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Management 101

Working in production, I started out duping VHS tapes and going on shoots to setup gear and learn my craft. Years later, I found myself informally in charge of video production, while we had a sizeable multimedia department not really reporting to anyone - they were mostly hired for a couple of big projects, reported to the project manager, and then just sort of moved from project to project.

The time had come to have an actual production manager - me. Well I did not have any formal management training, and it was really trial by fire. Knowing what I know now, however, I'd like to offer some tips and tricks for others in the field who may find themselves in one or more of these situations:

1 - You are a small production business owner, and you suddenly find yourself managing a team while trying to get production work done

2 - You have a multimedia background, and find yourself in a management role, while working for someone else.

3 - Part of your job is managing others in your team, but you don't have actual management duties - you're more of a supervisor (some overlap here).


"Management" can mean lots of things, depending on the type and size of the organization:

  • Direct supervision

  • HR functions (performance reviews, discipline, etc)

  • Budgeting

  • Sales

  • Project management (like being a producer, but not always)

  • Business communication and etiquette


I'll address each of these items, and try to offer some personal experience, tips and tricks for each.

Direct Supervision

You may be managing one or more production folks - shooters, editors, artists, project managers, writers, other creatives. Regardless or job duties, you need to keep a few things in mind. These are people with lives outside work, families, etc. Be considerate of this fact when you schedule work. In our small group we tend to travel a lot. While I am supervisor I also do production myself, so when scheduling out of town productions I am careful to consider the human factors. If we have a shoot on a Monday in Cleveland, this probably means that someone needs to fly to Cleveland on a Sunday afternoon. While compensatory time is provided after the fact, we are asking someone to give up a weekend day. Then let's say we have a shoot on Thursday the same week. Best to schedule someone else, or myself. If it is a two-person job, I need to make sure to give this fact soon enough, to be considerate to my direct report, and allow him to make arrangements at home for his travel.

Push comes to shove a shoot can sometimes be rescheduled, or another resource can be used (freelance, etc). Usually we can work it out, because we respect one another. As I said above, employees are not robots, they are people with feelings.

Now supervision is more than scheduling. It also includes providing feedback - positive, constructive and occasionally negative. This again has to do with respect. The employee needs to understand that a manager's job is to critique work and provide useful comments. Better to say "this graphic is kind of bland - try using XYZ font and a gradient, or whatever" rather than "I don't like this, try something else." It takes more energy to provide creative direction.

Occasionally you may give feedback which should be obvious to the recipient, like "you have a few typos - check the script." The direct should be smart enough to check the script, or hopefully just look at it again and say "oh snap, I spelled pancreaticoduodenectomy wrong, obviously!"

Finally, it is important when supervising others to help people grow both professionally and creatively. You do this by giving people new challenges, setting goals, and letting them work independently on meeting or exceeding these goals, and helping them when they need help. Over time, a direct will know when to ask for help, but occasionally you as a supervisor need to offer help...in a helpful manner!

HR functions (performance reviews, discipline, etc)

Another management function is human resources. Whether you are hiring freelancers, building a staff of employees or dealing with long term employees in your own or someone else's company, you sometimes need to wear the HR hat.

Annual performance reviews can take many forms. We've tried more formal numerical grading systems, but usually the best method is to write a summary of the direct's job performance, set goals and discuss the improvement plan...then revisit these goals at the next review, or sooner.

Occasionally discipline is called for. Hopefully you have made a good hire, but humans are prone to making mistakes, lapses in judgement or unpredictable behavior. If you do need to provide negative feedback, issue a warning or ultimately terminate someone, there is one key piece of advice...DOCUMENTATION.

Budgeting

Speaking for myself, none of the above topics were taught in communication school. Like many careers, you learn as you go. Same goes for creating budgets. Whether you are writing proposals or managing a budget for a project, you need to have an idea both how long tasks should take, and how much things cost (labor, direct costs, overhead). Perhaps smaller projects are quick 1-2 week efforts which have a finite scope. Other projects could be 6 months or longer in duration, and have the most potential to go over budget, behind schedule and as a result, further over budget. Learn to estimate costs and then review expenses as the project progresses to avoid surprises later on.

