Why Project Managers Need To Be Creative – Guest blog by Elizabeth Harrin

23 June 2016
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Creativity. We don’t need much of that over here in the world of project management, do we? Unless you are a digital PM or working in a creative industry. For the vast majority of project managers, we have the processes, tools, techniques and software available to do the job without having to spend too much time on “creative thinking”.

Actually, I don’t believe that. I might have, 10 years ago, but even then I have always been a creative type. I’m the project manager who made her own tri-fold project information leaflets to try to explain business benefits to stakeholders, back in the days before we could put all that information into electronic newsletters.

I have worked with project managers who don’t believe themselves to be creative, and who have felt that they don’t need to think that way.

Sorry, guys, but that’s old-fashioned thinking. Creativity is in.

Everyone Needs Creativity

Project managers and their teams need to come up with creative solutions all the time. You probably simply haven’t labelled them that way before. For example:

  • Creating a vision: you need to take that vague statement from your project sponsor and turn it into something that people can get behind, using your best creative skills
  • Identifying risks: you need to think creatively about what might happen and what you can do about it.
  • Benefits planning: you need to think about what kinds of benefits you are likely to achieve and think up solutions for tracking and measuring those.
  • Resolving issues: you need to come up with creative ways to address the problems you are facing on your project.
  • Stakeholder engagement: you need to creatively work with others with a fantastic stakeholder engagement plan to get people to buy in and support your project.
  • Managing resources: you need to creatively allocate resources and get creative when you don’t have everything you need – whether that’s pooling resources with another project team or revisiting your project plan with a creative hat on.

And I’m sure you can think of other examples of times where you have sat around a meeting table or conference phone going, “Oh, if we did that then…”. That’s creative thinking.

The Spin Off Benefits of Creativity

There are three spin off benefits to being creative at work that I wanted to highlight.

First, thinking creatively, and being open to using that part of your brain, in my opinion gives you a broader and more empathetic outlook. You’re looking past the project management process and the tools to how they can work with you, how you can get the best out of them and how they can support the goals of the project and the organization more generally. The blinkers are off.

This can be incredibly empowering and it means that you are more alert to the signals being put out by your team. Project managers get work done through other people, and it’s really important to know whether someone on your team is having a bad day. It just is, because it means you can do something about it – and you can think creatively about what that might be (or you could just ask them).

Second, being allowed to be creative at work makes work a nicer place to be. A survey by Creative Huddle reports that 91% of people feel that being creative at work positively impacts their engagement levels. Nearly 90% said it positively affects their productivity – think about that! If your project team were even a teeny bit more productive, what kind of bottom line impact would that have for your company results?

And then third we have innovation. You don’t have to read too much of the business press to know that innovation is what keeps some companies moving ahead and is killing off others – and sometimes their demise is pretty fast.

Creative mindsets are behind innovation. Your project is behind innovation. Being creative on your project means you can be more innovative and drive even greater business results.

Take The Time To Think

The Creative Huddle survey concluded that thinking – lateral thinking, creative thinking, problem-solving thinking, visual thinking – is a top skill for creativity.

Finding the time to really think about the challenges you have at work is a huge problem. For me, this has got worse since having children. Now I find it increasingly difficult to build enough downtime into the day to actually think beyond dealing with the next task.

Whether you buy into the idea that creativity is a great skill for those of us who don’t have beanbags in our offices* the concept of being able to carve out time to think about the project issues we are facing is definitely something you can get on board with. It’s the break in the day with a cup of coffee to reflect on the meeting from that morning. It’s the time with your office door closed or when you camp out in a meeting room so that you can tackle a tricky issue. It’s (for me) starting work at dawn to get an hour of uninterrupted work before breakfast time.

What is it for you?

That’s the time that you can dive into a problem, alone or with your team, and grabble with the issues that you can’t focus on during the business of the normal working day. That time is invaluable.

If creativity isn’t part of your approach right now, spend your next block of thinking time working out how you are going to let more creativity in. Got any ideas already? Share them in the comments below!

*I know that’s a stereotype of creative offices and your marketing colleagues probably don’t have a beanbag. But if they do, I’m jealous!

Further Resources

To learn how Genius Project can support your project management needs, we invite you to visit our website here.

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