6 ways to tell if you need a project manager

As a creative professional leading a design firm, creative agency or in-house creative group, the time will come when you need to expand your team’s expertise with a Project Manager. Like the captain of a ship, a PM will steer safely through dangerous waters — deadlines and scope creep, miscommunication and scheduling. Knowing when to bring a PM on board — and when not to — can make a lasting difference to productivity and profitability. But as a creative professional, how do you know the time is right to hire a Project Manager?

Here are 6 signs that the time has come to include a PM in your business:

1. Your team has problems meeting deadlines.
This is a real danger sign. No matter how pressing a deadline is, it is important that you have confidence in your ability to deliver on time. If you find yourself pushing meetings back, making excuses to clients, and constantly shuffling work to give yourself more time on the latest past-due project, you need a Project Manager on your side. A PM will have the knowledge and experience to untangle the projects in your shop and create a smooth, stress-free workflow. You’ll have more time for higher level tasks, and your team will work more effectively, knowing they have the time they need to get things done properly. The quality of work will rise, as will employee satisfaction. And once the dust has settled, you’ll have a happier, more productive and more profitable creative business.

2. ‘Scope creep’ is a frequent challenge.
It is not only frustrating and annoying when the scope of a project changes from day to day — it is also potentially damaging to your business. When clients ask for change after tiny change, even the simplest, most straightforward project can become a monster that eats up time set aside for other projects. Keeping track of all those tiny changes and explaining their cost makes billing more difficult and can have a negative impact on client relationships. A Project Manager has the know-how to nail down all the variables before a project begins, and the strength of mind to address changes to the scope of work as soon as they arise.

3. You have too much to do, and not enough time to do it all.
As the leader of a creative business — a design firm, growing agency or in-house creative team, your days are full of important tasks — finding new business, analyzing reports, budgets, estimates and invoices, building relationships with clients, developing killer creative, and making sure team members are working to their potential. When you finish each day with unfinished business, it’s time to hand off some responsibilities. A PM knows how to draw up realistic and achievable schedules, to manage resources so that no-one is swamped while others twiddle their thumbs, and how to keep the team on track as they work through them to a successful finish. The best part? You’ll have more time to stay creative.

4. There are too many miscommunications and misunderstandings.
Communication breakdowns within your team — or between your team and other stakeholders, are another sign that something needs to change. Often mixed messages occur when there is no single point of contact for stakeholders. A Project Manager takes on this role, building a trusting relationship with clients, as well as making sure that project goals and budgetary parameters are clear to your creative team, and ensuring that everyone understands where they fit into the project schedule, and how their work contributes to success.

5. Micro-managing: you can’t seem to let go.
If you find yourself unable to pull away from the daily details of every project that comes through the door, that may be just what you need to do. Of course, there are ways to free yourself without giving up all control. Today there are many time and project management software systems available that take the pain out of project management and save hours of administrative time. But to make this kind of software really sing, it helps to have someone who knows how to use it to the best advantage. A Project Manager will have the experience to get the most out of reports, charts and graphs, as well as features like big-picture CEO desktops, Gantt charts, timesheets, and schedules. Between the experience and knowledge of a Project Manager, and the capabilities of time and project management software, your job — and the job of everyone on your team — will be much easier. As a business leader, you will have the information you need to make complex decisions, team members will have a clear understanding of what’s on their plate, what others are doing, and how each task and project fits into the flow of work across the organization. Best of all is the freedom you get from micro-managing.

6. Your business — and your team — are growing.
In general, the bigger your team, the greater need there is for a Project Manager. In a one or two-person organization, for instance, you can probably hold off on hiring a Project Manager. Even 3 team members, difficult as they may be to keep tabs on, might be manageable without a dedicated PM. However, once you reach the tipping point — generally 4 or 5 team members — it is time to think hard about bringing a PM in. This is the ideal time to add the skills, knowledge and experience of a Project Manager, while you learn to let go and trust in them. Larger creative groups with 10 — 20 or more team members of course have a greater need for someone in this role. However, there are usually robust and less flexible systems in place, which may make it more difficult for Project Managers to integrate in the organization.

There you have it: 6 signs that it’s time to expand the skill set of your group, learn to off-load work from your desk, begin to trust someone else, and take a significant step towards a more organized, less frantic future. It could easily be one of the best business decisions you’ve ever made.