Sales

While bigger companies may have dedicated sales people, another job duty of a manager in a production environment is sales. We don't sell widgets, cold calls are not usually helpful - we sell services to companies whose managers may or may not be looking for these services. Thus sales is about building relationships, exchanging information, and keeping in touch. Some call this consultative selling.

If you are writing proposals, this connects with the budgeting topic above. You need to know how much it is going to cost to do the work, so you can accurately provide a bid. Every company costs jobs differently, so refer to your organization's methods.

Project management (like being a producer, but not always)

When you learn how to direct and/or produce a video, for example, you are essentially a project manager. When I first started doing PM work, I was more of a production guy managing my own work. This worked to a point, but the true nature of project management is managing the schedule and resources...making sure things are moving along the proscribed path, are done on time, on budget (may or may not be your responsibility to watch the budget, but if you are not watching the timeline, you'll need to answer for the budget!)...and not necessarily doing the work tasks yourself (but maybe).

Thus, project management can take many forms, from a simple spreadsheet, or elaborate work breakdown structure plans and weekly 2-hour meetings. A friend of mine used to work for a large manufacturer and he sat through, and ultimately managed, these long laundry list meetings. My style is more of a post-it note for small projects, or a 1-page word doc list of milestones.

However when a client has its own project manager, often someone with the PMP certification, it is a horse of a different color, and I always learn a lot about organization.

Be proactive - follow your plan and if you see trouble brewing, take the initiative to deal with an issue before it gets bigger. Customers appreciate honesty -- admit to a problem. Don't ever bury your head in the sand or be afraid to ask for help. Your manager is there to help you.

Learn to think on your feet, so even if you are caught off guard by some issue, you can take a deep breath and figure out some options. You can always say to a client or co-worker "allow me to talk to my team and get back to you."

Don't pay lip service - don't tell someone what they want to hear if you have no way of delivering.

Think like the customer. Manage expectations. This list of aphorisms goes on...

Business Communication and Etiquette

Finally, business communication needs to be formal enough to get the job done, but human enough to maintain productive relationships. Here in 2016 e-mail seems to be king, but you learn how each direct and customer likes to communicate. Some people will respond to an email with an encyclopedia, others give one-word answers. For the latter, best to ask yes or no questions by email, and get on a call for detail. For the former, be careful how many questions you ask per message.

Also need to be careful about copying too many people. If one person copies 5 others, and everyone hits "reply all" with every response, you can easily have hundreds of messages floating around.

Likewise, be cautious about attachments...especially things like spreadsheets. Any document with a formula is subject to corruption the more people touch it. And with Word docs, if one person fails to use track changes, it can be a long day trying to do version control. Just make sure you know who has your document and whose turn it is to work on it.

Some people love text messages. My rule is, once you pass 3 text messages back and forth, and you have not resolved the issue at hand, it is time to pick up the phone and talk by voice. Same for e-mail exchanges. Sometimes you just can't get the point across or the question phrased accurately without a ton of background information. Just pick up the phone and move things along.

Sometimes a client is on the opposite coast, or wants to talk at 8pm. I work with lots of doctors who work long days and travel a lot. An 8pm conference call is not unusual. But be honest in responding to requests - don't give up a soccer game, school play or game night for a conference call (unless the sky is falling - if the sky is falling you should ask for the call).

As for conference calls, be careful not to invite too many people, and have an agenda and a moderator. Otherwise you will find yourself in a "Who talks first? I talk? You talk" situation. If doing screen sharing such as Webex or GotoMeeting, make sure you only have the relevant applications open. That means close Facebook, Reddit and your music streaming service. If giving a Powerpoint, that should be the only thing that is open.

Finally, e-mail is not for emergencies. A few months ago I got an email at 2pm on a Saturday with the subject line "urgent, please call me" from a co-worker. Well at 2pm on a Saturday, looking at my email is not a high priority. Anything urgent, make a phone call. Or a text message (maybe) might get my attention sooner (unless I'm a mile into the woods with my dog). Anyway, I called her back and was able to help with Powerpoint pretty easily.

