How to manage a creative team in the agency?

Author: Anna Białoń

5 min read

How to manage a creative team in the agency?

Project management in Branding Agency

A project manager in a creative team faces many challenges specific to the industry. However, the creative process itself, supported by appropriate tools and processes, can run smoothly – participating in it can be a source of great satisfaction. Find out what a daily work of a Project Manager in a branding agency looks like.

Characteristics of Branding Agency

Admind was founded in Krakow but has a global reach (and offices based in Krakow, Amsterdam, Odesa, and Bangkok). We are a specific agency with a strictly branding profile; our main customers also represent a specific group – these are large brands such as ABB or Shell. These companies have a specific identification and that’s why our activities focus on the skillful application of the rules of an existing brand or on its transformation and development. This makes both PMs and designers think and act within certain systems (brand principles) – they follow them or develop them from scratch for future use.

As a result, there is a lot of analysis and quality control in our daily design work. We carefully review a brief, but we also immediately combine it with the brand principles and proactively propose (necessary) changes that will make the result of our work fully “on-brand”. In terms of quality control, it might happen that we review the execution with a checklist before transferring files to the customer. Although we talk about graphic design and not a development project. This is a specificity of Admind.

The creative part and the Agile

Between analysis and quality control, there’s time for the most important part: creation. At the level of the entire organization, we have successfully incorporated the Agile methodology into our daily work. Weekly planning, Kanban boards, and meetings (Daily Scrum, Review and Retro) serve their purpose. They organize our work, facilitate communication in the team, reduce chaos and uncertainty around the project. For example, they limit derailments due to unexpected tasks.

What Project Manager actually does?

Design teams are made up of several designers and one assigned project manager. A PM is not a supervisor of the designers, nor is he responsible for the quality of the creation itself. This is the task of creative directors. Good PMs are characterized, among other things, by the fact that they are able to refrain from expressing their own opinion and to restrain from influencing the creation. Therefore, it cannot be said that a PM fully manages a creative team. Rather, he coordinates the team and integrates it, sets priorities, manages the time of the designers, facilitates the flow of information, “protects” from the client, from time to time motivates.

how to manage creative team

Design projects as subject to subjective judgement

However, managing a creative project itself is an interesting issue. Its conceptual nature makes it difficult, because after all, the design, even if it is based on certain principles and guidelines, will always be subject to subjective judgment. Earlier in my career, I used to work on IT projects, and that’s where I notice a huge difference. In IT we have a functional specification, and if the product works as in the specification, then we are home free. Indeed, in creative and graphic projects we have a brief, but the same work can meet the requirements of a brief according to one customer. According to another, not necessarily. That is why it is so important to analyze, clarify the brief, understand the customer’s preferences and often making him aware of the “limitations” of his own brand. However, the quality assessment of a design will never be as zero and one as the quality assessment of web applications. This is a big challenge in our work – a project manager must be able to convince the customer with arguments in order to move out the discussion from the level of “I like/don’t like”.

Project Manager as a part of the creative team

A good creative team, similarly to a good development team, deals with solving problems. This is the way I think of all the projects. However, I consider the design as a creative work different from coding – it is closer to art; a designer, even the analytical and the brief-focused one, always expresses himself in his project. This is a great part of our work, but it also involves more personal treatment of failures and criticism. This is a soft underbelly of a creative team. A project manager is here to navigate and sometimes protect the team, for example by filtering information and feedback.

What kind of expertise is needed?

Does a PM need to have strictly creative experience to work in a branding agency? No – but an interest in design, applied arts, aesthetics, a sense of detail and composition will be much appreciated. The hard expertise also helps: about the industry in general, but also about the brand of the customer. This allows a project manager to ask good questions for the brief at the beginning of the project and add his two cents at the very end. A project manager is also able to notice that the font or the color of the logo has been designed according to brand guidelines. To do so, he must know the customer’s brand.

What is the most difficult in the Project Manager’s job?

I think that for everybody this will be something else; for me it’s an enormous amount of paperwork and pressure on the project’s profitability. The reality of the project often turns out to be rather fluid. Even if we anticipate a risk, we will not always include it properly in the valuation. As a result, we can find ourselves in a position of overspending and launching difficult negotiations to break the deadlock.

What is the most important in the Project Manager’s job?

It’s certainly calm. It can save us because the chaos and uncertainty mentioned above are always somewhere in the orbit of the project. A project manager is in the eye of the storm – between the customer and the project team, between a brief and brand principles. He must therefore strive to reach a win-win situation in many dimensions, which is not easy.

What helps me, is thinking that the customer is not a specific person, but the project itself, the brand. By looking at it this way, it’s easy to see what tasks are actually facing the agency and the customer. Also what we can do together to enrich the brand and solve a specific problem. What is the broader context of what we do here together? Should we redefine our task? That’s why in my view very helpful for a project manager is an analytical and tactical approach, ability to anticipate problems and risks, transparent communication, diplomacy, open mind. And, of course, the calmness.

If you want to work as a project manager in a branding agency it is very important to choose well. The effectiveness of the project manager largely depends on the broader organizational perspective in which he operates. Team structures, internal processes, developed procedures and documents, online tools, modern leadership – without all this, you are at risk of forwarding e-mails and praying that the customer likes your ideas.

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