Clive Trusson: The Oliver Twins on the management of creative professionals
When it comes to managing creative IT professionals, the Oliver Twins can teach us all a thing or two.
As pioneers of the UK computer games industry and founders of ‘Radiant Worlds’, a thriving British games development company, Philip and Andrew Oliver have three decades’ experience of working with and managing games programmers and other creative professionals. After being invited by the Centre for Information Management at the SBE to contribute to our Distinguished Speaker Series they generously passed on the practical wisdom from that experience.
Central to their teaching was that managers should focus on getting the working environment right so that people looked forward to being at work. They spoke of making the workspace ‘nice and comfortable’, providing the best tools for the job and removing administrative distractions so that the creative professional might get ‘in the zone’ and stay in it. As they put it, ‘the challenge of making games is challenge enough’. To get the best out of their creatives, they spoke of leading by example, presenting a positive ‘can do’ attitude within an open creative culture in which the worker voice is respected, and in which the expectation was that promises and commitments to workers were kept.
Their experience had taught them that creative professionals have a tendency to dislike constraints. This presents a problem for project managers whose work revolves around managing within constraints: of budget, time and other resources. Their advice on this is to clearly communicate to the creatives the high level constraints from the offset, explaining the reason for those constraints. The creative professional might want, say, ten days to complete a task to the obsessive detail that their creative instinct demands. By discussing how it is needed in five days to enable the next stage of the work to proceed in order to meet an agreed deadline for the launch of a game, the creative might understand the commercial need for a shorter time frame and then cut their creative cloth accordingly, whilst still producing the output within the time constraint.
One final lesson they offered from their experience was in the area of recruitment of creatives. They have learned the hard way that recruiting on the strength of a one hour interview has a high risk of poor selection. As such they advocate what they referred to as ‘the two day interview’, or what might otherwise be called a work trial in which a candidate’s organizational fit might be assessed in a more natural work setting.
This was a fascinating insight into the real world of managing in the creative industries, with, I might suggest, lessons for the management of IT professionals employed in other corporate settings: IT professionals such as those employed to maintain and support business IT systems but who nonetheless are still required to work creatively drawing on their individual technical capabilities.