Creativity Is a Good Thing
Each task in your project has its own requirements. Some tasks are very straightforward and need to be performed in fairly specific ways; others require a measure of independent thinking on the part of your team. The bottom line, however, is that you should be open to creativity in general and your team should know it. When a project manager receives suggestions from the team regarding ways to streamline the project or to improve the quality of the project in general, they should be taken seriously.
Being open to creativity doesn't mean changing the Gantt chart every time someone on your team thinks they have a better way of doing things. It just means you're open to bettering the project based on the observations and analysis of the people who are working on it. An added benefit of accepting creativity is that it causes your team to start thinking critically about the tasks they're working on: This is important because project planning isn't always perfect, and you want your team to point out any potential issues whenever they encounter them. As a project manager, you need to decide which suggestions warrant making changes to your plan, but always praise your team for bringing suggestions to your attention.
Maximizing Creativity While Minimizing Change
When it comes to project management, change is often dreaded. Change can mean extending the project completion date, adding additional tasks, tying up additional resources, etc. So, even though creativity is a good thing, it's often feared by project managers because of the implications it has on the project's logistics.
Generally, when you allow your team to incorporate creativity into their tasks, you get one of these two types of suggestions:
- Suggestions that make the task simpler or more streamlined
- Suggestions that point out some sort of problem or conflict with the task, as assigned
The first type makes sense: People don't like taking redundant or unnecessary steps to complete a task, because that simply means more work. When people start thinking creatively they may be able to identify and eliminate such unnecessary (and potentially frustrating) steps–and this is something that will benefit the project. The only change you might have to make in this situation is to mark a task completed ahead of schedule. You should be careful to identify that the change is one that streamlines a task rather than cuts corners on it.
The second type of suggestion, the one that points out some sort of problem or conflict with the task, is also to your advantage even though it's more likely to require change. Your team members are presumably experienced, or even experts, in their fields, so they may be able to identify problems with a task that other people missed. Sometimes this means adding additional tasks to a project or extending the completion date, but in the end you need to look at it as actually minimizing change: It takes a lot less to fix a problem early on rather than near the end of the project.
Tips for Promoting Creativity
There are a lot of simple ways for project managers to show their team that they're open to creativity:
- Have an open-door policy: Let everyone you're assigning tasks to know that they can come to you at any time if they have a suggestion for the project.
- Acknowledge great ideas: When someone on your team comes to you with a great idea that you end up incorporating, give them the recognition they deserve. At the least, this means keeping them in the loop regarding the implementation of the suggestion they made.
- Ask for opinions on how things can be improved. A lot of project management is about telling people what to do, but the truly great leaders also take advantage of their team's knowledge and ask for opinions. By asking people how they might improve a task, you're forcing them to think creatively and critically. If you're looking for improvements, ask for improvements directly–if you simply ask someone what they think about a task they might just tell you what they think you want to hear.
- Don't react negatively to suggestions. Not all the suggestions you receive from your team are going to be great, but just because someone has a bad idea today doesn't mean he won't have a great one next week. If someone comes to you with ideas that you don't agree with, give them constructive criticism or simply thank them for the suggestion and tell them that all suggestions are taken seriously–the last thing you want to do is scare someone away from thinking creatively in the future. Additionally, your team members talk to each other, and you want to maintain a reputation as the project manager who takes everyone's ideas seriously; this will gain you major respect.
- University of Wisconsin. NIATx – Creativity and Design, retrieved at http://www.niatx.net/Content/ContentPage.aspx?NID=18
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