Summary

This article really only scratches the surface on management in the production world. Everyone's own job will be unique, and your duties may change over time. Being a creative and finding yourself assuming management duties often means you are becoming more valuable for your organization - and possibly moving beyond the technical or creative job that got you there.

A few resources that have helped me:

Manager Tools Podcast
Some of it is focused on some systems which may not be relevant to your organization, but the passion of the two hosts in discussing topics like I have discussed above is worth a few hours of your time
https://www.manager-tools.com/

Accidental Creative
Todd Henry gives lots of great advice in podcast and book form about balancing creativity with on-demand work. And talks a lot about balancing work and life.
http://www.accidentalcreative.com/

Talking with a mentor, relative or friend who does some or all of these jobs.

Creative Cow Business and Marketing Forum
A great group of regulars offer sage advice on business-related aspects of production. It was this forum, not the technical stuff, that got me hooked on the COW!
https://forums.creativecow.net/businessmarketing

Good luck in your own career!

Thanks for reading.

Mike Cohen



Posted by: Mike Cohen on Jan 11, 2016 at 8:35:32 pm management

Project Management: Episode 3.75: Meeting your Deadline



Cue Dramatic Music



It is a dark time for the rebellion. Or so you think.

At first glance, a new project may seem daunting.

You get a call - the client likes your proposal. Let's do it.

Great, you say, glad to be working with you.

The client signs the SOW and you're off and running.

The what?

SOW = Statement of Work

Whether a one-page summary of the work to be done, roles and responsibilities, or a multi-page contract with some legal gobbledeegook if that is the format you or they are required to follow, you basically need to put in writing the expectations. But read the contract, especially if you didn't write it.

Your job as Project Manager, or PM, is to Manage Expectations.

Let the client know what they will see - before they see it.

When they give you feedback, positive, negative or a combination (constructive feedback) tell them what they will see next, when and and in what form. Manage their expectations.

Then, of course, you need to deliver on those expectations, or come close along with a list of why's and why not's.

Part of your SOW is what you will deliver, and approximately when you will deliver it.

Also specify, if relevant, what the client will deliver to you, in order for you to deliver what you said you would deliver. Or specify, whether by sequential dates, deliverables or more specific details if required, tasks that rely upon one person before another. These are called Dependent Tasks. I can't design the interface until Wedge gives me the logo and the corporate image guidelines. Then I need to design the interface, get it approved by the client, before Biggs can program the prototype.

Meanwhile, you need to perhaps manage assets coming in from the far reaches of the galaxy, whether by freighter (mail) or sub-space transmission (e-mail) or perhaps stored in the memory bank of your astro droid (FTP).

So you know what you have to do and approximately how you will do it. Time to gather the troops and put the plan into motion.



This briefing may be formal or informal, one-on-one or in the board room. Sometimes the board room is known as the bored room. In other words, keep meetings to a minimum and as brief as possible. Everyone is busy - hopefully busy doing the tasks in this or another project.

Speaking of which, when you setup your timeline, include some buffer, or wiggle room. If you know it will take roughly 80 hours to do the work, don't schedule this 80 hours into exactly 80 hours of available time. Build in some breathing room, say 90 or 100 hours. This lets you keep tabs on other projects and keep other clients as happy as this new client is going to be. Also this gives you that extra time at the end if you need it. And you could almost always use a few more hours. You're human after all.

As part of your SOW and before that, a kick-off meeting, you have also defined the end-date when the project is needed. This end date should take into account the end goal. The end goal is not the product - it is the purpose for the project. You know you can make a DVD. The client knows you can make a DVD. But WHY do they want this DVD? What's that, they want to give out the DVD at a board meeting at the end of the month? That would be good to know at the beginning of the month. Knowing pretty accurately how long you need to do each dependent task, you can back-time from the delivery date to know how all the efforts fit together, and the latest you can actually begin work.

So you have defined roles and responsibilities in your SOW, managed dependent tasks, kept track of content, followed the directions of communications and moved the project along. Now you are in the final stretch - the final deliverable.

You launch your ships for the final assault. You are in the lead fighter.



