Project Managers Help Make Creativity Possible

Do project managers add value or are they just another layer of bureaucracy?

Before you answer, I have to confess that I am the Project Manager at Grain & Mortar, so you can guess how I feel about this topic. I think there are a few common misunderstandings about what project managers do, and I want to shed some light, bring a little clarity, and provide a little shout-out for all the planners and organizers out there. (Everyone with a tidy “to do” list wave your hands in the air!)

I help my colleagues with essentials that may seem tedious (schedules, budgets, timelines) but make our most important product — creativity — possible.

MYTH: Project managers stifle creativity by imposing rigid structure.

Do you know that feeling you get when you are completely in your work zone? You can see it in your mind, can’t you? Now remember a time when someone interrupted you to help with a “really quick favor that won’t take more than five minutes.”

Mm-hmm, five minutes, right.

Stopping in the midst of a creative process to perform an administrative task — no matter how small — and then trying to return to that creative flow is an unnecessary waste of time. Checking emails, reviewing a timeline, inquiring with the client about the budget. Even if the task really does only take five minutes, it’s energy spent in the wrong direction and for the wrong purpose.

Enter PROJECT MANAGER, stage right.

As the project manager, I can focus on those “tedious” details so our creatives don’t have to. And, for the record, project managers like to be in the detail zone. Timelines, checklists, calendars — these all put me in my happy place. With me tending to those efforts, it means no one has to shift gears or get out of their zone.

My goal is to consistently build parameters that allow the team at Grain & Mortar to work with as little distraction as possible. This should never get in the way of creativity, but rather provide the time and tools that are needed for great creative work to happen. Think about it like this: If client emails and budget inquiries were rain, I’d be kind of like the human umbrella.

MYTH: Project managers get in the way of communication.

My goal as the project manager is to make room for great communication between the client and the creative team. In fact, I prefer direct communication between the creative and the client when it comes to discussing ideas, design elements, or technical information. No one can explain a designer’s intent better than the designer him/herself.

A project manager simply takes on the facilitating portions. I’m like the circus barker coming to town early to promote the show — my job is to make sure everyone’s looking in the right direction, on time, and ready to see a lion if that’s what’s up next.

MYTH: After a project gets started, there’s really nothing left for the project manager to do.

In my role, I’m aware of the smaller details of each project as well as the studio’s 30,000-foot view. I essentially manage a complex jigsaw puzzle with pieces that are constantly changing size, disappearing, and reappearing. Inevitably, projects get delayed or extended, and we’re forced to ask: What will that do to the schedule?

Having a person on our team that has a high-level view of all the ongoing and upcoming projects gives us the ability to assess the situation efficiently. We can shuffle and re-structure schedules without stealing any energy away from the creative team’s progress. So, once a project is going I’m busy nudging, corralling, and plotting the next steps to make sure we finish on time and on budget. And I try to remove obstacles before they derail further progress.

Project managers use different tools, resources and methods to get their work done. Everyone has their own system and as far as I’m concerned the tools of the job are not what matters. What is most important to me is that I listen to my team and help problem-solve. I don’t think there’s anything more important than helping others.

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