Many of our companies hold performance reviews at the beginning of the calendar year, which provides us the opportunity to reflect upon the previous year. Cella is no different. When I look back at 2011 and think about what I've learned, it's extremely clear to me that I've become a lot more knowledgeable about project management systems for creative teams.

In my previous role as head of a creative team, we had a great project management system. We had almost everything we needed. It was a great time tracking tool, managed of our "job jacket" details, had fantastic reporting capabilities, and even had a work-sharing component that allowed team members to request help of one another. This tool was custom built in FileMaker Pro about ten years ago by our "Mac guy" and then refined and expanded by our second "Mac guy" (both were highly-valued team members). I wasn't involved in the original build, so I'm uncertain whether off-the-shelf products were reviewed. But I can attest that building our own system was cost-effective (the labor was already paid for in the form of our Mac support team member) and licensing fees for FileMaker Pro were quite reasonable.

If I were still in that role, but armed with the knowledge I've learned in the last year about project management systems, I would suggest a system review to determine if it were time to move to an off-the-shelf system. This is for several reasons:

  • The "Mac guy" is no longer with the company. Luckily he is still available for freelance work (or at least he was), but it's at a higher cost. There is a lot of dependence on this one person--moving to a system which could be supported by a larger network of people would be beneficial in the long run. This is not to say we couldn't have found someone with FMP experience who could have figured it out, but it wouldn't have been convenient.
  • There was some functionality we never implemented due to the complexity of the programming behind it AND the amount of time it would have taken. I wanted workflow scheduling--the ability to schedule out multimedia and other longer-term projects across team members and identify how much capacity each team member had on a weekly and monthly basis so I would quickly be able to figure out information such as "When would Alicia be available to start "x" project?" We did have the ability to see how busy people were in the short term, but we couldn't see the details of their longer-term capacity--we used paper and pencil to figure this out. This type of functionality is available in most off-the-shelf products.
  • New reports needed to be designed and programmed by someone with FMP experience--some of the off-the-shelf products allow for very easy custom report design.
  • Our FMP application was server based which made remote access very slow, whether by employees working from home or our team members in India. Moving to a cloud/web-based system would have provided efficiency gains.

  • I'm not saying I'm a complete convert from custom to off-the-shelf, but there are a lot of advantages to consider with off-the-shelf products. The market has changed considerably in the past ten years. Some systems make it very easy to start time and project tracking with minimal investment and effort (FunctionFox is a good example). Other systems offer a full Smorgasbord of functions (e.g., approvals tracking and routing, digital asset management, proof reviews, accounting tools, scheduling, media buying) at varying price points with varying opportunities to customize (Workamajig, MetaCommunications, and Advantage are examples in this space). There are a lot of different products on the market to support creative in-house teams in their question to work more efficiently--the Cella team has created a list of the products we've come across and we've bucketed them based on capabilities. Some products may fit across multiple categories, but we believe we've put them in the bucket they best fit. View the list.

    In short, implementing a project management system greatly improves the ability of the creative leader to effectively manage his or her business, and there are a lot of tools available to help.

    If you're considering selecting or implementing a project management tool, Cella can help. Please contact us if you're interested in learning about our services in this area.

    If you haven't already participated in our annual "State of the Industry" survey--please join the more than 120 in-house creative leaders who have by taking the survey before our January 30th end date.

    In her role as Cella General Manager, Jackie Schaffer has consulted for Fortune 500 clients with more than 400 in-house team members and for teams at mid-sized businesses, government entities, and educational institutions with teams as small as four designers. Jackie's management competencies lie in operations assessments, financial management, and talent management, and she has a deep passion for balancing the creative and business needs of in-house shops while providing fulfilling opportunities for the team. Prior to joining Cella, she directed an international team of 80 creatives. During her tenure, she spearheaded the launch and development of the group's India-based team, built an interactive media division, and executed against a new visual identity.