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Scaling When Headcount Is Not an Option

Since forming our in-house Creative Services department at Villanova University five years ago, our mission has always been clear: committing ourselves to providing the kindest, most accessible and strategic service to our university community, while using the creative talent of our team.

Our success in this mission was evident immediately. Our department of six people grew to a team of 10 professionals in three years time, and the number of jobs grew from 400 to more than 800 jobs per year. While the success on paper was terrific, the pain we felt from growing so fast was evident in our low department morale and lack of staff development. Time spent in meetings to manage the evolution of each job was inefficient. In addition, the volume of jobs to bill each month via individual Excel spreadsheets, which were then manually recorded into a separate form for Accounts Payable, became so burdensome that we began to fear the influx of new jobs. 

By racing to keep up with demand, we neglected the importance of creative inspiration and strong communication. In order to fix this so that we could continue to meet the goals of the community at large, we had to achieve better efficiencies and approaches to our work. Although it was not possible to hire new team members, whether in project management or job traffic roles, our proposal for a formal project management system was accepted so we began implementation.

Now in place for 3 fiscal years, our internal system enables us to capture all aspects of a design job into one container. While our former manual “system” worked for an average of 400 jobs per year, it was incredibly cumbersome and linear. None of the spreadsheets we created for each job was connected to one another, and we had no way to collate data in an efficient manner. In the midst of our rapid growth, we needed a way to look at activities in past years; assess patterns; analyze time reports, fiscal reports, and job types; and make projections for the years ahead. 

We have found that our graphics team is also positively impacted by the utilization of formal project management software. They are able to save administrative time managing their jobs and therefore spend more time in creative space. They have time back in their days to approach an old job in a new way or think more strategically for a client, who may benefit from our team’s ability to see another way to communicate a message. With the time saved in opening jobs, referencing old jobs and making decisions based on running a quick report, we are able to get back to our original mission of being the kindest, most accessible and strategic in-house department for our community. Since we know our team of 

10 creative professionals will stay where it is, without the addition of project or traffic managers, our project management system fulfills that need for both capturing and disseminating that information so integral to every design job, yet so distracting from the overall goal, which is a well-executed, effective visual solution to a communication need. 


Elizabeth Wood

Elizabeth is Assistant Director of Operations for the in-house creative team at Villanova University. Villanova’s Creative Services executes strategic visual communications through collaboration among its director, three managers, four graphic designers, photography specialist and creative services coordinator. She has over 8 years of experience with in-house creative teams in higher education. This is the second position where she has had the pleasure of assisting in and implementing in the transition from an informal to formal project management system.