Check your cargo - 2 laser pointers and an LCD projector for the final run-through with the client. Some last minute changes are inevitable. This is not saying anything negative about your management skills or about the client. Sometimes it is not until someone sees a completed project, and they can compare the vision for the project with reality, that they realize some minor changes are needed. You make them and everyone is happy.

But if you recall the project briefing, Scope Creep was a danger on the board. This means the project scope has gotten beyond the initial understanding - it has crept outside the lines. Also, scope creep can be a real Creep. Maybe we should call it Scope Creep Squared.

Maybe not.

You sometimes don't know Scope Creep is coming until it arrives - it just jumps out of a worm hole without warning. You know it when you see it however. It could go a number of ways:

The client sees the prototype, and it is exactly what they asked for. But now that they see in reality what they thought they wanted, they realize it is not what they wanted. What they actually wanted they can now make out of what you have given them. No problem, right? Maybe.

Or you finish the project to the client's satisfaction, but oh wait, it would be even better if it had flashing yellow lights, a photo gallery and a new video. You can do those things, can't you? Yes, but that was not part of the SOW, remember?

How you deal with scope creep can vary, and may vary by project. Or you may have a policy. Try to communicate this policy with your client at the outset, to either avoid or better deal with Scope Creep when it happens. If it happens despite your best efforts, you may need to bring everyone back together and figure it out on a case by case basis. Whatever you do, don't just say "yes, we can do that" unless that is your policy. Don't pay lip service just to avoid the conversation. You could burn yourself. Deal with it.

All of your opponents to progress have been dealt with. The budget is tight, but you can make it. Stay on target. Almost there. A final design change at the last moment. It's unexpected but not too bad. You can deal with it. Have your droid lock down a stabilizer. You can hold on for just a few more seconds. There it is, the final target is in your sights. Just need to blast that last budget review and you're home free.



You got it. Well done. With a little help from your colleagues, you can put this project to bed. You rally the troops back to base and thanks everyone for a job well done. You really came together as a team.

Cue award ceremony fanfare.

Award ceremony? Really?

Sorry to disappoint. Your reward is knowing you did a good job. The client sends their thanks, but the best reward will be repeat business with this client. Your job as PM, after all, is to keep this client happy. Because the best kind of client, is a repeat client.

May the "Thanks for Reading" Be With you. (best I could come up with)

Check out this week's Creative COW Podcast featuring me talking about project management.
http://podcasts.creativecow.net/creative-cow-podcast/episode-084-july-13-20...

Thanks for listening.

Mike Cohen


Posted by: Mike Cohen on Jul 13, 2009 at 6:23:47 pm project, management

Get Stuff Done

If you are like me, you have a list of things to do a mile long.

I have made numerous efforts over the years to Get Organized.

Over time however I have learned that the real secret to Getting Organized is...drumroll please...STAYING Organized. Big difference.

Ok, so I'm organized and staying organized...whoop-dee-do.

However that's great as long as you actually Get Stuff Done, and not spend all of your time on organization.

While my workstation is simply a collection of office supplies, project management tasks are not physical objects, so you need some way to keep things orderly, and a way to not have to spend a lot of time doing it.

Didn't I just say that?

Now that I have a spacious office with two distinct work areas, I have the opportunity to really get on top of project management, rather than being buried as used to be the case.

First, we have the Command Center:



I know what you're thinking - another one of Cohen's pictures of mundane subjects...
Well..yes...but...let me explain:



The markerboard + gaffer tape = something not in the office supply catalog!

I have a field for each category of project, or client, or for a specific project. The calendar covers 2.3 months, just enough time for most project schedules, plus a field for the following two months.

Could I setup an Excel spreadsheet with the same fields? Of course. But just like with file drawers, it is out of sight, out of mind unless you remember to look at it daily. This way, I cannot help but to look at it.

On the desk we have a large stack of blank note cards, which I use for daily or weekly to-do lists, telephone notes or brainstorming. These are actually the back side of a postcard that we had printed several years ago and never mailed out due to a client decision. So rather than throw away 10 pounds of 50% blank paper, I went green...or half green.

