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5 Tips for a Better Project Management Mindset in Your Photo Studio

Aritzia's David Hice tells us how to lead our creatives toward embracing efficient platforms.

Head of Community at Creative Force
Head of Community at Creative Force

When it comes to the details that a studio must keep organized, suffice it to say the industry has changed dramatically.

"It's easy to trace the evolution of the photo studio from the pre-recession days of big budgets, more traditional type of photo shoots, where it was an isolated event that was planned to be semi-chaotic," says Daniel Jester, host of The E-Commerce Content Creation Podcast. "That's how you knew you were having a good shoot, if half the people were running around with their hair on fire. But that's not how we do it in e-commerce content creation."

No, in the e-commerce world there's a need for calmer efficiency because chaos has ramifications beyond just a wild ride of a workday. It creates all manner of bottlenecks and unaffordable delays in upstream processes.

With that in mind, Daniel talks with David Hice, Aritzia's director of photography production. David knows that, with e-commerce studios often located outside of company headquarters, there's a need for internal communication that project management tools aid. So David and Daniel chat about creating a studio-wide commitment to a project management mindset.

For the whole chat, stream the podcast episode on Amazon Music, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and our website. If it's just the highlights you're here for, though, we're happy to share a few of Daniel and David's main points.

A Project Management Emphasis Helps Your Studio Scale and Contract

David's view of project management is wide in its definition, making room for the many tools and steps that help a studio match its efficiency and output with its size and demand—in other words, scalability.

"I define it as, you know, the integration of creativity and technology where efficiencies in the process are gained," he says.

The idea here is to expand efficiency into attitude, getting more of your creative team thinking with project management in mind.

"As we're building our creative process, that project management underlying foundation is very much a part of it," David says. "You want to think about the holistic approach of all those pieces and how you ultimately get it into a scalable environment that can help your business grow or go the other way when times are down."

By having clear ways to track, organize, and share the information relevant to every studio KPI, your team can maintain positive relationships with upper management and cross-functional partners.

But project management isn't just about having data as fodder to make your case when you need it. Project management in the proper mindset is a way of organizing conversations, encouraging feedback, and cultivating empathy within your team and company.

"Let's create this process that we know is scalable and sustainable, and then educate our individuals on it, but not just force-feed it to them—we need to have their feedback," David says. "Let's talk to the photographer. Let's truly understand their part of the process. Let's talk to the retoucher. Let's truly understand their part of the process. Let's talk to who ultimately gets that asset. Let's truly understand that part of the process so we can then take that and put it into this environment that we can grow in."

Project Management Helps You Direct Creative Talent to Creative

All of these efficiencies created by project management should be embraced by your creatives because this initiative is designed to help them focus on the tasks they most enjoy and the ones where they bring the most value to your studio team.

"These are all things you're doing prior or behind the scenes," David says, "so those you hire—those extremely creative people—can just produce cool stuff for you. If you take away all that extra stuff that comes along with working in a corporate environment, or just generally working with other people, and have them do 90% or more on what you hire them for, you'll get the creativity that you desire. It's just about freeing people up, hiring the right people, and just letting them go to work."

Get a Final Word on Prioritization Using Project Management

"OK everything's a priority," David says, mimicking the oft-used line. How many times have you heard that in your studio? People in the e-commerce industry, like workers in many other professions, love to toss around this line to articulate the stress created by several, and especially competing, deadlines.

So if everything is a priority, let's organize ourselves and force ourselves to weigh one objective over the next.

"So let's take everything, let's look at it. Let's put everything in on a project basis so we have everything in front of us—we have a holistic view of everything that's coming in. And if we leverage this project management mindset, we can look at that and give everybody visibility into everything that we have going on by leveraging these tools. It's super important to have everything going into a single source of truth, because if every project is coming in from everywhere, then it's constantly like plugging holes with your fingers—you're constantly trying to keep everything under control."

This is where your team can grow from bemoaning that everything is a priority to articulating and demonstrating their pain points to partners and management.

"You can easily visually communicate that back to your cross-functional partners or even your upper management if you need to go there to get help and say, 'Hey, everything's a priority. Can you help me prioritize?’” David says. "Then you can communicate that back out to your cross-functional partners within minutes or hours, instead of, 'Let me get on a call with you, let me do this, let me do this,' because then you're constantly chasing your tail."

Project Management Behaves as a Fundraiser for Your Studio

We've made it clear that project management serves your relationship with studio leaders and company executives that have the resources to solve your team’s pain points. In no area is this more evident than in fundraising for your studio.

In some ways, the rise of project management in the industry replaces the management studio tours of yesteryear.

"I'm sure I've mentioned this on the podcast before, but Amazon was really big on bringing people in from logistics into senior leadership roles at the studio," Daniel says. "They obviously know very well how to build a business case for more CapEx, more OPEX, bigger studio footprint."

But with project management tools—or more broadly, a project management mindset that promotes organization at every step—you can build a business case for your anticipated needs—taking control of the story your studio shares with leadership.

For the middle management types in your studio, this makes project management less of a chore and more of an empowerment.

"I think there's been a change over the last five years or maybe a little bit longer—but really over the last five years—with how much these saas tools have come along, how user-friendly they are now. It's really giving someone like myself, in a middle-management position, the ability to operate," David says.

Don't Let Fear of Technology Stop You From Optimizing Your Project Management

If there's hesitation to use project management platforms, it's often because people fret about adding more platforms to their tech stack.

It's an ongoing issue that isn't particularly unique to e-commerce, David points out—even if we'd assume that creatives have more openness than the average person, in terms of adopting new tech.

"There's been this fear of technology for a long time, from a lot of different disciplines," David says. "I think creative is one of them. Even though we deal with a lot of technology, we don't necessarily deal with it in the way we're talking about it. So there's been this fear: 'I know Photoshop but I don't want to be in Excel, or I don't want to be in a project management tool. I know the tool that I went to school for. I know this in and out.' But with some of these tools, and with how far they've come along, they're so user-friendly. After a couple of uses, you can completely change the way that you're working."

David says that, while you don't need every creative to be a super-user of each project management platform, you can choose your spots to promote efficiencies—especially when it comes to disparate channels for communication.

So go forth and promote project management in your studios. But before you do, maybe you want to hear everything else David and Daniel covered. Hear it on Amazon Music, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and our website.