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Posts Tagged ‘project management’

Be Your Own Project Advocate

May 19, 2016 Leave a comment

ID-10081312If there’s one challenge for production/creative managers in the enterprise space, it’s the struggle to define, implement and operate a new technology system for their productions. Many communications leaders are specialists in the creation and development of high-value video and audio content. They are well versed in scriptwriting, lighting, shooting, pacing and the other key aspects of film production.

Where many of these managers get tripped up is in the proper implementation of the increasingly complex delivery systems available to share their creations online. Whether the system is homebuilt or vendor-driven, leaders suddenly find themselves in complicated discussions of bandwidth, streaming protocols, ideal bitrates, transcoding and every other detail of properly instituting systems for delivering video content. There’s a tendency on the creative side to defer these questions to the “experts” – let the IT guys work that stuff out, I just have to focus on providing the content.

That kind of attitude is understandable, but can do enormous damage to the project and possibly kill it altogether. It’s imperative for even the least technical manager to get both interested and informed about these details as if the project depends on the managers understanding and discussing them intelligently. There are a number of reasons for this, but it boils down to your advocacy is the only one that will focus completely on the project meeting its goals successfully.

The first driver of project success is focus – the team needs to define goals to meet the business needs, layout essential functionality and see that the project stays on track. Ostensibly the Project Manager assigned by the IT department for the project will handle those efforts. In reality, my experience has demonstrated that even the most well-intentioned and skilled PM is juggling at least a half-dozen projects at once. Yours may not be the most complicated or the most high-profile, and by definition it will settle down to the bottom of his list. The tech team doing the initial due diligence is likewise swamped, and broadly speaking are unlikely to be experts at first in the details of streaming video. Moreover, there’s often a distance placed between the project’s business owners and the guys in the trenches, and every layer in between guarantees details will be lost in translation. The high-level sponsors of projects are fire-and-forget – they stand up to support a project, but they usually don’t want to know anything until it’s all done (or they have to yell at someone). The vendors are focused on many things – they want you to use and love their products, but often they have limited staff trying to manage multiple clients and thus their goals are different. In the end, you’re the only one invested enough to keep pointing like a laser at getting a working product that you’ll be living with for the foreseeable future.

Another key concern for these projects is the distance between the promise and reality. Again, you’re the one that has to work with these tools daily. Everything always sounds good at the kickoff meetings, but too many of the stakeholders there don’t have to deal with the actual day-to-day function. Practically it makes no difference to a VP that it takes 14 steps to deliver each piece of video out to the audience – but your team is going to lose productivity in massive chunks if the design doesn’t take your processes into consideration. Something as critical as metrics can be a major stumbling block if it’s not considered early – can they deliver what you actually need to know and report out to the stakeholders?

In the end, no one should know the needs and the uses better than the direct owner of the systems. These concepts may  be foreign to you, but it behooves you to learn them and be able to discuss them intelligently. No one will show more concern for the success of your project than you will, and the more you can direct it, prod your partners and shape the final results the better it will turn out.

Image courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

A Tale of Two Video Projects

March 27, 2014 Leave a comment

Image courtesy of suphakit73/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I’ve gotten involved recently with two separate video projects and the two efforts couldn’t be farther apart in approach. The purposes are different and the end products need to accomplish separate things. There’s also two very different approval chains involved and that changes things dramatically.

The processes of these efforts, however, are the most different of them all and the most instructive about success and failure with a video project. One project has been multiple months in the discussion, planning, back and forth, delays and consultations. The end products are supposed to be extremely short teasers to provide a brief visual and an enticement to the readers to continue on with a text piece. It provides a welcome sense of the writers and a chance to associate names & personalities with their thinking. It should, frankly, be a slam dunk of an easy exercise to settle on a basic approach both technically and content-wise and get some samples in the can and ready for publication. And yet months later we’re still discussing.

On the other project, there was an almost passing request from a colleague to shoot some video for an online tool he’s developed. We arranged a day, I borrowed some equipment, and over the course of a single day we shot what turned into 35 short segments for him to add to the tool. In less than a week I had it all edited to his satisfaction and back over to him. I am by no means a cinematographer and these talking head pieces may not be the most brilliant ever, but we accomplished everything he needed to do in a very short space of time.

It’s no surprise which I consider the appropriate way to get a video together, but it’s not always possible. There are many good reasons to work by committee and often the final product needs the input of many people. There are certainly times when a professional quality videographer, a formal script and trained actors are necessary for the production to reach the level it needs to reach.

But there are also times when programs can overthink themselves into doing nothing. The old 80/20 rule, or the perfect being the enemy of the good really needs to come into play when projects get out of hand. A simple idea often needs a simple solution, even if it doesn’t entirely match expectations. The months spent on doing demos and passing them around and writing slide presentations would probably be better used cranking out short pieces and improving as we go.