To the right we have some file folders - these are in hanging file folders. While I do not like using file drawers, if I should choose to save a folder at the conclusion of a project, the file is ready to hang. I do a folder for in-progress projects.

Immediately to the left of the Command Center is Mission Control:



Yes, I just posted a picture of my laptop. Real exciting. Let's break it down.



Two monitors on a Premiere or Final Cut workstation is a no-brainer. But two monitors on a office computer is priceless. E-mail is always active on the right, Word, Firefox or even Premiere can sit on the Laptop display.

The rest is self-explanatory - but the goal here is to avoid piles of stuff. Neatly organized stuff, including e-mail folders, goes a long way in helping to STAY organized.

Finally we have The Warehouse:



You got it - a wall unit. The shelf below is the visual file. I have never been a fan of file drawers. If I don't need something accessible easily, I probably don't need it at all. Most paper falls into one of three categories:

1. Garbage - throw away immediately
2. Short-term - Use it today, then save until project ends
3. Long-term but not urgent - Contracts or business matters - save indefinitely but generally do not need very often

I try to print little, but inevitably you generate some paper.

So the visual file is for category 2 or 3 - unless the project has a file folder. Generally once paper goes in it stays in. Thus the previously mentioned file folders are for in-progress paperwork - papers I refer to on a regular basis as a project inches along. Using the visual file for this purpose would be impractical, unless of course you store the file folders in the visual file, but you can't fit a square peg in a rectangular hole.


Finally on the next shelf up are the project drives. We save everything. That's all well and good, but you need to keep a list of where to find everything, otherwise you have a bunch of paperweights. I try to keep this updated and saved on the desktop of all computers.

Well, thus far I have merely described the way to get and stay organized.

How do you actually get stuff done? Easy - get organized and stay organized, then all you need to do is update very small pieces of the puzzle - schedules, appointments, delegated tasks - freeing you up to actually do project tasks, delegate what you do not have time to do yourself, and of course devote time to developing new projects to add to the mix.

In other words, if you offload the burden of remembering project management details from your brain to a system, then you can naturally use this extra energy to Get Stuff Done. In theory.

Thanks for reading.

Mike Cohen


Posted by: Mike Cohen on Jun 12, 2009 at 2:18:04 pm project, management

The 53-7 Principle (Time Management)

This isn't the first blog on time management I have written and it won't be the last.
But I think it is important to talk about this topic, since so much of the conversations on the COW focus on craft, technical jargon and troubleshooting - all important in their own right.

I used to keep a book on Time Management on a shelf next to my exercise bike. Actually the book is still there, but the bike is buried under a lot of laundry. At least I always know where to find a sportcoat and slacks for a meeting! Those handlebars make a great clothes rack.

Really, the best way to learn time management skills is by trying to manage a lot of different tasks, projects and priorities. And making some mistakes - call them tactical errors in time management. Just when you think you are being efficient, you realize you are forgetting some important milestones.

Thus, organization is key. This sounds obvious, but depending upon how many balls, bowling pins or chainsaws you are juggling, the task of organization itself can in fact become a chore to keep organized and one that requires time management skills just to keep up with the organization.

On a really busy day, it can seem like you blink your eyes, and it's over. That can be ok, assuming you were busy working on important stuff. That is not ok if 8 hours passed between when you closed your eyes and when you opened them! So from a time management point of view, you need to make sure you are working on important stuff.

Isn't everything you do at work important? Possibly. To paraphrase Bill Clinton, we need to define what important is.

Is sorting out e-mails for 3 hours important? Sure, but is it important RIGHT NOW? Probably not. In other words, you may have 100 seemingly important tasks, but only 10 of them are important to do in the next 8 hours. Task number 53 may be a lot of fun, but will it help you check off item #7 on your immediate needs list? Didn't think so.

Delayed gratification is a phrase I use from time to time. Task 53 may be a lot of fun, but why do it right away? Save #53 for a time after you have completed #7 - a much more challenging and no doubt important task. Then reward your good work with #53.

I shall forever call this the 53-7 Principle. Move over Pareto, there's a new Meme in town!

