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Creative Project Manager - Making impossible possible

Updated: Jun 3

One of the reasons why projects are full of challenges is that we are doing something new, maybe for the first time, and along the way are figuring out how to reach the goal. Of course, there are numerous methodologies and best practices on how to manage tasks and lead people, however, in the operational implementation of a project, when we are limited by time, resources and constant changes and are faced with new situations we have no experience with, one of the most useful skill is creativity.

Creativity is a skill that can be learned and developed over time, it begins with a foundation of knowledge in certain discipline and mastering a way of thinking.

In order to become creative in delivering projects you need to be ready to experiment, explore, question assumptions, use imagination and constantly challenge the status quo.

The biggest enemy of creativity is bureaucracy as it does not allow “out of the box thinking”. So, you will also need courage to stand up for your ideas.

Ambrose Hollingworth Redmoon said: „Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear“.

As Project Managers, we are constantly faced with finding solutions to new problems and making the impossible possible, so our ally in this process is creativity.

I’m describing few cases from real life projects where impossible become possible due to innovation, creativity and lack of fear and I hope it will inspire you to think different.

Exhibit 1: Strong vision, lack of strong project leader

Project goal was to develop new innovative product for Croatian market. Very strong project initiator and product vision, but lack of executor. Well, real situation was that project had assigned Project Manager, but he did not know how to bring order to chaos, how to make structure. Truth was that he also had additional challenges like: low project priority, lack of resources, new technical innovation and a team that did not believe in the possibility of realization of this kind of project with all obstacles ahead of them. First six months of the project team delivered almost nothing. Then, Project Manager was replaced and he was given an open hands to bring the project under control and bring it to life.

The first thing he did was unformal team building. It was very unpopular decision at that time, but I like to call it different. What, happened next is that project was declared a benchmark and “custom made” methodology (way of working) that project team created was accepted as example for future similar projects.

Lesson learned: In order to be creative you need to think different and make unpopular decisions. 
There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things.

Exhibit 2: Undefined roles

Company is growing from medium to large and changes it’s organizational structure. I’m hired as mentor for processes related to change initiatives and working with executives to gather their requirements. First thing that they wanted as part of documentation is organization chart. Questions were like: “Where is my name, what is my role and in which rectangle am I in that OBS?”

My approach was first to define what kind of work are employees doing and what is expected from them and the last step was to give name to that role or job position.

So I said: “Let’s pretend roles do not exist.” Again, unpopular approach, but…. At the end they have cross functional teams with more generalists than specialists and role names that came along the way.

Lesson learned: You don’t need to have role name to be able to get job done. Focus on value delivery and others will recognize your role.

Exhibit 3: Crisis due to change

At our projects, they learn us how NOT to bring the project into a crisis situation, but what if the crisis comes to us?

This is tough one! Project is executed during global crisis period and it was most important project in company, as on project contract budget depended a large percentage of salaries in the company. Almost 80% of company employees worked on this project and expectations were, how to say, failure is not the option.

The biggest problem was quality of deliverables due to unskilled team members.

Few months before planned production date huge change happened. Half of project team members were released from the project and replaced with new employees.

Another stressor was added to an already stressful situation for those who stayed wondering: "Am I next?"

Was that a creative solution? I would say it was bold decision. But…. Once when rest of the team experienced denial and valley of despair, next logical step was exploration and creativity.

You can probably guess, that at the end project finished according to plan, budget and satisfied client.

Lesson learned: Leaders must create need for change. Change must disrupt the status quo. Be adaptable and don’t outsource hope.

Exhibit 4: Lack of trust

How hard is to trust your Project Manager? It depends on organizational structure and power or influence of a change leader. So, how to gain trust, when resistance to change is part of the process?

Story goes like this. Very important project in company, among top 3 priorities, has experienced change leader that has already few successful projects in company and is recognized as skillful manager. He sets up a little bit different delivery approach that consisted of mixing various methodologies (predictive, adaptive) to be able to reach expected results. What happens next is that one manager that is not part of the project team starts to attend all project team meetings. His was change averse and did not trust any new unproven work methods. And what was even worse, people in a team liked new approach and wanted to be engaged on that project.

One of the best methods to getting people to trust is to get them involved, so they feel more in control of their future. So, manager got a very important responsibility on project and after that he became first promotor and also was feeling accountable for the project result. So the next time, maybe his attitude from the beginning will be trust and do not verify.

Lessons learned: People don't work for the project. They work for you. People follow leaders who “walk the talk”. If I could give you any advice, I would choose authenticity and credibility.

Exhibit 5: Mentoring & coaching to sustain momentum

As a project leader, you are consistently learning and teaching others in daily interactions and collaborations.

Personally, I value knowledge-sharing culture and I'm also acting in a role of a trainer, mentor and coach for my clients. But the biggest question is how to make the change stick, that is, how to ensure that the practices acquired during the training are applied in real work?

Client is an agency, working on complex project and they identified that project team is missing, as they called it, “basic project management skills”. So, how to find out what is the real problem, “story behind the story”? Answer is magic of coaching questions. Based on findings, I tailored the training that was excellent, with great feedback.

Next question was, how to sustain the momentum? There are some traditional answers, like adding training components to employees training plans, add responsibilities to their job descriptions and measure it.

But…What about mentoring and coaching to further deepen and expand the topics so that each employee can choose what and how to apply it in his work and to have someone who is supporting them through change process until they reach commitment? It seems like additional cost, but what about if you think of employees knowledge as company value?

Lessons learned: Once everyone is aware of their starting points and conscious of what unique knowledge or skill set they need, it’s time to act! 
Encourage mentorships and think of it as an asset to your team and the organization.

Imagination creates miracles!

Surround yourself with people in the team and outside the team who in a creative way find solutions for new problems.

There is no imagination and creativity without failure. If plan A fails, you will need people who are able to act creatively and find a new way, take unusual risks, unpopular decisions and different approaches. Start by trusting them, share knowledge and impossible will become possible.

How to become Creative Project Manager?

If you are interested how to explore creativity even more check out Creative Project Manager Program that will enable you:

  1. To discover creative ways how to lead your own initiative.

  2. At the end of training, you will have prepared project documentation and heads up how to continue further with your project.

  3. Practice presentation skills by preparing and delivering presentation.

  4. Recognize your own communication style and EI potential troughout Disc Flow® Core report with EI profile.

  5. Be better equipped to prepare and deliver future projects in your company.

  6. Earn 35 educational hours of project management education that can be used for certification holders or prerequisite for PMI certification application.

Training is starting in September 2024 and is limited to 7 participants. You can book your seat with Instructor:

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