With every new digital project comes a flood of information. One of the best ways to get started managing the information flow is to begin to separate out the WHAT from the HOW. The WHAT is the product definition. It is the answer to the questions, what problem are we trying to solve? What is our team ultimately creating? Thinking of the project as a ship at the sea, the product definition is the final destination we wish to reach. The HOW is how we get there: the planning, execution and delivery of the final product. The HOW is navigating the rocks and shoals to ensure our ship reaches its intended port.
Traditionally these roles were separate and fairly well defined. In videos, the director was the final decision maker for the creative vision (the WHAT); in software projects, the product owner or product manager took responsibility for product definition. Project managers and production managers then managed project delivery (the HOW).
With the digital revolution (in digital tools, distribution and storage), smaller project teams distributed across different departments have become much more common. Instead of the typical 40-man crew making a television commercial, often today there is a 3-person crew producing videos for the client’s Facebook page. Creating mobile apps or websites can require a team of 8 people or less. Jobs have become fused; the currently popular job title “digital producer” can serve as a catchall for a mix of editing, coding, directing, and overseeing logistics.
Yet no matter the team size, the final responsibilities of product definition (the WHAT) and project delivery (the HOW) are still the secret sauce for project success.
These 2 roles also serve different masters: it is the job of the director / product owner (the WHAT) to best serve the audience and its needs, while the project manager (the HOW) is constantly dealing with the constraints of time, money and human error. Finding your way between this dynamic is at the core of all project work.
Projects can easily get sidetracked when it is unclear WHAT we are making, and who is responsible for deciding where our project team needs to go. Thus a great place to begin any project is to draw a line in the sand. Who is the final decision maker for the product definition (the WHAT), and who is ultimately responsible for project delivery (the HOW)? Spend some time in the project’s early days defining these roles and making sure the whole project team is in agreement. With this set-up, you greatly improve the chances of producing a high quality product and smoothly steering your ship towards its final port.