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COW Blogs : Mike Cohen's Blog : project management

Juggling Bowling Balls

Once in a while, there are a few sizable projects going all at once. There are a few key dates each year when things need to be finished - conventions at which we can sell our wares.

Last year I described the finishing touches on the Pancreas Atlas of Surgery book. With the book finished for the milestone of a Fall meeting, we set to work on the multimedia component - 36 chapters of video, audio, text and illustrations. Anticipating a lot of pickups and knowing the time required, we decided that I would also be the narrator. Recording 100,000+ words was a full-time activity for several weeks. Record for an hour, edit for an hour, rinse, gargle, repeat. Having a serious flu in December did not help, although my voice does sound velvety and delicious.

When we renovated the office we dismantled our audio booth and used the space to make the offices a little bigger. So using the Zoom H4N recorder, I can record in any quiet space, often my living room which is carpeted with lots of soft materials. However in the office, we have a small office we use for checking DVDs, charging batteries and storing media. I rigged up a small audio recording station with some foamcore and acoustic tiles and spot for a laptop or printed script.

In addition to the narration recording, I also wrapped up some outstanding video edits, recorded some missing video narration and handed this off to our Flash programmer. Don't tell Apple, but Flash is alive and well!

Another ball in the air is a corporate project. I can't go into details, but it involves about 12 hours of panel discussions recorded during a conference, combined with edited surgical cases and some narrative to tie it all together. Rather than bringing my whole crew out to the meeting, I hired fellow COW Steve Wargo and his crew to get the shoot done efficiently. I flew home with a single USB hard drive of XDCAM files and got to editing immediately. Tape is not completely dead, but it's on its way.

We're also in the throes of revising a client's website, including adding interview clips from staff and patients and building a web-based support group/forum.

A new project is a doc style effort - interviews, narrative, b-roll and some acting. We've done a few shoots so far with more scheduled.

We completed a promo of some new nursing videos, being shown next week at, you guessed it, a meeting. With those products done we can start the next batch, and have already planned a shoot for pickups.

And the final bowling ball is simply planning for future projects that have not kicked-off yet. Logistics, contracts and phone tag are what's needed.

This week we had a client in the office for some voice over and strategizing - and they were nice enough to bring lunch! Tomorrow a quick VO/editing session (physicians tend to have free time on the weekend) and then another client next week for the same (we have shot 5 surgical cases which should be edited by the time he walks in the door).

Somehow, it all gets done. I think we have room for some more bowling balls.

For now, thanks for reading.

Mike Cohen


Posted by: Mike Cohen on Mar 18, 2011 at 7:55:41 pm project management, juggling

Divide and Conquer

Although I recently watched Lord of the Rings in HD, I am not talking about the Battle of Helm's Deep.

No, I mean to say, Given a large list of things to do, rather than trying to do more work than is humanly possible, simply pick and choose tasks until you can start knocking things off the list.

When I first started this blog, I used to talk a lot about workflow, project management and organization. I have not written about these subjects for a while, perhaps because I am more organized than I used to be. However, many of the principles still apply.

Make a List

This list can be daily, weekly, monthly, yearly or simply as often is necessary. Do it in Excel, MS Project, a whiteboard, a blackboard if you like chalk dust everywhere, scraps of paper, sticky notes or the back of an envelope.

If this list is something others need to see, I suggest a large markerboard in a hall or common area. I have both. The smaller board in the hall lists hot projects and shoot scheduling. The larger board in my office has a 3.5 month calendar and a column for each person including myself.

I keep a personal list as well on a running page after page legal pad (we will call this the LPad - take that Steve Jobs!).

Crossing off an item gives some gratification.

As for organizing not simply tasks or projects, one must often organize assets - media files, document version control, quality assurance and the like. An Excel file works, however this can result in a lot of file versions being emailed around. One file on a server that can be updated by anyone helps. A web-based spreadsheet that always appears in a browser tab can be even better. There are web-based services for this sort of thing like Basecamp and Dot Project - but you can get so wrapped up in managing the online service that it becomes a job unto itself (see "Balance" below).


Check it Twice


This is one reason I keep multiple lists - to make sure priorities are accounted for, to resolve conflicts and to make sure that we are not forgetting anything.

Periodically discussing the to do items with the people to whom they are assigned is another important function. And don't just say "do this, then this" - be sure to get feedback as to the realism of timelines and dependent tasks.

What is a dependent task? Why, it is a task that cannot be done until something else has been completed first. This can be a challenge.



Prioritize


As already mentioned, one must list items in order, or at least indicate somehow the order of completion that should be followed.

In our shop, we have a standing rule about prioritizing work should someone need to make a decision. In the case of a conflict, ask me. In case I cannot resolve a conflict, go to the boss. But the boss has better things to do than to do my job, so as a manager I need to maintain control over priorities, resolve conflicts, and stay organized.

