Project Management Institute

Myth busters

In the Trenches Sarah Flaherty, PMP, says project managers don't stifle the creative process—they help it thrive.

Sarah Flaherty, PMP, is an account manager for the in-house creative agency at Cigna, a health insurance and services company in Bloomfield, Connecticut, USA.


As a project manager in the creative department of a large corporation, I spend my days among very imaginative team members.

Creative agencies may not be thought to use project managers the same way an IT or construction organization would. Yet the essence of my role—to produce a deliverable on time, within budget and in line with organizational strategy—remains the same. The only difference is that my field battles a major myth: The creative process trumps project management processes.

Wrong. Process isn't a creativity killer. In fact, project managers can use it to help creativity flourish.

Like in any project, I start the initiation phase by relaying the project's specific goals and objectives to team members, who then help me shape how we will reach that goal.

Now is the time to be creative. If my team of designers, writers, developers and print-production specialists doesn't voice possibilities early, I risk wasting time and money on a project with an unimpressive end product.

For example, we recently completed a project to create ad materials for our company to stand out at a college recruitment fair. Our outline started with the tried-and-true method of career-fair advertising: Put a bold banner above our booth and beautiful brochures in front of it.

Yet I knew the team could add value by brainstorming within scope—but without creative boundaries.

Just like I do on all projects, I scheduled brainstorming sessions early for team members to make creative suggestions—and I encouraged them to not hold back. Once we had enough ideas on the table, we discussed the value and limitations of each.

The consensus was to add quick-response (QR) codes to the brochures. These funky-looking squares can be scanned with smartphones, allowing students to access our company's social media posts and microsites—and interact with us long after the career fair was over.


Given the project's limited resources, creating QR codes and microsites could have blown our budget and deadline.

That's when the creative project manager, armed with technical details provided by the team, should schedule a meeting with the sponsor—and fight for the changes.

To ensure buy-in, I focused on two points: Our additions were better aligned with the project's original goal, and the added benefits outweighed the additional costs.

It's up to the sponsor to grant a larger budget for the changes, of course, but generating excitement for proposed modifications is easier when project managers can show that creative measures expand a company's reach.


Once the project's defined, its execution commences just as it would on any other project: Milestones are met based on timelines, schedules and budgets. Work goes through scheduled reviews for approval by various stakeholders.

When it comes to aesthetics, though, a difference of opinion can eat away at the schedule.

As the deadline nears, the project manager's focus must change from encouraging imaginative possibilities to being the authority on whether revisions are grounded in strategy, not subjectivity. PM

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