Friday, April 26, 2013

Process: friend or foe?

Probably the greatest challenge in the creatively based industries (like advertising and entertainment) is trying to figure out if "process" is a help or hindrance to the business. The benefits of process are usually apparent (as in there being standardized practices, consistencies of experience, less time re-making the wheel), but that doesn't mean people are fighting to go through the effort of establishing or implementing it. Often, process is seen as the reviled and shunned two-bit cousin that ruins your birthday party, steals your best friend's girl, and sets your favorite grandma's shawl on fire.

A project (by PMI definition) is qualified by the following characteristics: it is unique, it creates a product, service, or result, and most importantly, it is temporary, as in it ENDS. It is finite.

So if a project is finite, and unique, how can it be replicated?

(All together now) With process.

As is true with most endeavors, there is repetition of certain elements of an activity. You brush your teeth every day (I hope). You take a bus or a subway or car route every day to work. You login to your email with the same username and password. These are all examples of the various elements that make up the processes you use to run your life.

Without process we would literally be spending life simply trying to figure out a way to live it. There would be no opportunity to enjoy just about anything because everything would be the "first" time.

Process allows us to define a system of how to do something over and over, iterating and improving over time. If every person who put out a movie, or created a campaign did it in a completely different way, you would have madness. Not to mention a whole lot of poor product. So process in this example keeps Hollywood making blockbusters because movies are made (generally) the same way.

So yea, we all know that process is needed, but again, why is it that there is such a bad rep in advertising?

WELL (imagine that said with great drama and pomp), in traditional advertising, process was almost invisible. It was relegated to the "behind-the-scenes" work that creative folk rarely had insight into. So, when a project came up, and a Creative Director, or Art Director, or Copywriter wanted something done, they simply spoke the words, and then magically.... it was so.

When digital came around, the situation wasn't so simple.

First off, nothing was relegated to "behind-the-scenes". There was a *direct* correlation between the actions and decisions of the creative teams on the final product. There was no longer the ubiquitous opportunity to "make-it-work" because sometimes there is no actual way to make it work. And then you add the project manager. The project manager has to be concerned with all of the project, not just parts of it, so if there was a problem foreseen in the future, it became a risk to be mitigated in the now.

To put it shortly: Creatives determined that Producer = Get it Done = Fun, while Project Manager = We'll see what can get done = Not so Fun. Creatives just associated not so great stuff with project managers because PMs brought process in tow.

But that's the perception we are trying to combat today right? So let's dig in on how to make that happen.

It's easy to see that the arguments against process are likely tied to a perception issue. Process is (in the creative sense) synonymous with homogeneity, which means creativity and spontaneous thought will be subdued. Now, that is not actually true, but again, perception is nine tenths of the law. Doesn't matter what the reality is when perception can rule the day.

Even PMI concedes that process should not be implemented or engaged in all ways at all times. The purpose of having a book of knowledge (hellooo PMBOK) is that you can pick and choose what makes sense.

So here are some ways to frame conversations with your creative-types to get them on board with process:

1. Process is defined by those who will see the most benefit. This is a sly way of saying "hey, whatever you need to do, and however you think this will work will become the way we work". Now to you, savvy-soon-to-be-PMP-extraordinaire, that sounds suspiciously Similar to the word process, but to your friendly sensitive creatives, THEY hear: "I want you to have all the space to be as creative as you want to be".

2. If you can help me, then I can help you (or as Jerry McGuire would say: Help me Help you). If the team can help you identify the key tasks and deliverables and actions that should always be repeated, you can better plan and respect their ideation time. Again, the only way that PMs get better at the job is by doing the job. Part of that doing is understanding how the final product comes together. Your team helps to establish and inform that education by helping you understand how they like to work, and what works best (ahem.... their process).

3. Process helps to shape the creative journey... for the rest of us mere mortals. I would argue that *any* group, executive, or chief creative director knows that process is necessary. They try and pretend for their more junior teams that it isn't true, but that is just a tactic. They could not have gotten to where they are without bottling a little bit of genius, and knowing how to manage their teams. Managing teams requires monitoring and controlling the creative execution for the art directors, visual designers, copywriters, and other creative resources. Sounds eerily familiar? That's because (in their own way) Creative Directors are PMs too. They try to hide it, but the best of them get it. This is an argument you can use to get the day-to-day resources motivated to get in line. Chances are your creative directors are telling them the same thing.

So what do these three things get you? A conversation. Which (by the way) is what PMI says that any project should have, and furthermore is the foundation of implementing a process. The team decides what kind of phases and components will be most useful for the project, and thePM helps codify those ideas into being. Inclusion and collaboration can make friends of process and creativity (not to mention you and your teams!)

Let's make it happen, cap'n
- the practical PMP

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