Digital Producer? More like Problem Solver!


We attended the Staying ahead in Digital Production event hosted by Vitamin T for a closer look at the trends influencing today’s digital production landscape and what a great evening it was. Moderated by Vitamin T’s Team Lead, Claire Kilbane, the panel of industry experts included Simone Barker - Head of Production / GM at Virtual Immersive, Dave Flanagan - Head of Digital Solutions at The Works Agency, Claire van Heyningen - Managing Director at Mirum Agency and Claire Bisset - Digital Production Lead at Clemenger BBDO.

The evening started with a meet and greet of all the registered attendants, with access to a delicious variety of pizzas and beverages, which is now so characteristic of all Vitamin T’s events, providing all attendants with the opportunity to relax, network and exchange their opinion on some of the topics being discussed later on. By chance, i bumped into my good friend Amaury Tréguer - Head of Social & Content at The Haus and amazing photographer - if you haven’t seen his amazing shots yet, you should have a look at his website Morning Bondi as they are truly amazing or follow is work at @morningbondi. We briefly exchanged our opinions on the current digital landscape evolution we are currently experiencing and how it could impact not only agencies but every business that is not prepared or keeping up with the constant digital evolution we live on a daily basis.

While we exchanged our ideas over a few slices of pizza accompanied by a refreshing beer, the panel took their place and we slowly made our way through the full room and took our seats and prepared for the debate to kick off.

After the initial panel introduction, the discussion topics started to flow in and some great points were touched on. If you’d like to have a good overview of what was discussed on the night you can have a read through Vitamin T’s blog here.

There were some really interesting topics discussed but some caught my interest more than others.

Agile or Waterfall, which is best?

A question that some of you may have asked so many times.

Overall, the opinion across the panel and the room was the same, there is no “One shoe fits all” when it comes to project management methodology. Agile is definitely not the “Sliver Bullet” - as some said - coming to save you from bad processes and bad habits and Waterfall is not as bad as everyone paints it to be.

To be truly honest it was really great to hear from the panel and the room, a true consensus on something that i’ve been saying for the past 5 years. Through my experience in the agency world and working as a developer across various development teams and experiencing both Waterfall and Agile methodologies in all it’s glory, in most cases using just one methodology or the other just doesn’t seem to apply.

In the agency world it is truly hard to go full Agile and apply this methodology across all spectrums of the agency’s processes. Also as some of you may know to be fully Waterfall in today’s fast pacing world it is also just not feasible. And although some might be able to implement Agile internally the likelihood that most of your clients do not work in Agile will impact the way your work and in some shape or form have an affect on your processes. >

So what’s the solution? The reality is that you shouldn’t really focus on just applying one or the other but rather become more nimble and adaptable. Take the learnings of each methodology that works best for your business and shape them to your needs, your processes and mainly your people. WE could go on and on about this topic but we’ll leave this for another time. Meanwhile here’s a good read from Segue Technologies that have cleverly created their own methodology, by leveraging their learnings and using the best practices of each methodology that works well within their business and with their clients.

Producers Vs Account Managers

Another great topic discussed during the debate that really hit close to home. Through all my experience as a Digital Producer, I’ve always had a high amount of Client facing time. Being involved from early on in most of the conversations with clients and working closely with the Accounts team. In certain instances I ended up being the Account Manger and the Producer on the project, and that happen a fair few times. So where do we draw the line? Or is there no line anymore and we all just need to evolve?

There were some really interesting point of views presented by panel in regards to this topic. One that stood out to me was that projects are becoming more and more complex and Producers require more client facing time than even. And we shouldn’t really limit the client facing time to Accounts and Producers but extend the to the more technical roles, like Developers and Designers. Without this agencies run the risk of not understanding their client’s requirements in full detail and present inadequate solutions. Without the right people in the room, misinterpretation and miscommunication down the chain to the producing team is guaranteed. This in conjunction with the lack of technical understanding from the Account team are common factors for unexpected issues through the progress of a complex project, specially as technology evolves at such a fast pace and not everyone can keep up.