As the cost curve on video production continues to bend in favor of cheaper, better video there’s no reason not to take the fast route through. If the end product is short and very targeted it’s really not worth the expense of very high end production when you get extremely good results with basic equipment and a decent understanding of basic videography. Get the lighting decent and the sound great and your average talking head video doesn’t need a ton of work. Even basic b-roll can be added with the same equipment, so why overexert yourself.

I’ve said numerous times during this process there’s a time and place for everything. Bring on the best when the best is needed, and bring on the good when it will do the trick in half the time and a tenth of the cost.

Image courtesy of suphakit73 / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Video is Coming! Now What?

July 30, 2013 Leave a comment

I woke up in a curmudgeonly mood to begin with, and it wasn’t helped by seeing yet another twitter posting pointing out that video is on the rise. “Guess what?” says headline #2,367 – “we see video as taking over the internet!”

So what?

The key to trends is turning that into actionable strategy. I’ve seen multiple trends articles saying video is The Next Big Thing™, but what does this mean practically to the owner of a video service line? The big media producers and distributors know this already, and probably know a lot more about it than the experts making these predictions. The independent producers and small distributors may need the information about how to monetize their content, but that’s a relatively small portion of the overall video universe. What do these articles say to the companies that create and distribute video as only a part of their overall communications and marketing strategies?

Not much, which of course is why I blog about this in the first place – I’m filling that niche to help people make sense of their video efforts when it’s only a part of what their companies do. That’s really the problem these trend articles hold – there’s really nothing there to help video managers drive their video strategy towards overall organizational goals. That’s the critical part of a video program in most organizational settings, other than major content producers and advertisers who are in the business of selling video.

The job for an in-house video/media manager is to further the overall business goals of the organization, whether that’s selling widgets, curing patients or educating students. Your first and most critical question when creating content, building infrastructure or making partnership deals is “what is this contributing to the overall goals of the company, and how is it doing it?” If you can’t provide an answer to that it’s likely time to re-evaluate your plans. If you read the financial news at all you know that companies are sitting on cash – mounds of it in some cases. They’re not hiring, they’re not spending on capital improvements and they’re certainly trying to avoid spending it on unnecessary projects. If you’re going to a CIO, CFO or CEO these days to ask for funds you’d better have a strong business case to explain how this either makes them or saves them a lot of money.

Your video projects have to meet business criteria, and general trend information is at best a small part of an overall defense of a project’s value to the company. It’s nice to know, but all it does is underline the competitive landscape for your content. Take these trends for what they’re worth – confirmation of the power and reach of online video. Then move on to explain how video helps your organization do what it does better, more efficiently and more cost-effectively.

A Tale of Two Earnings Calls

July 23, 2013 Leave a comment

So last week I sat in on the Yahoo 2Q results call and on the whole I was underwhelmed – the performance was lacking and more importantly for me the technology effort was poor. I jumped on the Netflix earnings call yesterday to compare the two attempts. No contest – the technical delivery and overall performance of the Netflix show absolutely blew away Yahoo. Delivery was smooth, the presenters came across as comfortable and prepared for the video experience. The one exception was the camera quality – Yahoo used professional grade cameras, Netflix chose webcams, and that’s a big negative in my view. If you’re a professional company, invest a little time and money in a camera crew for your CEO & CFO to improve the lighting and delivery.

All of this is technical – as a web-delivered video broadcast, I thought this worked very well. Leveraging Google Hangout as a delivery system meant a rock solid platform ensuring a technically successful show (aside from my capture-device issues). Again, the executives were much better prepared for their roles and came across far better than the Yahoo team last week. Others reviewed the experience, and here’s what they thought, along with my commentary:

I think part of the problem here is that these stories are looking at this through a lens different than the target audience. I suspect most in the intended audience didn’t care in the slightest that the production values were lower than they should be. If I had to guess, many of the analysts were listening, not watching – multi-tasking as they had the call on in the background, and they may never have noticed the webcams. I doubt, contra Buzzfeed, that this was more confusing for the target audience – they know what they’re listening for, and I’m quite convinced they know if they heard the positive or negative information they need to tease out a recommendation for investors.

This is the only thing I think that really matters, and plays into my first and most critical rule of video – know thy audience. How did the analyst community react to a very, very different format? Traditionally as I understand it these audio calls allow for analysts to raise any question they like directly to the executive team – I find it hard to believe they were completely comfortable with the moderator role played by the two selected journalists. I suspect, though I can’t prove it, that many in the analyst audience felt the entire exercise was more staged than a traditional call. Not that the moderators were in the tank with Netflix, but that the traditional give and take was restricted by the moderated format.

This is a very important consideration for companies looking at a video earnings call – you have a relationship with your analysts as established by your current earnings delivery mechanism. What might change about it if you switch to a video format? Are you looking to blow up your old model as Netflix did, or combine traditional with video as Yahoo did? Are you prepared to be on camera where your body language and setting will influence how the analysts view your presentation and responses to questions?

What matters to these companies when dealing with earnings is putting the best face on their results so the stock valuation and company outlook are as positive as possible. If you look to change your earnings call to video, the goal for an executive team and the video group has to be to aid the process for the analysts who impact your company’s future.

