Structure, process, guidelines, and boundaries are killing your creativity. Well, at least according to conventional marketing wisdom.
Managers want to make sure that work is done in a timely and cost-effective manner. But designers, developers, or writers want ample space and time to let their imaginations run wild and deliver portfolio-worthy work.
For the longest time, these wants were at odds. But thanks to new research on creative teams, the tide seems to be turning. Across the board, findings point to a conclusion that defies conventional marketing wisdom.
For one, failing to adequately structure a creative organization and get everyone working on the same page can actually produce a worst-case scenario that no one wants, stifling creativity while also reducing productivity. Poor planning and organization can leave a creative team without an effective way to prioritize work. Without this ability, creatives are quickly inundated with so much work that creativity becomes a thing of the past.
So, if you’re trying to increase creativity in your environment—no matter if you’re a creative director or a designer—where should you start? Here are five structures that will actually help enhance creativity while also increasing productivity—and very likely employee and client satisfaction:
1. Creative calendar
Organizing new project requests into a global creative calendar (across all clients or project teams) will make it easier to plan project launches and allow managers to provide team members ample time to brainstorm concepts ahead of known deadlines. Maintaining a creative calendar will help team members anticipate where and when resources are going to be needed so team members aren’t suddenly overwhelmed and overloaded without notice.
When you consider that 63 percent of creative personnel wish they had more time for creative reflection and inspiration, according to a 2013 survey by KRC Research, a calendar is the perfect tool for giving them as much time to develop concepts as possible.
2. Standardized creative briefs
Replacing one-off creative briefs with a department-wide, templated creative brief establishes a routine to be followed by all members of a creative team. A well-designed creative brief will provide all the information a designer or writer might need to set the direction and expectations for a project before brainstorming has even begun.
Why does that matter? A 2012 survey by The Creative Group shows that more than 50 percent of respondents said that managing a heavy creative workload was their biggest job concern. It also reveals that about 35 percent of time spent on a project is actually spent on rework and revisions instead of original, creative work.
A well-constructed creative brief gives team members everything they’ll need up front—messaging, creative parameters, and client expectations—to get to the all-important first creative review faster. Most importantly, it can help avoid excessive rounds of revision or more unnecessary team meetings that cut into valuable creation time.
3. Project kickoff and collaboration meeting agendas
Creative briefs might work well for day-to-day work management, but what about those large-scale, highly visible, agency-making projects like trade show designs, book covers, or annual earnings reports?
Incorporating project kickoff meetings with predetermined agendas into your production process provides team members a step-by-step guide for planning layouts, selecting imagery, testing messaging, and assessing other factors that result in more compelling work.
Of course, consistency is the key. Standardizing agendas gets everyone pulling the same direction and makes sure that only the right people get involved with a project. More importantly, clearly defining project objectives and workflows cuts down on unnecessary rounds of revision and frees up valuable time for team members to push the boundaries of creativity on each project.
4. Routing, review, and approval policies
Knowing where, when, and to whom to send a project for review is essential for saving time in the creative process. Creating routing and review processes will spare team members the hassle of chasing down project statuses or the risk of getting pulled into unnecessary review meetings that take them away from doing their actual job.
Many of these processes can be automated with software, but even manual processes will be a step up from the chaos of having a variety of approval processes. Regardless of how you get there, in the end the goal is still to reduce the amount of administrative work a creative staff has to do and maximize the amount of time they spend exploring the depths of their imaginations.
5. Unified work management dashboard
The final piece to the structure vs. creative puzzle is consolidating or unifying team operations. The ability to manage content calendars, meetings, routing/approvals, and project updates from a single location is a huge step forward in producing more imaginative work for clients without crushing the creative ambitions of team members.
An Accenture study suggests that centralizing project tasks can increase efficiency by as much as 40 percent. For creative team members, this means they’ll have more time to spend on testing creative concepts and spend less time logging into multiple systems to check on a project status or accidentally revising an older version of a project.
In the end, consolidating work management helps tie all the other structures together while helping to better define departmental roles. Project managers get to manage projects and creative staff get to be creative. It’s a novel idea, but maybe it’s just crazy enough to work.
Contrary to popular belief, adding formal structure to a creative environment isn’t the death knell for inspired, eye-catching work. Instead, cultivating a creative atmosphere built on standardized workflows and consolidated project management actually helps you save time on repeatable work, frees your creative resources to do what they do best, and enhances the quality of work you deliver to clients.
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