Designers, like musicians, need to play in diapason in order to come up with melodious experiences. 🎶
This is a subjective essay, a short read about Creative team pace management. It is based on experience, discussions with peers over the years, personal thoughts & analysis.
Designers are managing creativity to answer business needs. Creativity and creative teams cannot be managed like any other field. Designers just like any specialists need specific management skills.. Let’s put all that into music.
Music is not Magic
Creativity isn’t magic, creative people aren’t gifted by nature.
Creativity is triggered by multiple factors (Process, Product, Person, Place — read James Melvin Rhodes). These factors are altering one’s capacity to be creative and show that creativity can be enhanced over time and can be affected if one of these factors are stressed. Process englobes creative thinking processes, they require knowledge and practice and are core to pretty much every creative fields. Creative processes are cognitively demanding and tend to work better under certain circumstances (it is known that creativity can be enhanced when you are tired for example). The personality will also play a role in someone’s capacity to be creative. Openness, degree of autonomy, but also the environment and context will have repercussions on people’s aptitude at being creative.
It isn’t hard to guess that all these factors are sensible and should be managed with specific care. Creative teams should be supported by creative souls with an empathic lens. Design leads need to define a tempo to manage both creativity and productivity in rhythm.
Staves or team management foundations
Staves are the 5 lines that delimits the space and represent the different pitch or percussions on a musical notation.
Designers have all very different rhythm and will play a different role in the creative process. Managing the tempo doesn’t mean micro-managing each individuals. Managing a tempo means that we let each players manage their time within a same frame. For this to happen we need to first set a shared musical notation, common rules for our team to start planning ahead. And we cannot achieve that without… meetings. 😱
It is important to let the team know what comes up today just like what will happen this whole year. Meetings are here for that. Before to dive in, it seems important to remind that meetings are useless if not prepared. This is an important part of management that can have extreme repercussions if not done properly. An unprepared meeting will most likely make everyone loose time. There are high chances to be even counter productive as not everyone reacts well when unprepared and insights can easily be biased. Asking people attending the meeting to be prepared is a must (read Andy Grove, High Output Management for more infos).
Design rhythm, the 5 staves
To free up concerns and allow ourselves to focus on creative processes, we clearly define our working rhythm so there are no surprises. These 5 staves represent different pitch and are related to time.
Casual follow up. It works great at function and mission level in case of a matrix organization. It is a great occasion to actively listen to your teammates. 10 minutes top.
4P stands for Plan, Priorities - Progress & Problems. Early in the week we plan and prioritize the work. Late in the week we review our progress and list up identified problems for discussion. Simple, 30min to 1h for each of the 2 sync-up meetings. Asking attendant to be prepared is a must. Setting some free laptop/smartphone rules is also great to have everyone focused.
1:1 meetings are prepared. As said it is important to be proactive and as efficient as possible. There is no point having a meeting for an hour if it can be done within 10 or 15 minutes. That said, 1:1s are an important time to also check the pulse at a personal level, simply checking if everything is alright.
OKR (Objective & Key Results) are short term objectives. They are defined altogether and contain business insights as fuel. It helps the transition between productivity and creativity. Team OKRs are set first, each designers are then asked to plan their own Objectives and related Key Results autonomously.
Yearly dream objectives & KPIs
We are dream achievers, aren’t we? 😏 Yearly objectives are motivational and inspirational materials for the team to set their route for the year. These dream objectives are subtly connected to our business KPIs and should affect designer’s roadmap and their capacity to grow.
Now we’ve defined the lines ruling our music we can move forward and start composing.
In this metaphor Designers are musicians, playing different instruments, reading different musical notations. Each notation being a design outcome of any sort.
Notations are not our focus, what we want to look closer at is the tempo, the pace that designers follow to play these notes.
It’s the space you put between the notes that make the music. — Massimo Vignelli
The importance of Rest
It is common among creative professionals to hear that someone is creatively exhausted. It sometimes feels like our Creativity Power Gauge is empty and we need to wait for reload. Well this can be done through different ways.
Firstly, it is always good to take an actual rest, avoid overwork, take a break every 2 hours and disconnect once in a while to reconnect with mother nature or simply recharge watching Netflix, buried under your blanket for 3 days in a row..
Secondly, it is also good to take a step back from creative work during your working time and focus on other tasks. Designers have other responsibilities aside being creative. Listing up all the different types of tasks and categorizing them can help managing our creative time differently. Of theory isn’t always applicable and a creative agency crazy rhythm might not make this possible.. In this case more fundamental changes might be necessary first.
Taking a rest by listening to other play is also a very instructive thing to do. You are out of breath and cannot play your music anymore, you seat back, relax and listen to other designers. Watch them do, ask them questions, check how their files and assets are built. Again, if your workplace isn’t opened to sharing assets and knowledge, the Web is full of awesome people ready to share their best practices and musical notations. Inspiration can act as a sort of creativity boost. It feeds your engine with various inputs that will, in a way or another impact your creativity!
Refrain is the line (or lines) that are repeated. A list of outcomes or tasks that are grouped to form a particular pattern. The metaphor can be a bit stretchy, it is about pattern recognition. Designers do a lot repetitive tasks. For your own sake and to be more productive at dealing with repetitive steps, always consider if your current work can be optimized or automated. Our Design tools have never been this great, we have keys to make our life easier. Repetitive tasks are creativity killers, if you can, get rid of them. It is worth spending your time, promised. The more your are able to identify these patterns the faster you will get at identifying the next ones.
The next step is to create our own patterns. This is vastly everything we refer as design systems or style guides. A basic set of patterns (tokens, components) for every designers to use will greatly help the team to play the same music. Melodic patterns are commonly used in Jazz improvisations and are exactly what you think they are: reusable cells with different pitch that can be repeated at any scale. If a team builds a pattern library, it allows designers to quickly use and it spreads consistent experience across whatever you are designing.
It isn’t always easy to manage a creative team, creativity tends to express itself in various ways under various conditions. It requires from the lead flexibility and empathy to allow and enhance creative behavior within the team. The importance of rest, installing a tempo within the team helped us a lot. It requires time and permanent adjustment but I believe it to be worth it. The 5 staves are great ways to check if the current rhythm works for everyone. If one of us feels uncomfortable it is usually a sign for a change. Design systems and other optimization processes are trendy and to my opinion worth the time. Systems can be seen as limiting creativity by adding too much control over it. But to our experience it actually produces the exact opposite as designers spend less time on details and more time working on the bigger picture. This tempo recently allowed 2 of us (out of a team of 6) to become Product owners across different mission teams, proof of our capacity to be efficient and sharp with our Design. Defining a creative pace sets solid foundations