How to Project Manage Creativity



This post originally appeared on OCWriters.Network, a network of published and aspiring authors.

 

In my “real job” as a project manager, I make lists, plans, and schedules of the tasks that need to be done and how to achieve them. This is contradictory to my creative nature where I write and let the words flow. But I have been thinking lately, how do I project manage myself? How do I project manage my own creativity?

Although the project management process contradicts the creative process, I do believe it is possible to marry them together. What is it that they say, “Opposites Attract”? This is no different.

 

Project Management Defined

A project is a specific set of tasks necessary to attain a specified goal. The project itself is temporary and has a defined beginning and end. Whether you are performing a cloud migration (what I do in my professional job), planning a spaghetti dinner, or writing a novel, project management is critically important for any venture you undertake. If you are getting anything done at all, you are probably using some project management principles—although you may not even know you are.

The usual tools for project management include lists, plans, and timelines. For example, a painter has an idea, then procures the materials, then creates a sketch, then works the paint on the canvas until their vision is achieved. These steps and the associated sequence compose the overall project plan. It can be very detailed, or rather loose, but nearly anything you do could qualify as a project plan.

Project management is the continuous assessment of your progress as you work on the plan, adjusting as necessary to achieve success.

 

Project Management and Creativity

Although the rigid discipline of project management seems to clash with creativity, I have used the principles to assist my creative endeavors. I have created lists for each writing project and determined what needs to be done. My husband (who I write my novels with) and I develop outlines for our stories so that we can account for each character, scene, and action. This structure has helped me to gain traction in each writing project.

Creativity is the act of constructing something from scratch or improving upon an initial concept until you end up with something new. Finding innovative solutions to a problem is inherently creative. Even the creation of a plan or process is building something new, though it might be more disciplined than the fluid nature of traditional creative conceptional outlets like painting, music, and writing.

 

Integrating Creativity with Project Management

How do I integrate these two halves of my personality? I find in my writing I need to be more disciplined at times to complete certain tasks, whether writing itself or the business side of things. While searching for this “discipline” I do not want to forget the muse within me or the true magic of inspiration that comes from creativity. I want to be open to whatever ideas come my way and allow my imagination to flourish.

On the other side, I feel that the project manager in me needs to be more open to new ideas and different ways to accomplish a specific task. When tackling a daunting problem—like how to improve a project delivery so it is on time, within budget, and with the high standards of quality that I expect—I need to tap into my creativity to pose questions that I have not thought of before. These questions could lead to new avenues and address specific situations, especially ones that are larger in scale.

 

Collaboration in Creativity

Over time I have discovered that my management style is very collaborative. I enjoy the participation and contribution of team members that allow us to attain a goal. The goal may change and evolve over time. The comradeship not only provides the solid framework from which to build upon but also a place in which to express new ideas and possibilities . . . also known as creativity.

Creativity is dynamic and changes as people are added to the team. I am fortunate that I have a great team at my workplace to facilitate a project, and a writing team to support me in delivering a written piece of work. The “community” becomes important in building the avenue to foster creativity whether it be other project managers or fellow writers.

I have seen an increase in articles and workshops that integrate project management and creativity. In fact, I attended two breakout sessions at the Project Management Institute (PMI) Congress last year on this very topic. The great thing about the increased interest in project management and creativity is that the “community” and discussions will continue to enhance the value of project management.

As my two sides meet, I feel that I must continue to read and discuss those items as well. I need to continue to learn and see how I can be a better project manager by using creativity and then use the project management tools and principles to keep me on track with my writing. Now, if I could only stay disciplined enough to write each day…

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