Giant Project Teams Don’t Exist At Moment
At other design firms and studios—and more often at advertising agencies—project teams can sometimes look like small armies with a rotating cast of characters siloed in their specific roles. Here at Moment, we do things a bit differently.
Most importantly, all of our designers are well-rounded and well-equipped to handle any number of complex and challenging situations, which allows us to keep our project teams small. We’re talking three to six people.
We don’t do it this way for the sake of being different, instead we do it deliberately to foster communication and collaboration both internally and with our clients. At times it can be extremely challenging, but the frequent payoff in the form of excellent, results-driven work makes it all the more worth it.
To give you a better idea about some of the fundamental thinking behind how our teams function, we asked a few Momenteers to speak about why we don’t have big project teams:
•Shannon O’Brien — Managing Director
•Michelle Lew — Lead Designer
•Karmen Kaufmann — Designer
A Moment Project Team
Before we take things any further, let’s see what a project team at Moment looks like:
As you can see, each designer has specific core strengths that we keep in mind when staffing projects, but one of the things they all have in common is the ability to effectively communicate and collaborate. You’ll also notice we staff a director-level designer to help lead projects (which sometimes means getting out of the way and letting designers work their magic), though every designer on each project is expected to lead in some capacity.
Why do we do it this way?
“Because we’re multi disciplinary, and because we don’t have rigidly defined roles based on skills, we staff teams as a unit from the beginning to the end of a project. In some other models, there’s more of a handoff process between designers. Our designers contribute to every phase of a project together. We are lucky to have great people who jump in to make this possible,” says Shannon.
No Project Managers ≠ No Project Management
Did you notice anything missing from the sample project team above? You might have realized that there’s not a project manager listed as part of that team. That’s because there are no project managers at Moment. But that doesn’t mean we don’t do project management.
“Our teams take on those roles. We have an expectation that every designer is a consultant. Sometimes it can be a shock, especially if you’re new to doing things this way. Teams are expected, challenged, and able to deliver both the design and client experience,” says Shannon.
With that type of challenge comes a big reward in the form of close relationships with high-level executives at big companies. Karmen talks about an experience she had with one of our major sports entertainment clients, “I think — especially for young designers — getting the opportunity to work with high-level employees like VPs at our client companies is really rewarding. To be able to work with them on an equal level is not an opportunity that most young designers get. A lot of other places would shield designers from clients.”
There are also other positive implications, not just for relationship management, but for the products that come out of having designers manage their own projects.
“As an employee, by separating, or removing the role of a project manager and having a smaller group that handles the business and creative side of things, you’re able to design a product that’s successful from many different points of view. In the advertising world I’d always be playing this game of telephone, which can create a very toxic environment that separates the creatives from the business people. Moment does a really good job of recognizing that there’s a dependency on both. Transforming business through design is applicable on every project,” says Karmen.
Simply put, our core values are who we are and collaboration is one of those core values. We’ve been at this since 2002 and we’ve come to the realization that small teams are the perfect incubation vehicle for collaboration.
“If you’re working on every part of the project, that makes it easy for every single team member to have pride and ownership over their work. That’s a huge privilege. It’s also a huge responsibility. Designers are responsible for constantly collaborating, adapting, and learning new skills. Otherwise you just can’t be successful as a small team,” says Michelle.
“When I worked in advertising, there wasn’t really a single team staffed on each project per se, instead, there were a lot of different teams bouncing in and out of projects. It wasn’t productive. Seeing where things ended and started was always a difficult thing. Being on one project at a time at Moment makes your time feel very valuable. Because you’re working really hard on one thing, you don’t have time to mess around. You’ve always got to contribute because everyone on your team depends on you and is working toward the same goal,” says Karmen.
Ever play that game “Telephone” when you were a kid? It’s the one where the first person whispers a message and it goes around the circle until the last person repeats what they thought the first person said. The crux of the game is usually the comical phrase that results from the communication breakdown. If you played that game with just a few people, the message holds up.
So with the simple fact that communication is clearer between fewer people, we see it also has effects on the ownership of projects.
“If we had large teams and they were all client-facing, then half of the team wouldn’t be able to share their point of view. Having small teams allows everyone to have a voice in addition to that ownership and vision,” says Shannon.
Additionally, when everyone’s rallied around a shared vision and message, it helps designers work in unison.
“When you’ve got a team that only has a handful of team members, you very quickly snap into a groove with each other. Everyone’s on the same wavelength. As we all know, no project ever turns out to be exactly what anyone thought it would be. The reason Moment teams are so well equipped to handle the constantly changing priorities, uncertainties, and decisions that come with any project is that we’re adaptive. We’re in sync with each other and understand where we need to go. We can quickly make decisions and pivot. You can’t do that with a larger team — it would be impossible!” says Michelle.
Do we demand a lot of our designers? Yes. Do we shirk traditional project managers because we’re pinching pennies? Absolutely not. We just believe that by removing the barriers that can exist in communication and collaboration, it helps to reduce noise and mitigate things that could fall through the cracks. The result: really great work produced by designers that work with each other extremely well.
The bonds that form both between designers on a project and the clients they’re working with can carry over to new projects or even outside of work. When that happens, we consider it extra rewarding. After all, when the work is good and you love your teammates, isn’t that idyllic? 🏆