Conquering the 53-7 Principle.

So let's look at your list of 100 tasks in order of actual versus perceived importance. For the sake of the servers, I'll pick the salient highlights:

1. Finish the annual sales figures
2. Plan the product launch stage show
...
5. Train the new guy to handle all DVD projects
...
10. Hire writers for the sales training seminar
...
15. Research options for new HD cameras - XDCAM vs P2
...
20. Give facility tour to local cub scout troop.
...
100. Really, you came up with 100 tasks?

Ok, I have made this pretty easy - the higher numbered tasks are fun - presumably 16-19 are right up there in entertainment value. It may be tempting to say to yourself, "Self, what a great job you have. You get to read web pages about HD cameras and call it work. Let's do that."

In reality, you can do that at home or on the weekend. Given a list of X number of tasks, in order of importance to the business, always focus on the first half. We'll call this the Point-5 Rule, that is, divide by two and discard the 2nd half. Obviously the second half may not be exactly half, you may have a bigger half and a smaller half (I know) and the discarded half will get done in time, but focus on the first half. Like Calculus, the closer you get to zero without actually getting to zero, the harder it is to get to zero. I think I used that actual explanation on my GRE. Hence I did not go to grad school! In other words the fewer important tasks that you have, the harder it is to divide them into halves. Everything may in fact be important.

If everything on your list is important - I mean vital to the survival of humanity - then thank you for your excellent work Mr. President. My regards to the First Lady.

Seriously, if everything on your list is important to be done in short order, then you still must exercise some combination of delegation and prioritization. Time management is as much about getting work done as it is about keeping yourself functioning. Multi-tasking is one sure way to defeat good time management.

As important as all of your overlapping tasks seem to be, you must do one thing at a time. It is as simple as that.

Thanks for reading.

Mike


Posted by: Mike Cohen on Mar 4, 2009 at 6:04:51 pm time, management

This video project is barely alive. Gentlemen, we can rebuild him. We have the technology.

One year ago, I completed a project for a new client. Turnaround time was fast.

Recently, anticipating some revisions, upon inserting the eSATA drive containing the project, I was dismayed to learn that the drive was no longer viable. All it did was spin up, click and repeat. Bummer.

Luckily I had saved a backup of the project to my laptop - not the final project, but close enough.



Not since 2003 when I cut my final Media 100 project have I needed to batch digitize a video project. Media 100's original LVD ultra-wide SCSI2 drives were originally quite expensive. Thus, we did a lot of deleting of raw footage and batch re-digitizing/babysitting from 1999 until about 2002.

eSATA drives on the other hand are quite inexpensive, so Premiere projects and video tend to stay put where they live. Thus, the need to batch digitize a Premiere project has been a rare occurrence. Until now.



First I copied the backup of my Premiere CS3 project and associated non-video assets (photos, music, narration) to a new drive and imported the old project into a new CS4 project.

Next I right clicked on each video file (offline in the project) and performed a batch digitize. Crazy as it sounds, it worked great. One file however would not digitize due to the clip's in-point being so close to the start of a tape. I manually captured this tape, did a "replace media" and no worries, worked like a charm.



Turns out the version I saved to my laptop did not include the final narration or music, so I had to find those elements and manually insert those. What I did have, thanks to our robust client review website was a WMV file of the absolutely latest edit. I downloaded the WMV file and imported it into Premiere. I placed this file on the uppermost video track and lower most audio track, set the video opacity to 60% and the scale to match the project, and hit play. Because the sequence and the WMV were 80-90% the same, I saw basically a blurry image as it played, and it was obvious where the edits were. Same goes for the audio. It became immediately obvious that the music was different. That was easy to fix.

Finally, having lined up the narration and music, I used the Razor tool to cut the WMV at each edit point representing the difference between the old and the new versions. I deleted the portions of the WMV that were the same, and then proceeded to rebuild titles and two PSD files to make the sequence perfect.

I then saved a copy of the project in 10 different locations both at the office and at home, e-mailed myself a copy and forwarded this e-mail to all of my e-mail addresses.

Ok that last part was made up, but the important lesson here is to backup final projects, something I do religiously now.

