Digital Producer or 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 event 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, 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, we bumped into our 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 agencies as well as every business that is not prepared for and keeping up with the constant digital evolution.

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 our interest more than others. Below is our view on some of these.

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” model when it comes to project management methodology. Agile is definitely not the “silver 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 we’ve been trying to say for so many years. Through our experience in the agency world and working across 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 and as in many other businesses, moving into a pure Agile methodology is not as simple and straight forward as it may sounds. and applying this methodology across all spectrums of an agency’s processes isn’t easy. Also as some of you may know to be fully Waterfall in today’s fast pacing world is also just not feasible. And although some might be able to implement a full Agile methodology internally, the likelihood is that most of your clients do not work in Agile and this will impact the way your work and in some shape or form have an effect on your processes overall.

So what’s the solution? The reality is that you shouldn’t really focus on applying one or the other in full 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 to 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 our experience in Digital and across our Producers, they all have had their fair share 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, being the Account Manager and the Producer on the project, and that happens 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 was some really interesting point of views presented by the panel in regards to this topic. One that stood out to us was that projects are becoming more and more complex and Producers require more client-facing time than ever. And we shouldn’t really limit the client-facing time to Accounts and Producers but extend it to the more technical roles, like Developers and Designers. Without this agencies run the risk of not understanding their client’s requirements in full 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 less technical Account teams is a common factor for unexpected issues through the progress of a complex project, especially 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 we got a feeling that some were surrounded by political correctness. In our 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 various agencies have already started doing so and so do we.

We see this as the way of the future, where agencies work collaboratively with their clients and all team members know their client well, understand how they work and embed themselves in their processes and become more like an extension of their Client and not just a service provider.

Applying this notion would not only benefit the agency, resulting in less overloaded staff, juggling multiple clients but would also give them a true and deep connection with their clients resulting in great quality work and outputs. On the client-side, there are only benefits to this approach. They now have a central point of communication, someone that truly understands them and can 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 us and got stuck in our heads.

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, especially for those trying to get into the industry and pursuing a career as a Producer?

One statement shared across the panel that stood out and something that we’ve identified with through all our years in the digital industry - ”Producers are Problem Solvers no matter what title they are given”.

This, for us, is a great representation of what a producer is and does on a daily basis. From interpreting and discussing client requirements to 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 today’s 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 finding a solution to a problem, but not just any solution - the right solution? 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 our journey working as and with various Digital Producers, one thing that has truly helped us in our careers has been our previous experiences. Some as developers, other as designers and other from completely other areas. Our experience, although different, have given us all the skills to better understand our client’s requirements and work closely with the team on solutions that fulfilled their problems. It also gave us the skills to think outside the box and look at problems from a different angle and absorb the knowledge that surrounded us. We’re not saying that you should go and study to be a developer or a designer 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.

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.

Ready to kick start your project?