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(this post can also be found at http://www.hansoft.com/expertblog/is-the-project-manager-role-outdated/)
||Last week I gave a speech at the Nordic Game Conference. The topic was to tackle how to bring creative and production closer together. Leading up to the speech I did some dry-runs internally. The feedback I received was that I need to be better at framing the topic so the audience gets an idea of the topic. I spent a week thinking about that feedback. The same day as I was giving the speech, it occurred to me that the framing argument is that the traditional project manager role is outdated. So is it?
The project manager, as I was taught in engineering school, makes sure that the requirements are in place by collaborating with customers or internal stakeholders. He then converts the requirements into a plan that the team can execute upon, delivering a product long after the projected end date. This was a monumental task, continuously updating the schedule and re-planning the teams work due to delays and dependencies kept him occupied. It also made him instrumental to the success of the project, remove him and there would be chaos.
The game producer role often looks very similar to the project manager’s. They are typically the link between the creative and the teams, converting designs into tasks and driving the teams forward by tracking and tasking team members. Remove the producer and there will be chaos.
The fact that removing the producer will cause mayhem could be seen as a strong argument for the importance of producers. It could lead to the faulty conclusion that you need to add more people to strengthen a vital function in the team. In reality the best producers are the ones that have made themselves redundant; they have successfully set up a system that works without them. Much like a sports coach, he can sit quietly at the side line, watching his team crush the opposition.
There are a lot of game studios out there that boasts about their ability to work without a producer role in their team. Years of bad practice within project management has tainted an important function. Every time I hear this I smile to myself, someone is doing the producing, but they are just not calling them producer. No serious sports team would consider playing without a coach.
So what is good producing?
A modern producer does not put himself in the middle of things, he observes and coaches. He looks at things that are about to become problems and cleans them out the way by proactively facilitating process fixes. He helps the teams set up frameworks that make them more efficient and less in need of outside assistance. He helps the creative team organize their work and collaborate with the teams to ensure that they are delivering towards the vision. Essentially he is continuously working on building a team that can run without him being around. A modern producer thinks the best day is the day when he comes into work and has nothing to do. Here are a few statements I think all producers should strive for:
- The producer does not build road map of the game, but helps the creative team in structuring it so that it can continuously be kept up to date.
- The producer does not create tasks for the team, but helps the team improve their skills in planning their work.
- The producer does not track the progress of the teams, but helps them setting up structures and working processes, so that they can detect problems early on.
- The producer does not solve the immediate problem, but helps the team solve it themselves and also preventing it from reoccurring.
- The producer does not manage the communication between teams, but facilitates it.
- The producer does not resolve dependencies in the team, but helps them discover problems and sort them out.
- The producer does not only explain how something is done, he also helps the team understand why.
When a producer excels in all above things, he will eventually become redundant, and here lies the problem. Essentially good producing means that you downplay your own skills to help the team grow theirs. Typically the producers are people that have a strong development background, which is result focused and personal gratification comes from delivering. In producing the gratification is more similar to the role of the teacher; it’s from the growth of your teams.