Protect Yourself: Predict Your Production Costs
Only on infrequent occasions do I come across stakeholders on ambitious streaming video projects who strongly resist planning a comprehensive road map to guide production. Here, the term "production" could refer to an actual video production, such as a live event, or the production of custom software or services that a client wants to put into place. With a well-planned project, this road map enables you to achieve several key objectives:
- Create milestones for your project
- Identify the necessary resourcesfor the project
- Plan sprints around each milestone
- Predict costs to bring the project to completion
Without these pieces in place, a project’s budget is entirely up the air, and cost overruns are much more likely to occur. The most common reasons that stakeholders refuse to commit to the thoughtful process of planning are the following:
- Panic and anxiety: The time to launch was yesterday, and the production just needs to start now.
- Wasteful spending: The time and resources needed to build out a comprehensive plan could be better spent on actual production.
- Perception of management and management tasks: Those assigned to a project should be able to map out their own tasks and plans without management or oversight.
If these reasons sound sensible to you, you are most likely in the position of being a single stakeholder. In my nearly 30 years of experience in business, the scenario in which planning is rushed and/or overlooked occurs when one person is making all stakeholder and product owner decisions. This stakeholder might also be funding the effort entirely from his or her own pocket, with no other investor(s) involved to weigh in or demand proper due diligence.
I’ve written about the importance of planning and discovery in prior columns (see "The 9 Starter Questions to Answer Before Creating a Live Stream," but I want to stress that there’s an inherent risk for any vendor participating in a production that is not planned. If goals and milestones aren’t agreed upon and mapped out, you run the risk of not knowing who’s accountable for what, and your liability risk is much higher than it should be.
So what can you do to protect yourself, either as a well-informed stakeholder or a vendor/resource participating in a production?
- Start with discovery. Get on board by spending whatever time is necessary to gather all of the business requirements, and document, document, document. The more organized you are, the better. Agree early on which tools will be used by the team to coordinate activities, tasks, and schedules.
- Proceed with skilled managers. Managers don’t need to know all of the technical details, but they need to be brought in at the start of a project and kept on through the end. They need to be empowered to allocate the resources necessary for the job.
- Appoint a product owner. In software development and scrum development, the product owner is responsible for representing the users of the intended production result, as well as for representing the interests of the stakeholders.
- Estimate budgets as finely as possible. Do your best to outline all resource allocations to complete each milestone.
- Keep a predictable schedule. For longer projects, make sure there is consistency week to week. Don’t skip or cancel regular meetings, as the velocity of the project will be affected.
- Report your work progress often. Keeping stakeholders and product owners informed of the status of the project is never a bad idea, even if progress is slower than expected. At minimum, send a report once a week, and include the burn rates of the resources involved.
- Keep change orders in check. Even the best laid plans will need to adjust to changes in project scope. If the scope changes, get key resources on the project to weigh in on the repercussions of change orders with respect to time and budget. Be aware of “scope creep” when small changes start to accumulate and add significant time to the original extent of the work.
- Keep it professional. Longer production cycles with multiple vendors can often create an atmosphere of finger-pointing when results aren’t being produced on schedule or on budget. Do your best to address conflicts head-on in a constructive manner that seeks an efficient resolution to the problem without assigning blame.
These pointers are just the start to a successful project plan—and every project has a unique combination of business requirements, personalities, skill sets, and budgets. Making the various factors all work together is not always an easy task. The time and effort you spend on planning will serve your interests well.