We all go into a new project with a fresh slate. You are full of ideas and inspired by opportunities. The team is excited to get started. And someone (you?) need to lead them.
Despite the fact you have probably done this before, you may forget the problems you undoubtedly discovered on past projects. For some reason, creative projects are like child-birth, most forget the pain eventually and just go for it again. And it’s a good thing, or there would be a shortage of creative (and people) in the world.
But here are a few CLEAR reminders before you plan that first team meeting to help keep things orderly. In fact, it may be helpful to keep these printed, front and center and review them with your team ahead of time.
And that leads me to our first tip:
1. Clear the Air. Some of you may have worked on projects together before. Talk about those. What went right and what went wrong. This gives the entire team who may not be privy to those inside moments a better understanding from where you are coming from. It may also allow you to bury the old hatchet in case someone is still reeling over their concept being selected to present. During the Clear the air process, be sure to discuss a clear set of rules upfront. This ensures no ones feelings get hurt and eliminates misinterpreting a scolding for process management when things get heated in the middle of project chaos (bound to happen at some point). If you have clearly identified the rules, it’s easy to issue a simple reminder.
2. Clearly identify the scope, timeline and budget. I can’t tell you how many projects I’ve led and/or worked on where this wasn’t somehow clear to the team. There is nothing like your creative director delivering that great idea you’ve been waiting weeks for to discover it can’t be executed due to scope limitations. How does this happen? I don’t know but it does with the best of teams so talk openly about the contract, terms, and make sure all questions are answered upfront. Trust me, even after you do this, someone will come out with a “when is this due” and you will want to clobber them. At least you will have company from the rest of the team.
3. Clearly communicate. With each other, with the client and with outside vendors. Upfront from day one, have a communications plan. Where will documents reside. What is the file storage and naming procedure. What tools, blogs, apps will you use and does everyone understand how to use them. Simulate a test run if you have doubts. I once led a project for 4 months that tracked time using a specific piece of software and realized a critical billing team member didn’t understand how to use the app and was faking it. Not a great scenario. Even if you have done this before with the same team, make no assumptions. Your client may have unique requests to integrate with their team. Be sure you discuss all of this upfront and layout a written strategy for how to manage day-to-day communications and you will be leaps ahead of every corner.
4. Clear the path. As a leader, you need to keep the path clear for your team. Ensure they have everything they need upfront. By following #2 and clearly identifying the scope, you should have few surprises when it comes to tools of the trade your team may need access to. Ready those as soon as you can so your team can keep working and strike when the creative energy is hot. Clearing the path applies to keeping account or client drama away from the team as much as possible. Be selective with your feedback to convey what is needed while keeping them inspired. Control changes to scope that wont benefit the account but will moreover send your team into a whirlwind of frustration. And whatever you do, don’t feel the need to share your clients personal stories he confided in you after a few too many cocktails with the project team. It may feel like good harmless fun but it doesn’t build good trust in leadership.
5. Clearly state your role – For goodness sake, be a leader. That does not mean being bossy by the way. It means, making sure everyone knows why you are there. If you do the 4 items above this is a pretty good “I’m the leader” indicator. Being a good leader also means selecting the right people for the team and owning the responsibility for (most of) their actions. If you put someone on the copy team because you think they are going to have a great experience remember, that is what you will get….them having an experience. But not necessarily you getting what you need for copy. Team failures are on the shoulders of the coach and your team needs to know you accept these and want to lead them to victory. Watch for apathy which can come from being over tired, feeling left out or frankly an overbearing client. As the leader you need to pick up on these cues within your team and take action to make the project fun and inspiring again.
And let’s add a bonus tip here:
6. Clearly define the end. When is this thing over? What constitutes the end? It isn’t always clear with creative or campaign projects. Is it deadline driven, when the media schedules ends, when the event is over, when the client achieves their goal or even when the checks stop coming? And when the end comes what do you need to do? I have seen so many wonderful projects end unceremoniously only to a few months later hear “Hey what ever happened with that project” from a team member who was just moved on to another task. Not only should you have an upfront plan on how you will consider the project complete but you should have a plan and task team members with documenting the project along the way for awards submissions and portfolios, as well as celebrate a job well done (or just a project that is finally done).