Managing: Production vs. Digital

When you are providing management oversight in this industry, it shouldn’t matter what type of job it is, correct? Well, that’s very far from the truth. When the company shifts from a production (print) environment to a digital one, project management has to take on a whole new role. Let’s start with some basic differences between production and digital.

The end result of a production job is tangible––you can touch it, see it, feel it. Also, you are generally on the same page with the customer or vendor when you agree on the paper, color, quantity, size, and binding. The proofing, or verification, phase is straightforward because you––and the client––can touch it, see it, and feel it.

Digital jobs are intangible. These jobs are generally process implementations, computer programming and software development––things you don’t touch, see, or feel. These jobs are usually something new for the customer or an upgrade to an existing system. Although customers know what they want, their needs are conveyed in general terms. The verification stage becomes a testing phase where clients may decide that it’s “not exactly” what they meant, or decide that something “a little” more is needed. At this stage, you will also encounter differences in opinion––for example, when you agree with the client that you are going to provide documentation, does that mean a “how-to” user manual or a “blueprint” to rebuild the program from scratch? This is where the real negotiating usually comes into play, but proper planning can avoid this pitfall.

There are five basic project management phases: initiation, planning, execution, monitoring, and completion. These phases should be followed for any type of project regardless of the final output. The planning phase is probably the most critical for any project and ensures that both customer and vendor agree on the final output. In a production job, planning includes negotiation and agreement with the client on the paper, color, quantity, size, and binding for the final product. In a lot of situations, a sample or proof is created so that there is no misunderstanding––again, you can touch it, feel it, see it.

When you are dealing with an intangible deliverable, the planning phase needs further expansion. The creation of a sample or proof is generally not feasible, and the final output will not be realized without a majority of the work being completed. Therefore, “enhanced” planning  is required when you have a project in the digital arena. You will need to create a detailed, step-by-step approach from concept to completion. In addition, you must avoid using general terms (which could lead to divergent expectations, as illustrated in the documentation example above) and be as specific as possible about the final product, as well as its limitations. You can’t read the client’s mind, so you need to be more inquisitive and document what you discover so that both of you can “see” what the client meant.

Author: Tim Murphy

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