Thanks for reading.

Mike Cohen


Posted by: Mike Cohen on Feb 10, 2009 at 8:48:47 am premiere, adobe, media, management

Project Management

Someone ought to write a book called "I'm a project manager, Now What?!"

Hey, not a bad idea for a book.

Back in 2003 I began the gradual transition from video editor/shooter to project manager. Mind you I do plenty of editing, but depending upon the project I am in fact managing, sometimes more sometimes less. But the particular responsibilities are no less important than the others.

At the time, we had about 3 times as many employees, so I was also a department manager. There was some resentment, such as "can you do my job as the web master? how can you possibly manage me or review my performance if you can't do my job yourself?"

I'm not making this up.

As it turns out, in addition to learning how to evaluate the performance of others, I also had to learn how to fire people, not an easy thing to do.

Given a leaner crew, I could focus less on personnel issues and more on figuring out how to juggle multiple projects and manage a few others, and delegate work to everyone, including to myself.

I have blogged previously about making lists and using the right tools to keep track of a project's process, milestones and deliverables. My favorite tool is a great new application - a calendar! Another tool I use a lot is the yellow sticky note pad - brilliant!

We tried using MS Project and various other free and non-free pieces of software, but in a small organization you can easily devote hours per week just managing the tools you are trying to use to manage your work. Alas, every organization is different and has different needs.

What has worked the best is relative autonomy. Give someone a task and a deadline, and they generally only seek help when absolutely necessary. Everyone, however, has interruptions - many of which are unavoidable - and these lead to missed deadlines. We can all improve in that department.

Project management, thus, includes a heavy dose of time management. Time management is an acquired skill and perhaps the most difficult one to master.


In summary, project management can take many forms. Personnel management, time management, even equipment management all play a role in moving forward toward deadlines. Some deadlines are a day or two, a week or two, a month or two or years in the making. Something useful yet cumbersome about breaking up a project into tasks, either in MS Project or on paper, is that you can fail to see the big picture - or you are so focused on only the major milestones, that you feel like you are not accomplishing anything, while in fact you are working on a 3 month deadline, which is itself made up of perhaps 50 smaller tasks. But these 50 smaller tasks are not and should not be part of a big picture view of anything. This is the beauty of delegation - you can avoid micromanagement as long as you have a capable person working towards the goal - it is assumed the resource will hit each smaller task.

The challenge is when you are the manager and the resource. Time management indeed!

Thanks for slogging through this one!

Mike Cohen



Posted by: Mike Cohen on Apr 29, 2008 at 3:28:34 pmComments (1) workflow, project, management, hr

To Do Lists

If you're like me you have a million things to do. Oddly, none of those things happen to be writing blogs, but hey, I ticked off 7 items on my to do list today!

As outlined in previous posts, in addition to shooting and editing video projects I also am a project manager.

When I realized that 50% or more of my days were being spent project managing, I did some research on ways to improve efficiency.

For a while I listened to a project management podcast by Cornelius Finchner

http://www.thepmpodcast.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=20&Itemid=35

He has some interesting ideas and conversations, however he also spends a lot of time on preparing for the PMI exam and certification, and a lot of things related to being a full time enterprise level project manager.

Having culled all I could from these podcasts, I turned to this great new thing which apparently existed even before the oh so revolutionary Internet: a library!

My local library in Woodbury, CT not only gets a lot of great new books on business subjects, it also has great organized stacks of useful resources. Having flipped through several of the old classic books from Tom Peters and some of the new classics from guys like Jack Welch, I stumbled upon one of the "who moved my cheese" style books, the On Time on Target Manager. This is what I call a 1 hour book, because you can read it in 1 hour or so, and it is written as more of a parable than an actual story.

The simple lesson from this book (skip this paragraph if you do not like spoilers) is the following:

 

 

Do things for the right reasons, in the right order, with the right people, and want to do what you do.

 

 

 

Ok you can start reading again if you skipped ahead.

Brilliant, yet simple. Oh sure, it sounds too simple, but when your To Do list resembles a take out restaurant menu, it can be overwhelming to keep your brain focused on the most important tasks.

