have planned for your creative project. This way you’ll know what their USPs are, and getting quality work from them won’t seem like a hassle.

2. Embrace creative project management software

Having unrivaled creative project management software like ProProfs Project at disposal could be proved a blessing for you. It can take away all pain points of your creative team and promises a delightful user experience. Features that could make the job of creative project management easier are:

Advice: There are many creative project management applications available in the market, so incorporate the one that justifies both business requirements and budget. 

Check Out: 20 Best Online Project Collaboration Tools

3. Show Empathy

The primary difference between a creative project and a technical project is how the level of emotions are higher in the former than the latter. The creative process can be stressful. That’s why a good creative project manager needs to empathize and, at the same time, understand that creative project completion can take time.

Advice: Avoid being strict or keeping unrealistic deadline targets for your creative folks at work. Understand their ideas and how they’d like to implement them. Sit with them to learn their tentative deadlines for each task rather than just setting one for the entire project.

4. Work on Communication Skills

A project manager is expected to be a middleman between the clients and its team. Sounds easy, but it isn’t.

But the only skill that will help you sail through both the stakeholders is communication. You have to communicate what each group needs from the other one while taking care of conflicts. It can be hard for visual thinkers to express their ideas to non-visual thinkers, which is why a project manager must possess exceptional communication skills.

Advice: There is a reason why people say, “Communication is the key to a good relationship”. Well, do follow this advice word-by-word. As a manager, your job isn’t restricted to being a middleman but also requires you to take into account the interest of both the stakeholders. Understand their pain-point to fulfill the unmet needs of both (your clients and team members).

5. Be Creative!

To manage a group of creatives, you need to awaken hidden creativity inside you. There may be a situation where you will have to think outside the box to heighten your team’s skills while maintaining the initial budget and duration, as well as, the satisfaction of your clients.

For instance, you can offer your team members soft target dates to work towards, instead of strict deadlines that can destroy their creativity.

Advice: When you start a creative project or when you are halfway through, brainstorm with your team members about aspects like total time, durations, and tasks that would go into the making of your final product.

6. Updated Industry Knowledge

You must not miss every latest update in the creative industry. This will make you a competent project leader and permit you to maximize your team talents and skills fully. Apart from that, it’ll enable you to forecast the future of your projects, as well as know the best resources to work with.

Advice: As you update yourself with the industry knowledge and the latest trends, make sure you work towards upgrading the existing skills of your team members. This would help you maximize their potential of performing well and produce quality end-results.

Final Thoughts

Whether you’re a budding creative project manager or an experienced manager that seeks to develop skills, this ultimate guide to creative project management is the best for you.

Resolve your team members’ problems, create a creative-friendly environment, and show empathy when needed to elevate productivity levels.  


Q. What is a creative project manager?

Managers that handle designing projects are generally addressed as creative project managers. However, you can take away the credit from those project managers, who get tasks done on time by using their artistic mindset.

Q. What are creative projects?

It’s a bit self-explanatory, as projects related to designing or comprise artistic tasks are called creative projects. These projects are generally tough to handle, as they demand more than enough time to get done.

Q. How do you manage a creative team?

Managing a creative team would be easier if these strategies are followed properly:

  • Interact with your team with a clear vision.
  • Give them the authority to make crucial decisions. 
  • Solicit their feedback regarding how project progress can be improved and give credit to those who deserve it.
  • Offer additional training or help if any project executive is struggling.
  • Conduct fun activities occasionally to maintain freshness in the work environment.

Q. What does a creative project manager do?

Well, the job of a creative project manager is not much different from any other project manager, as they also keep an eye out the following aspects:

  • Quality control
  • Risk analysis
  • Time management 
  • Evaluating team performance
  • Sticking to project budget to avert cost overrun
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About the author

David is a Project Management expert. He has been published in elearningindustry.com, simpleprogrammer.com. As a project planning and execution expert at ProProfs, he has offered a unique outlook on improving workflows and team efficiency. Connect with David for more engaging conversations on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook.