How to manage the relationship between development and creative teams

It's easy to dismiss the relationship between developers and marketers as a battle of the left side of the brain against the right side. Calling a truce can improve the final product for the client.

Large-scale Web development projects require a close working relationship between the development team and the creative team to ensure a product that meets customer requirements.

It's easy to dismiss the relationship between development and creative as a longstanding battle that will never be resolved. However, these distinct teams provide the two halves that compose the whole of the application or Web site under development for customers. Working together will always provide a better result.

As a project manager on projects that have significant development and creative elements, you need to seek out the interrelationships and common ground between the development team and the creative team to help ensure success.

Bridge processes to ensure productivity and direction
Well-run development teams and creative teams have their own development processes, whether they are formal or ad hoc. Individual work styles are great, but not if they are incompatible. It's up to the project manager to ensure that the development and creative processes complement one another.

One point of conflict could occur when the cross-functional team needs to work together to meet the deliverable. It's important for project managers to track the efforts of both teams to ensure each group is supporting the deliverable.

To avoid another potential conflict, project managers should also make sure resource allocations for both groups are equal.

Finally, PMs need to make sure the creative side knows about any technical restrictions that may affect the site design or other deliverables of the creative team.

Find a common ground on usability, architecture, and compliance
There are actually project deliverables where the skills of the creative team and development team complement one another, including:
  • Usability of the Web site or application under development.
  • Information architecture of the Web site or application under development.
  • Section 508 compliance of the Web site or application under development.

A PM should look for common ground in these areas of the project where positive and productive relationships can be fostered between the development and creative teams.

Use mockups during the development cycle
Creative teams often speak in mockups and storyboards as they pitch concepts for Web site and Web application user-interface design to clients and internal corporate executives.

These mockups can feed the development cycle by:
  • Providing requirements on what the back-end system must support.
  • Providing the roots of a user interface specification that company testers and quality assurance staff use to develop test plans.
  • Illustrating what the customers and end users will view as the front end of the Web site or application.

Use technical documentation to find a common language
One often mentioned obstacle in the relationship between development and creative teams is the lack of a shared language—the teams don't understand one another in terms of the particular perspective on the project and its requirements. Project documentation can be used as the platform for a strong understanding between both groups and their cultures. The authors of the documentation just need to deal with the creative team the same way they deal with internal and external customers who are supported by the development team.

The scenario can also swing in reverse when writers, analysts, and project managers also must prepare creative documentation for use by the development team. It's about knowing the audience and how the individual members work.

Make team managers equal stakeholders
The managers of both the developers and the creative staff carry stakes in the project under development. Give each group equal access to resources and decision makers to avoid friction.

The creative team is not a team of programmers
In development projects that require the combined talent of developers and creative staff, there should be no "poor step child." Just as a developer is not going to have design or editorial skills, a creative team member is not going to be familiar with code or databases. Understanding these opposing perspectives can improve many aspects of the project, particularly problem-solving.