January 31, 2018

Project Management Leadership with MediaMonks and HUSH

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SoDA is thrilled to welcome Kristen Koeller and Wesley ter Haar as faculty leaders for the Project Management Track at the 2018 SoDA Academy. Kristen is the Executive Producer at HUSH in New York and Wesley is a co-founder and the Global Operational Leader for MediaMonks in Los Angeles, Amsterdam and all over the world.

I recently spoke with Kristen and Wes about the state of project management in the agency world, unicorns, leadership, chaos, intuition and why developing scar tissue is just part of the gig. 

It seems like project team structures are becoming more malleable and inter-connected across internal teams, client teams, partner collaborations, freelancers, and, at times, geographic distribution. Are you seeing this at your agencies and, if so, how is it changing the way you work?

[ter Haar]        

There’s definitely a lot of change in how production companies are being asked to operate. The biggest push that we're seeing is clients trying to do more of the work in-house. The industry has also really locked into Agile as a working methodology. These factors impact the way we work and fundamentally changes the way we structure and resource our teams. It used to be more flexible. We're now often locked in to fixed team members, fixed rate, fixed timeline. There is also less and less flexibility in how you as the owner of the project run it, because the process and team structure is more formalized.

One of the biggest challenges for us has been how to control the quality of the output because it isn't fully your project anymore. You're being integrated with other teams that you don’t control. How do you still deliver your version of quality in this inter-connected environment? How do you gracefully combine instead of awkwardly collide? That's been a really interesting process the last year or two and we’re evolving to make it work.


How about you, Kristen? HUSH does a lot of experiential and physical-digital installations and I’m guessing you’ve got projects with full digital teams but also architects, interior designers, curators and other non-digital technology stakeholders involved in the mix. Have you seen your working model get more complicated and more distributed?


You're exactly right… architecture firms, AV partners, interior designers, facilities teams. There are many, many, many people sitting at the table. And a major problem that we're seeing is over project management… it's like everybody is trying to run the job. This new working dynamic has forced us to build out a formal roles and responsibilities document across all of the teams and we've actually started to make it a mandate at the beginning of our larger projects. All of these partners have separate scopes of work with the clients and we're trying to avoid scope creep by having to manage all of them.  

HUSH is a small, nimble team and because of that we utilize a mix or freelance talent and outside partners on some of our larger initiatives. It’s been very important to treat our clients as a real partner from the very beginning and to be clear and honest with them about how we staff our team and what challenges we're going to run into if there is an expectation that there's going to be lots of changes at the end or a start/stop working mode. 


That's a great point. Given the importance of communication skills for project managers and producers, and in particular, negotiation skills and conflict resolution skills, do you think that the discipline, in general, gets enough training in this area?