Creativity and its Place in Project Management

May 31, 2019


“The best way to have a good idea is to have a lot of ideas.” – Thomas Edison

Let’s start with defining creativity.

In “The Social Psychology of Creativity,” Amabile (1983) defines creativity as:

“A product or response will be judged as creative to the extent that (a) it is both a novel and appropriate, useful, correct or valuable response to the task at hand, and (b) the task is heuristic rather than algorithmic”

To keep it simple, we can easily define creativity as the ability to generate and apply novel ideas in response to the task at hand or, in our case, to the process of project management.

As project management is an extremely disciplined and task-oriented approach to getting things done, these two (creativity and PM), in theory, have very little in common.

But, is it so?

If we take a closer look at the PM role, it might be divided into these aspects: initiation, planning, execution, controlling, and closing of projects. Basically, PM is the person who makes sure other people complete activities, schedule and manage meetings, control people to make detailed plans, and keep track of everything associated with a project.

One could easily think that creativity has nothing to do with all of the above. However, these two concepts are inextricably connected! A good pm must understand how to facilitate creativity to realize project success more easily.

A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) 4th Edition states that

“Effective project managers acquire a balance of technical, interpersonal, and conceptual skills that help them analyze situations and interact appropriately”.

And creativity can be defined as a tool that can enhance the project manager’s effectiveness in the application of these skills. Besides that, creativity can improve the application of interpersonal skills and its applying in the very concept stage of the project can (and most of the time – will) lead to more productive and value-enhancing solutions.

If we look at the unsuccessful projects, they are usually linked by certain traits such as lack of effective communication, poor financial support, and unclear requirements and far from engaged stakeholders.

These issues require solutions to prevent, lessen or counteract their effects. Even when various methodologies are used, often something happens to set us back. Most of the time, it’s the process itself that kills the team’s creativity.

However, a pinch of innovative approach can do wonders. It can be executed in a series of brainstorming sessions (where there is not even one idea rejected as “silly” or “insane”), daily scheduling of review meetings and development of more processes to support this newly introduced “innovative” flow.

Taking this creative path is extremely important due to the fact that creativity and innovation are very important at the enterprise level. As a matter of fact, organizations depend on new ideas. Therefore, more and more companies are encouraging so-called profitable innovation.

They must be able to analyze the environment, recognize profitable trends and then implement strategies to create new products and services to attract profit.

And exactly that strategy is what makes possible for new markets to be discovered and new products designed and launched. The generation of creative thinkers, whose job is to generate new ideas each day, is stepping (not so slowly) into every business segment, and are warmly welcomed and appreciated.

As a result of their new habitats (where up to recently, creativity had no place), new products and new ways of doing things are taking over. This all is a result of creative thought, now shared more freely.

As for the project management environment, creativity plays an important part in completing the project. To fight a tight schedule, limited funds and a lack of resources, PMs must transform to innovators, just to complete the project objectives. And, of course, that is not possible without the encouragement and implementation of creativity. A skill that is slowly finding its place in every skill section of CV worth of reviewing.

Creativity Tools in PM

Being somewhat abstract phenomena, creativity can be enhanced using many tools. But, as usual, we’ll stick to ones that can be defined and that are proven to be effective:

How do you use these tools? By focusing on important issues.

how to use creativity tools in pm

First thing first:

  1. Identify the problem! More important than the answer itself, is the way you pose the question. Jonas Salk once said “The answer to any problem pre-exists. We need to ask the right question to reveal the answer.” So, use creative analysis to identify the root problem.
  2. Develop a goal! Make sure you create an environment that values continuous idea generation and requires participants to think “outside of the box.” One brainstorming session is almost never enough.
  3. Gain the support of sponsors and stakeholders! Evaluate promising proposals and combat the “idea killers” whose rhetoric rarely goes further than “we don’t do it that way” or “it’s not in the budget.”
  4. Create a detailed plan! The PM must present a detailed vision that helps the team imagine and visualize the outcome with great specificity. The creativity will help you a lot when it comes to bringing this vision to life.
  5. Assess any potential risk! The innovation always comes with a high-risk In order to understand better this dynamics, a PM must carefully analyze the risk and provide his team with the best solution.
  6. Secure resources! Encourage all resourceful solutions that utilize space or equipment in a conscientious way.
  7. Assemble a team that responds well to a creative way of working! Tracking empoloyees work could be a good way to be sure that the team you created is a good fit.
  8. Be creative when it comes to crisis management! Promote creativity throughout the project management workflow, and it will facilitate problem resolution.
  9. Motivate team members! How about a meeting in a park or by poolside? Sounds creative enough?
  10. Don’t back off once the project is finished! Analyze how the project went, make sure to continue with creative practice and method used.

How to Unlock Creativity?

Being creative is not an easy job. Being creative always is even harder. So, what can you do to remove mental blocks that prevent you or your team from being innovative, open-minded and creative?

how to unlock creativity

Besides all that, you can always improvise. Start by inviting guests to project meetings, asking children to comment on an idea, exercising, relaxing for a few minutes each day in a quiet area, or even taking a beginner’s point of view! And, by all means, don’t judge anything too quickly!


Change Management