What I Meant to Say at #604freelancecamp

May 29th, 2010

I had a GREAT time at the inaugural Freelance Camp (604-style) today at The Network Hub. I had the privileged to host a session called “How to Manage a Creative Project” which was a lot of fun. I wasn’t ‘teaching’ it but in the classic un-conference-like fashion I shared my thoughts and feelings on the subject and then simply tried to ask decent questions and respond to queries and comments from the group. Now, I did come somewhat prepared but the session seemed to roll along with out me really looking at my notes; so, in the spirit of transparency – here’s what I meant to say, or at least what I “officially” planned to say.

Posted by: Corwin Hiebert

How to Manage a Creative Project

Do you remember the A-Team? It was a T.V. show from the 1980’s and I loved it! My favorite character was Hannibal and I really got a kick out of his signature phrase, “I love it when a plan comes together.” He was right. There’s nothing better than a good plan.

Now it’s true that a creative professional’s day-to-day work looks a bit different than the A-Team’s (you’re probably not apprehending gun smugglers using 2×4’s and a jack-in-the-box filled with gasoline) but my guess is you’re doing a lot of planning. Planning for an upcoming creative endeavor, a project for yourself or a client, or preparing for your next marketing effort. Your day is made up of a whole bunch of to-do items there can be a lot of things to get done in a very short amount of time, and not too mention, enough detail to make your head spin. One of the best ways to save time is to throw away the checklists, post-it notes, and inbox-jamming emails and start managing your work like a collection of projects. And you, you’re the project manager. When your work is well planned, the chances are that you, and everyone involved, will have a great experience and the good guys will win. See, I did learn something from all that T.V.

Side Note: So often when people think of project management they think of gantt charts. Gantt charts don’t usually work for creative people or projects; not that understanding dependencies and such isn’t a good thing, but the visual representation of minutia in a linear and data-crammed way can scare people off.

I recommend treating everything you do in terms of projects. To some this may seem obvious but the truth is that everyone plans and works differently and many people, especially, creative people, feel that too much planning sucks the life out of them. I don’t feel this way. I find creativity within the spreadsheets and agenda items; sometimes I find creative inspiration only once I know the details are properly planned. The truth is a creative project is rarely planned in isolation; clients, staff, suppliers, family, friends, volunteers, or other stakeholders are involved. Sometimes, a big part of your job is to plan and organize these people. Creatives often make the mistake of holding onto tasks too tightly (maybe it’s the perfectionist within us); don’t fall into that trap. If you spend half as much time managing people as you do completing tasks, you’ll be thrilled with the results.

When it comes to the tasks, make it easy on yourself: write down each parent category—like if you are a photographer you’d start with: a shot list, locations, rentals, post-production, website, marketing—and then start drilling down to the major and minor tasks that need to happen in order to achieve success. Each task should fall under a parent category, be broken out into detailed subtasks, and each subtask should include information about cost, the people involved, its status, and, if you really want to get funky, percentage complete. This makes for a very robust project plan and, although it’s a ton of work early on, makes for a smooth, professionally planned project. Why do all this work? You’ll sleep better, trust me. You’ll also find a lot of repetition between projects, and you’ll have a template to work off making your job easier and saving you time. Considering you’re likely not billing for that preparation time you’ve just given yourself a pay raise for every gig you work.

Side Note: I recommend reading the following books:

Militant project managers can be found in many industries, such as construction, software development, and aerospace to name a few. For the independent creative professional, creativity only takes you so far, and instead of relying on being able to make sense of the chaos that can easy ensue during a creative project, why not plan in such a way that chaos isn’t even in the picture. The truth is that I’d be out of a job if everyone used this methodology and a couple simple online tools; however, I’m confident that creativity will always win out and that someone is going to be stuck with the details, enter manager.

ACTION ITEM: To manage yourself, use Smartsheet or ActionMethod or BaseCamp. Track the details of each task, assignment, and budget item online using a secure site that can function like a virtual office. Once you invite them to view your worksheet, stakeholders can be automatically notified of changes or reminded of due dates specific to the tasks they’ve been assigned. I’m a big fan of Smartsheet – so, if you want to give it a spin, click on the affiliate link below to sign-up for a free account: http://www.smartsheet.com?u=EV1006152

Note: This content can also be found in Corwin Hiebert’s ebook: Growing The VisionMonger, 10 Things a Manager Can Teach You About Running & Growing Your Business - which is available on Craft & Vision for just $5.

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