The Project Manager-Producer Hybrid
September 21, 2016
I’ve been called many things in my agency career: account executive, traffic manager, project manager, digital producer. Not only is my mom confused by what any of those titles mean, but it seems like the agency world is also confused by how each of these titles is different from the other. Are the roles and responsibilities really that different between each of these titles? Isn’t “project manager” just a fancier way to say “traffic manager,” or are there actually clear lines that designate the boundaries from one to the next?
No matter the size of an agency, big or boutique, everyone is discovering ways to become more lean and agile (buzzword alert!). We are looking for areas where we can improve “the process” and what we can do to make it run at peak efficiency. Seems like that should start with project management (after all, I did just use three of our most popular buzzwords in two sentences).
Adsubculture is a creative project management blog owned and operated by Makr Consulting owner Ed Burgoyne. For a productivity geek like me, it serves as a great reference for agencies on the subjects of operations, workflow, culture, roles and, most importantly, how that all relates back to project management. According to Burgoyne, these are the roles and responsibilities of a project manager vs. producer:
- Owns and manages project production process.
- Develops Request for Proposal and scope document.
- Defines project steps, tasks and requirements against Statement of Work.
- Tracks timeline, milestones and resources.
- Translates and presents specifications and project requirements.
True project managers:
- Develop projects and plans, and direct, manage and monitor project execution. Control changes in scope and end-of-project closing requirements.
- They have full authority over project scope, time, cost, resources and team members.
- Estimating and project management of inside/outside production-related resources.
- Production timelines and production schedules.
- Manages budgets.
- Technical and creative partner.
- Manages production process and tasks.
- Manages production tasks, activities, risk, quality control and production team members.
- Manages project procurement.
Michelle Kinsman brings up a really great point in that most agencies use the titles of “project manager” and “producer” interchangeably, but “understanding the distinction is imperative to improving workflow. It’s more than vernacular – it’s about mindset. It’s about being part of the work, versus merely managing work effort.” Kinsman, Senior Vice President, Executive Director of Production and Operations at Digitas Health LifeBrands, is a huge proponent of recasting project managers with producers, but urges agencies to first recognize the roles that each title serves.
One of the worst stereotypes about project managers is that we are controlled by our obsession to be “on budget” and “on time,” as if that is the only measure of success for us. While this might be partly true, I think there’s a larger opportunity to combine the role of both project manager and producer into one. Not only can we be concerned with budgets and timelines, we can also be equally invested in the creative work and the team’s success. We can be a hybrid who works on multiple levels and is flexible to specific agency needs/environments. It’s about having a high emotional intelligence and striving to understand what makes a team member successful. It is a role that requires many hats and knowing which one to wear at the optimal moment.
Let’s revisit Burgoyne’s idea of what the hybrid’s roles and responsibilities are:
- Non-client-facing: Owns project from creative through production and delivery, but does not have account management responsibilities.
- Client-facing level 1: Engagement (typically from presenting estimates and Statements of Work, project planning, correspondence, scheduling, meeting assignment).
- Client-facing level 2: Account management with basic or advanced functions and responsibilities of the account manager.
- The full deal: Faces client and has full engagement and ownership of project. Owns and directs all project tasks, activities and risk centers (project scheduling, project planning, resource and task assignments, time and resource tracking).
The hybrid is essentially a “greatest hits” mix tape for the roles of account manager, project manager, producer, production manager, traffic manager and resource manager.
I have experienced both worlds in my agency career, which makes the hybrid a job function that I seek and support. I have been seated in an “agile pod” with my entire team, and I have also been seated in an autonomous pod. I have been fully integrated in the creative team’s process (from concepting to delivery), and I have been more removed until it comes time for production. There’s no right or wrong way to go about it, but the most important takeaway for project managers/producers/hybrids is to be flexible. For certain projects, it might make sense for the project manager to own everything, to be the central checkpoint for multiple teams. For others, the ask might be something that requires less people, and a project manager is only going to make it more complicated. We should be able to recognize where we can be most useful, in addition to recognizing where processes can be improved without overcomplicating things.
“Change is inevitable in the world of marketing and advertising. Observing how your production lead copes with it is another opportunity to understand how they are wired.”
– Michelle Kinsman
The key to a successful project management team is not only having people who are great critical thinkers and highly technical, but also creative thinkers who know how to adapt and adjust at a moment’s notice. The agency model is already shifting, and we have to be able to shift with it. This might mean that the future of the project manager requires more specialization within digital channels (mobile apps, motion graphics, content curating). As the digital landscape continues to change and evolve, we have to be prepared to work in it. Gone are the days of applying the same approach/process to every job; we have to tailor it based on the type of work, and the team. Also gone are the days of having an entire team of the same type of project manager. Each individual can bring something new to the table, preferably a sense of inventiveness and curiosity, and some kickass people skills.
Disclaimer: These thoughts and opinions are my own and are not affiliated with any of TRG’s/Click Here Labs’ staffing structures/functions.