Managing a design team 101?
August 1, 2007 9:05 PM   Subscribe

Managing a design team 101. Can you recommend any books, web sites, articles, etc. on the most effective, *humane* way to manage a design team?

I'm looking at the Mythical Man Month, Scrum, and other developer-centric books that I'm sure will be helpful (process is process, after all) but I'm wondering if there are references out there that can help with the more creative / design side. How do you keep people motivated, inspired, and happy? What's the best way to delegate creative (web, mostly) work? How do you deal with ego, personality clashes, and the inevitable creative disagreements?
posted by theNonsuch to Work & Money (8 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I have never used a book when managing creatives. I think if I were to give any advice it would be do NOT micromanage. I know that applies no matter what, but given how spaced out creatives can behave the temptation is quite strong.

I usually try to ensure they know exactly what the limits of the job is before it starts. You need really clear creative briefs. For example, if you know the client hates the colour brown, make sure they know it. If you know that certain graphic standards must be adhered to, they need to know that. Right from the start.

Delegation can be tough at the start, it takes time to decipher who has the best skill set for a job. Creative teams are best until you begin to see who does what well, and how you can combine skills to allow for growth.

As far as ego and personality clashes go - I don't put up with it. Ever. You're working with creative people in a business environment, not giving them their own private art studio. A happy creative team is one where they all feel respected, not worrying about having the main designer go off on a rant because the client wants their logo 10% bigger.

I don't care if the creative team wants to go to the pub/restaurant/coffee shop/park to get out and brainstorm. Fine with me. The thing about creatives is that it needs to be about the work, not whether or not they're at their desks right at 9am. But if they're working to tight deadlines then they'll need those cell phones.

Another great way to motivate is to ensure resources are available. Creative magazine subscriptions, pay for them to go to design conferences, whatever you can find to keep them inspired. Don't make it so that they have to buy their own design annuals. If they find a book or magazine or conference that they are interested in they should feel like you're open to letting them have access to it.

Allow for play. It's a great tool not just for the creatives but any coders or production staff they work with. Make sure the creative teams integrate into the rest of the business. In some places they end up kind of isolated from everyone else, which isn't good.

And, and, I'm sure there's more. You don't say if you're working with juniors or seniors, or how it's structured so I'm not sure how far to take it. I've never bothered with books on how to manage the creative development, because it should be a fluid environment. A process imposed from the top down just doesn't work on creative development. It'll develop organically.

I have no idea if any of that is helpful. If you have more specific questions you can ask via email. I've worked as a project and studio manager in design firms and agencies for over 10 years and I've run into every kind of creative personality there is. 90% of them are fun, the other 10%....well. You can't like everyone you work with, right?
posted by Salmonberry at 9:31 PM on August 1, 2007 [2 favorites]

It's old, but it's pretty well understood as a "fair" management framework: Management by Objectives. Doing it well takes some creativity, and some commitment to actually working the method, including setting realistic written objectives and plans for achieving them, measuring results, grading outcomes, and revising plans and personnel if objectives aren't being met in time to assure that they can be. With experienced, mature teams, this method often works very well, but can require much more management effort in teams composed of less mature members, who may lack the judgment and experience to recognize their own limits and role boundaries.

In my experience, it's counterproductive to try to manage people who are immature enough to let their egos and personalities become significant problems in achieving reasonable objectives for a team. After an early and frank discussion of such issues, should they arise, it's management's responsibility to take decisions to resolve situations which lead to such conflicts, including personnel replacement or reassignments as needed. People are human, but effective team members must be mature contributors, foremost, if a business activity is to work well.
posted by paulsc at 9:34 PM on August 1, 2007

I'm currently reading Peopleware for managing software development teams and so far, it seems really good.
posted by j at 10:17 PM on August 1, 2007

Getting Real by 37$ignals has some informative tips on managing workflow, meetings, etc. of small design teams.

While reading it you will often consider the content to be pretty straight-forward and perhaps even common sense but it does serve as a nice little reference in bullet-point form. I would recommend it for this issue.

Getting Real is the business, design, programming, and marketing philosophies of 37signals — a developer of web-based software used by over 1 million people and businesses in 70 countries.

Especially since it's free now, why not?
posted by travis vocino at 10:30 PM on August 1, 2007

Managing Humans

What you will learn in this book can be applied to any management situation involving smart people.
posted by secret about box at 12:18 AM on August 2, 2007

I found it a lot like herding cats. They're not really concerned with the whole hierarchy/ladder climbing mentality. They just want to do what they enjoy. The designers I worked with were, like cats, only social on their own terms. Big team-building efforts were seen as insincere and are a waste of time.

They had little concept of deadlines, or organization in general, so my task was to keep them on task. We had project meetings every morning. Since they're visual people, it helped to make exciting-looking wall calendars with big bold deadlines. Excel sheets or Outlook reminders were useless.

Delegation works best when people have their own specialties. We had a guy that was phenomenal in Flash, and all the Flash stuff automatically went to him. We had another person that was awesome with print media, and another person that did the grunt work. We'd toss the grunt worker a big project every once in awhile to keep her happy, but mostly she understood that the other two were going to get the juicy stuff.

Come up with a consistent project flow/approval process. Don't change this every few months (my firm's mistake). Make sure the art director, or whomever does the final approval, is well-respected as a designer by the other designers, and that will minimize the creative disagreements.

The major problem that we had was that the art director (my boss) was not an effective manager at all. He was essentially an experienced designer that got pushed into a managerial position, and he still had a creative mentality rather than an organizational one. So, deadlines meant nothing to him, and I ended up having to manage him in a sense.
posted by desjardins at 7:53 AM on August 2, 2007

I found it a lot like herding cats.

Like atheists? (Richard Dawkins...)
posted by travis vocino at 3:45 PM on August 3, 2007

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