Video Earnings Call – New Trend or New Fad?

July 17, 2013 Leave a comment

Netflix and Yahoo both offered their quarterly earnings call via live video stream to anyone who wanted to watch and I decided to sit in on the Yahoo call. I think it’s about time that companies got on the ball with delivering their information to investors and analysts this way, and I hope this is the start of regular such calls. The Yahoo experience had both positives and negatives, at least from a video and technology perspective. I’ll leave the quality of the actual reporting to the analysts and investor community.

On the plus side, this is a terrific opportunity for companies to not only tell but also show participants their wares. For tech companies like these it’s a golden opportunity to feed in video or stills of new technologies and functions, and Yahoo did a good job presenting those additional visuals. They clearly had a tech team on the back end running a video switcher and they did a nice job feeding in visuals of the products being discussed. The team also had CEO Marissa Mayer and CFO Ken Goldman in a professional quality studio with a proper backdrop and well lit. Analysts dialing in were identified on slides on the fly and the techs were clearly watching the show carefully and reacting appropriately.

Unfortunately, while the presentation itself was professionally run, I did not have a good experience with the delivery. Buffering, hesitations, odd repetitions of video segments all interfered with the straightforward viewing experience I expected. Frankly, there’s no excuse why a company living in the technology space should struggle with a clean presentation. The world of live video delivery is well established at this point with tens of thousands of live events delivered successfully every year. If the expectation is that this new delivery method will provide a better experience than an audio-only event they really need to do a better job on the distribution and CDN side. Perhaps it was just my local experience and others had a smooth, error free event, but I suspect that’s not the case.

On the production end, while again the sets and lighting were professional, it all had the feeling of an amateur newscast. Ms. Mayer and Mr. Goldman appeared stiff, uncomfortable, and very scripted until the Q&A session which was a bit looser. Perhaps this was just nerves at a new style of communication, but it was not a stellar performance.

My final grade for the event was a B-; a great idea, pretty well executed with only a fair quality of delivery service. If I were the one responsible, I’d offer the following critiques:

  • Clean up the delivery – test, test and then test some more to be sure your video stream is smooth and unbroken. There’s nothing more frustrating as a viewer to have delays and hiccups on a live stream, and even the people paid to watch or listen to these calls expect a clean presentation
  • Did you consider the format before you planned a sit-down newscast style? Did your principals practice this beforehand? Are they more comfortable in a less formal setting? I assume the Yahoo team thought about these and made a conscious decision to go this route; if they didn’t, they really should have thought this through more clearly. Again, perhaps this was just nerves, but your CEO & CFO really need to come off as polished as possible and you must find the style of presentation that fits them best.
  • Were you taking notes as the event proceeded? What worked and what didn’t? If you aren’t using this as a learning opportunity you’re wasting a chance to perform even better the next time.

Super Bowl Numbers

February 8, 2012 1 comment

The fine Tim Siglin at Streamingmedia.com follows up on his earlier post and digs deeper into the numbers of online watchers of the Super Bowl:

Super Bowl Streaming: 2.1 Million Served

I’m not smart enough (or willing enough) to verify Tim’s math, but I have no reason to doubt what he’s crunched, and the anecdotal evidence indicates it was not a great experience for those who tried to watch online. I don’t expect much from NBC publicly about it, but I imagine they’re reviewing internally and I hope they’re learning from what happened. I’m certainly with Tim that the “Last Mile” (i.e. user error or local problems) argument doesn’t hold a lot of weight if the problems were pretty universal. I do hope they continue to do these kinds of online efforts, but I also expect them to learn and improve on them.

If there’s a takeaway for those doing this on a smaller scale, be sure to learn from your failures (assuming you still have a job after something blows up :).) Obviously if someone screwed up, acknowledge it and change your protocols to ensure it doesn’t happen again.  If something unexpected happened, be sure to dig deeply into it to identify the cause, and make changes if needed to prevent a repeat. Above all else, don’t stop delivering content this way – accept these as growing pains as you work to constantly improve services and delivery.

Vendor-produced Content

November 4, 2011 Leave a comment

I had an interesting email conversation recently about the integration of vendor-produced content into an enterprise Digital Asset Management (DAM) system.  For the most part it was technical – focusing on the practicalities of allowing or requiring vendor access to internal systems. It did get me thinking about the overall universe of vendor issues when bringing in outside companies to develop content.  I think there are three critical areas to consider when hiring an outside company to produce content: legal, quality and creative.

Legal Issues

Legal issues are usually the earliest to come up, the least pleasant part of the process, and the least important for the final product.  Lawyers may argue with me on that point, but if the documentation is written correctly and all conditions are met as expected, the agreements will not be looked at again throughout the project.  They don’t contribute to the end result beyond insuring that deadlines are set, payment terms are agreed to, and establishing consequences if conditions are not met.  Yes, I’m oversimplifying, but from a content development view, that’s really all that can be gleaned from the legal documentation. Read more…

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