Long before I read this little gem, I had been making to do lists. However these lists are often just a collection of unfinished, difficult to finish projects, rather than tasks.

Therein lies the difference - differentiate between a project and a task.

For example, here is a fictional Project To Do List:

1. Paint house

2. Clean garage

3. Organize tape library

4. Find the crystal skull

Obviously I will never check off any of these tasks in the short term, especially if this is a daily list. A list like this can be written on a marker board, well out of my line of sight.

A better to do list, let's say for the week, should be:

1. Assess condition of shutters - if they need to be sanded, take down and put in garage.

2. Sweep garage floor. Clean up recycling. Get rid of t-tops from old TransAm.

3. Setup excel file for tape library. Get buy-in from boss and co-workers.

4. Take weekend trip to Chile rainforest, contact local tribesmen, meet long lost son.

See what I mean? Divide and conquer with an overwhelming list makes it less overwhelming.

So lets say this 2nd list is my weekly to do list, then each morning I can make a smaller boiled down list. You may say, I can manage off the less focused list just fine. But in reality, I at least find that my brain can more easily deal with smaller manageable tasks. Plus I get a kick out of crossing out or checking off items with a magic marker. Maybe we really do learn everything we need to know in kindergarten!

Monday

1. Remove shutters from east side of house

2. Move clutter to one side of garage

3. Make a list of fields for the tape database

4. Check last minute airfares to Santiago International Airport. Find bullwhip and leather jacket. Make list of former girlfriends.

So how does this all relate to the price of eggs?

Huh?

I know I talk like an old man!

Let's use a real world example:

Project List

1. Nursing Video - complete 1st edit

2. Whipple video (that is the actual name of an operation, look it up) - 1st edit

3. New Nursing DVD library - prepare for sale

Again, this may be the list of important project milestones, but you can't check off anything on that list after anything less than a few days or weeks of work. We humans need the occasional instant gratification. Hence the popularity of scratch tickets and tiny bottles of booze in hotel rooms (or so I hear).

Let's boil down this list to a week:

1. Nursing video - complete first pass editing raw footage to script, rough titles, intro montage

2. Whipple video - digitize raw footage, edit down to 1 hour or less

3. New Nursing DVD library - make DVD masters, packaging, labels, post-tests, catalog images and website.

Maybe, if nothing else comes up, I can do some of this. Remember, I am combining video production and project management tasks. While I frown upon multi-tasking, if you can set parts of your day aside for different tasks, that may be ok, but it may differ for everyone.

Here is a sample Monday list:

1. Nursing video - edit at least 5 minutes, rough in shots and temp titles.

2. Whipple video - digitize 2 hours of tape, more Tues

3. DVD Library - author 1st 2 titles on DVD, burn master discs - 2 more on Tuesday, pull stills for packages.

Ok, things are looking more manageable.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some weeks the lists are not so organized. Lately I have been using brightly colored sheets of paper and a Sharpie, but I try different techniques. Oh, also I like pretty colors. And books with lots of pictures!

A neat work environment is certainly a goal. We can dream...!

 

In summary, if you manage a lot of projects and do some or all of the work on those projects, the key is to find an organizational system that works for you. If MS Project is something your organization uses, I am sorry for you. Actually it can be a good program if you do not micromanage every task, and if you have the time to manage the project files.

If you are lucky enough to have a scheduling person in your group, learn to follow the schedule, and avoid interruptions.

Avoiding interruptions, however, is another blog for another day.

Mike Cohen



Posted by: Mike Cohen on Feb 5, 2008 at 7:34:45 pm workflow, project, management



I have a passion for my job, which entails training for medical professionals such as surgeons, nurses and administrators, not to mention various industries.

Technology is great, but how you apply your skills is what pays the bills.

Years ago I canceled my Media 100 support contract upon discovering what a treasure trove of helpful advice can be found on the Creative COW website. I am proud to be a part of this fantastic community.

In my blog I talk a little about media production, a lot about travel and workflow, and occasionally about cooking, nature and my four-legged friends.

Follow me on Twitter: med_ed_mike

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