Someone asked “Is there still a place for Account Managers or should there just be Producers?”, which is a great question! Some divided opinions were presented, although I got a feeling that some were surrounded by some level of political correctness. In my opinion both roles need to evolve - Producers need to become more client facing and more involved in the entire process from start to finish, including the initial discussions with a client throughout the journey of the project. Accounts need to be more educated and trained on the technologies that surround them to be able to perform their job and clearly communicate with the teams producing the work, translating plain language requirements into technical solutions. One could argue that the two roles should just merge into one and some agencies have already started doing so, with the creation of roles like Hybrid Project Managers or Hybrid Producers.

Potentially this is the way of the future, were agencies have one Hybrid role per client, where their entire role evolves around living and breathing their client, to understand how they work and embed themselves in their processes and become almost as the glue between the Agency and Client. This would not only benefit the agency where their staff is not overloaded, juggling multiple clients but they would have this true and deep connection with their clients and this would clearly reflect on the outputs of the work. On the client side, there are only benefits with this approach. Not only do they have a central point of communication, someone that truly understands them and can also articulate their requirements and needs to the rest of the agency, increasing the efficiency required to produce quality work.

Digital Producer, Project Manager, Product Manager, what should we call it?

This is the topic of the night that really resonated with me and got stuck in my head.

The digital landscape we currently live in is constantly changing and the role of a producer has evolved to keep up and so have the titles. With so many different titles and job descriptions out there, how can we really understand what is required of a producer and what skills must they have, specially for those trying to get into the industry and pursuing a career as a Producer.

One statement shared across the panel truly resonated with me and something that i’ve identified myself with through all my years in the digital industry as a producer - ”Producers are Problem Solvers no matter what title they are given”.

This, for me, is a great representation of what a producer is and does on a daily basis. From interpreting and discussing client requirements, understanding and translating these down the chain. Working collaboratively to identify the problems and work through the solutions and ultimately implement and deliver a product, service or whatever it may be that fulfil and solves that problem. This is what a producer does.

It’s definitely a certainty that these problem solvers are what agencies need in todays fast evolving digital landscape. If you are an agency owner, “Maybe your agency's "workflow" problems aren't process issues at all. Ask yourself one simple question: Have I hired project managers or producers?” as stated by Michelle Klinsman in a great article she wrote for AdWeek.

If you are looking into a career change then you should ask yourself “Do you have the attitude it takes to be able to solve problems?”. Are you relentless and persistent in find a solution to a problem, but not just any solution - the right one? Do you constantly feel the need to learn and evolve? Then you probably have what it takes.

What about a degree or skills that one should have? Well, as mentioned in the debate, you can learn new skills but you can’t learn an attitude, a way of thinking, a state of mind. This is the key to thrive as a producer and to do it well. The fact is that anyone can learn new technologies but you can’t teach people the behaviours and the eagerness to learn, required to be a great Producer.

Through my journey as a Digital Producer, one thing that has truly helped me in my career has been my previous experience as a developer. Not only has it given me the skills to better understand the client’s requirements and work closely with the team on solutions that fulfilled their problems. It also gave me the skills to think outside the box and look at problems from a different angle and absorb the knowledge that surrounded me through my team. I’m not saying that you should go and study to be a developer if you want to be a good producer but learning new things that push you out of your comfort zone can definitely help and give you the tools you need to become great.

Another great learning through my experience was working closely with great and very smart designers. Not only it made me want to have a better creative and critical eye, it also pushed me to explore my creative side, resulting in me doing a User Experience course and some Design workshops and learning some additional skills to help me solve problems quicker. From quickly doing a small update to a design when there were no free resources in sight with deadlines approaching to reviewing entire designs from an UX perspective and streamline the work required from the UX Designer and maximise available budgets.

At the end of the day it is the hunger for knowledge, the willingness to learn, the passion to fix any problem that will make you thrive as a Producer. All the other stuff you can learn throughout the way.

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