Previously I wrote a post about the common mistakes of a producer, which you can find here: Top 6 production mistakes. As with raising children, it is easier to say what not to do than to describe the opposite. Nevertheless, just writing about the mistakes is not helpful unless you take a stab at describing the proper thing to do. So here we go.
We have all heard stories about the hero producers that carried whole productions on their shoulders. The stories include components of great personal sacrifice and extreme commitment. What is often left out is what happened afterwards, a hero that had to recover a year from the stress syndromes and a team in chaos because the engine was not available anymore. This person might be the best solution to get something out the door immediately, but I doubt he is the best to build teams that function in the long run.
Producing is mainly leadership, not project management, and how to lead people differs from person to person. Leaders that are comfortable on stage might execute a lot of their leadership in front of the team, while the ones that prefer intimate environments might want to work more with one-on-ones. The type of leadership required is also highly dependent of the situation. But given that most game studios consists of quite a lot of young people, this article in Forbes about how young people want to be led is a good read if you are an aspiring producer.
Unfortunately there is not a single recipe for successful producing, any advice I can share on this topic has to be focused on how to think rather than exact advice on what to do. Anyone taking on that role of producer will have to find the best solutions for the people and situation they are in. That brings me to the first point of the list.
1. Adapt to the situation
As mentioned earlier there is no generic advice that works in every situation. This means that producers need to be very flexible and good readers of situations. They need to have a wide range of tools that they can adapt to the problem at hand. I know that this is a very hard advice to take in, but this mindset is required to be successful.
2. Be a great listener
A producer’s job is to find the wisdom in the team and make sure that is used. They cannot do that by constantly broadcasting their own message and ignoring the voice of the others. Therefore I am a firm believer that being a great listener is one of the most important traits of a leader. Apart from missing the opportunity to gaining valuable information, the talkative producer ignores the fact that people need to feel listened to in order to accept leadership. The following article explains this in more detail: Leadership & The Power of Listening.
For extroverts, like me, this is a tough advice to apply as speaking is part of our thinking process.
3. Trust people
The feeling of not being trusted will bring down the morale of any person and will also make them less likely to take responsibility for their work. Producer must do their best to show that they trust the judgment of each and every one on the team. Even in instances where they have their internal doubts. This also means that there needs to be tolerance for mistakes as they are part of the growing process. The producer should strive towards helping team members to learn from their mistakes over throwing rants.
4. Be a great teacher
The producer’s ultimate goal is to build a system that works without him, essentially making him redundant. When the team encounters problems that they are struggling with it is often tempting for the producer to take them on personally and ensure they are solved quickly. The great producer will focus his effort on aiding the team on learning from the problem so that they grow. Next time a similar situation comes up the team will be able to get through it without the assistance of the producer.
5. Seek long term solutions
Short term thinking will never get anyone out of a hole for more than a short period. The producer must continuously assess situations and look for long term solutions when problems occur. If he is too engaged in solving the problem it is easy to forget to fix the problem long term. The producer must rely on the team to solve it and spend his energy on devising a plan in collaboration with the team on how to prevent it from reoccurring. This was a big problem for me personally when I was acting as producer, as my itchy fingers really wanted to be in on the fixing.
6. Be goal driven
Everything producers do should be goal driven, as opposed to task driven. When they spend their time detailing the path to the goals and breaking that down to tasks they are usually overlooking the fact that the team is way more capable of this. The challenge lies in describing the goals and helping the team understand why it needs to be done. This brings me to the most important point of this. Producer must remember to explain why to the team. For example, if a new way of working is rolled out in the team it is as important to explain the goals of it as how it works. Without that explanation the buy in for the process will probably be low, as the team members might not see the value. On top of that the producer is missing out on the possible improvements that can come from the team if they are bought into the goal.
7. Obey the rules
This almost goes without saying; producers are part of the team, which means that they should play by the same rules as the rest. If the agreed start time is 10 AM, then the producer better be there. If the team works late for a deadline, the producer better be there. Leaders cannot expect more of the team than from themselves.
Most of the advice I have given in this post is focused on how a producer should interact with the team. These are my views on how they should think in order to build a long term successful team. However, situations differ and I do not think you can follow these guidelines all the time. Producers will often have to diverge from them and get their hands dirty in pressing situations. But they should strive towards making these situations the exception rather than the rule.