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When Creative Projects Go Off the Rails
Created on September 28, 2016

When Creative Projects Go Off the Rails

by Stephan Wilhelm, Creative Director, Sandbox Brand Marketing

There seems to be a million and one ways creative projects can go off the rails. Whether or not things were going along quite well and then just fell apart or just never got going from the start. It is frustrating for both parties when you and the client are at odds. This is going to happen from time to time like it or not. Fortunately if you know what to look for you can minimize these situations to something few and far in between.
  1. Accountability
    Although you would think just by just having clear job descriptions this wouldn’t be a problem. The reality is that there is a lot of overlap these days when it comes to account management and creative development, especially in the smaller shops. Although a RACI Chart may be overkill for smaller project/teams it is still important to understand these four key roles  1) Responsible, the person who actually carries out the process or task assignment, responsible to get the job done. 2) Accountable, the person who is ultimately accountable for process or task being completed appropriately, responsible person(s) are accountable to this person 3) Consulted, people who are not directly involved with carrying out the task, but who are consulted, may be a stakeholder or subject matter expert 4) Informed, those who receive output from the process or task, or who have a need to stay informed.

  2. Clarity
    For creative projects this traditionally comes in the form of the much maligned creative brief. Done poorly they can be vague and not of any benefit to the creative team. However if done correctly it gets everyone to buy into a single cohesive vision and determines direction moving forward. As projects invariably meander between different perspectives, objectives, view points and stylistic approach, this one document will be a key factor in keeping yourself and your client on track. The beauty is once you have agreed upon objectives and goals it makes it very easy to sit down with the client and refer back to what was agreed upon, and if things have changed significantly then its an easy conversation around modifying the project scope and re quoting.

  3. Deadlines
    Meaningful deadlines breaking the project into manageable chunks are extremely beneficial to the creative process. If things are too loose or undefined, time/resources are wasted. If things are too tight, quality and flexibility are sacrificed.  The structure of well managed progressive deadlines helps to keep things on track and give you enough time to react and make the necessary changes before completion. It is key to have a single person in charge of deadlines and following up on progress. Weekly review meetings are also a necessary component to ensuring things move along in a timely manner.

  4. Scope Creep
    Some types of projects are more susceptible to scope creep than others. With websites being some of the biggest offenders. A lot of times there is not necessarily a clear line when things go from value added to full out scope creep. It is a slippery slop and one that can be difficult to recover from. The most important thing to keep in mind is, as soon as it has been identified,  the account manager documents the change, reviews internally and with the client for solutions and requests approval before proceeding. This is where a well crafted creative brief will help as you will be able to refer back to the stated goals, objectives, outcomes and have that conversation with your client from a basis of mutual agreement.

  5. Communication
    A smooth running project will have team members checking in regularly by phone or in person to see how things are going. Ideally if you can schedule a regular set time, it will go a far way in keeping the lines of communication open. In addition to regularly scheduled meetings an important aspect to communication comes back to the first item on this list - Accountability -  If it is at all unclear as to who should be in charge of what, it opens up a whole host of communication issues. This is part of how well team members relate to one another and trust each other. Any issues here need to be addressed directly and immediately to ensure that there are no lingering miscommunication among team members.

  6. Remote Teams
    Coordinating and managing multiple team members remotely can be a challenge.  Especially when time zones are involved and deadlines tight it will be difficult to keep things on track. Fortunately there are no shortage of online collaboration tools that can help. Slack, Trello, Yammer, Mindmeister, Conceptboard, Basecamp….  the list goes on and on. The trick is to pick one, learn it inside and out and have it adopted by your team.
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