Re-Prioritize

Occasionally, a hot job comes through the door, or something on hold becomes active again. Thus, reprioritization can become a..um...priority all its own. No client should be told they are not the priority, as there is always a priority given to jobs that a client is expecting to be completed in a timely manner. And as soon a we can complete a client job, the sooner we can send an invoice!

Balance

This goes right back to the last two items. Find a way to balance everything that needs doing without resorting to multitasking or excessive overtime. You do this by delegating the right job to the right person in the right order, and evaluating the progress on a regular basis.

Easier said than done - management of jobs, schedules and priorities is a dynamic process requiring daily progress reports. It can be a simple "how's XYZ going? Do you think 2 weeks is still enough time?" or as complex as "attached is an excel listing the current status of XYZPDQ - we will update this at the end of the week and reevaluate the completion schedule if anything new happens this week, etc."

Balance can also mean, balancing the project tasks with the organization of the projects. Don't let whatever system you use become another project to manager. Being a project manager means you manage the project, not that you manage the managing of the project.

You have to manage the managing of the project, but not to the detriment of the project.

Do What Must Be Done

This does not mean working 80 hour weeks. It might, but it mostly means being focused on the tasks at hand, trying to stick to time lines, and being diligent in everything you do.

Think of the Big Picture


This big picture is your bottom line - profit. This bottom line is fed by successfully completed work, which keeps your clients happy. Simple really, but getting there is half the fun.



Posted by: Mike Cohen on Sep 19, 2010 at 9:52:09 am workflow, project management

Nose to the Grindstone

While I blog a lot about the fun and excitement of air travel, and the production experiences at either end, once I get back to the office for weeks of uninterrupted work, it is time to get stuff done. Over the years I have experimented with various to-do lists, post-its and marker boards.

Recently we have instituted a Jobs to Start worksheet, distributed to all departments. Updated whenever a new project starts, this keeps everyone informed of what is going on, even in other departments. Why, you may ask, does publishing need to know about a video project in the works? Because, of course, every new piece of information is a possible opportunity. What if two departments were working with the same group of people on two unrelated projects. We don't want to be working against each other - thus good communication plays into different business units working together, even if the two units don't actually work together.

However, in our outfit, we all work together. For example, we have a series of multimedia textbooks. The media work and project management is handled by my department, Production, but once the layout is done and it is ready to begin the 14 week process leading up to press, the publishing department takes the reins. So while publishing does not have much to do with the prior 6 months, they need to know approximately where we stand with hitting our planned delivery date. You need to reserve time on the press and factor in time to transport and store inventory once printed. You always need to think of the big picture.

So while I started this post in talking about keeping track of project tasks, it has morphed into a discussion of good communication among people who do not always work together.

This is business 101 - keep others in your organization informed of activities that may impact them sometime in the future.

Going back to the completion of tasks, sometimes it is a matter of delegating, then checking the work you need to check before sending it on to the client or another set of eyes in your group. It can be daunting to send something you put your heart and soul into to another department for review and possible negative feedback. But better to get such feedback from a trusted colleague who may look at it from a different point of view, than your client whohas specific expectations.

Other times I may do the work myself - self-delegation. Often this is to keep the other folks on their own tasks. Thus I find myself doing a lot of little tasks - add some narration to a series of brief video clips, post some videos or files to the client website, and numerous conference calls and document management.

Yep, it's not all video shoots in exotic locations. Much of the time being a desk jockey is just what the doctor ordered. Get the work done, move things along, hit your milestones, tick stuff off the list. Sometimes I make a punch list, a phrase I picked up from years of watching Tommy Silva and Norm Abrahm wrap up renovations on This Old House.

Instead of:

- Finish trim in master bedroom
- Replace kitchen cabinet hardware
- Finish laying sod in the backyard
- Calibrate home theater in time for wrap party

my punch list may include:

- Render final pancreaticoduodenectomy video files
- Pull stills for hernia chapter 27
- Check narration files on FTP server, then send to programmer
- QA ventral hernia DVD
- Create new slipart and DVD menu design for laparoscopy series

Checking things off the list helps with the "divide and conquer" workflow. It is not always 3 weeks editing a long form show. Very often it is 15 minute tasks for hours on end. Frequently it is a little of each.

Seeing weeks or months of activity come to fruition in a new product to sell to the healthcare community is quite gratifying, and perhaps a bit more fun than sitting in steerage on a 737-800 waiting for your complimentary half can of cranapple juice. But getting there is half the fun.

Thanks for reading.

Mike Cohen


Posted by: Mike Cohen on Feb 18, 2010 at 5:12:38 pmComments (1) project management, gtd, workflow



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

I'm also on LinkedIn if you can't get enough of me!




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