This is not another blog post about the importance of remote collaboration video conferencing or messaging apps. At this point in our response to COVID-19, we’ve all recognized and embraced the benefits of those tools in both professional and personal settings.

Although tools like Zoom, Slack, Microsoft Teams and Google Drive provide an essential framework to enable remote work, the use of those tools is just the starting point in how we should look to collaborate in the time of social distancing.

By approaching communication around responsibilities in the context of a project management framework, in-house agencies and creative teams can maximize the role of the individual contributor.

Project management defined
At a high level, when I say ‘project management framework’, I am referring to:

  1. The segmentation of a project into logical tasks required to complete a job
  2. The assignment of tasks to individuals by planners
  3. The ownership and completion of tasks by workers

We all approach work in the context of this framework, but the physical distance between each of us now requires new attention to this model to maximize efficiency, accountability, and overall productivity. One of the best strategies to do this involves how we communicate around and report on the umbrella term ‘content creation’.

To date, content creation has been associated with a singular, required output - a film, a video, a website, an email, a campaign shoot, etc. These are the ‘job types’ we see commonly tracked within enterprise project management because they are most commonly associated with a budget. However, if, as content creators, we are able to break the association of this work into subsets, we can take greater advantage of our workforce.

Stay with me while we go on a quick trip into the world of data objects (trust me...I bet you understand data relationships more than you realize…)

Data objects
Data science mirrors humanity. Sets of data are like families in that they are relational and hierarchical. We have ‘parent’ level data objects, and ‘children’ level data objects (the children are subsets of the parents). Those children data objects can have their own children objects and on and on...

Within creative production, the parent data objects are the ‘jobs’ I previously referenced - the video, the film, the email, the shoot, etc.  The first child-level object associated within a parent job is not difficult to define. We can easily understand, for example, that within a shoot (parent) we have ‘shots’ (children). When we start tracking the status of our kids, we get a greater understanding of the overall status and health of the parent. For example, if 20 out of 100 shots (children) are complete, our overall shoot (parent) is at 20% completion.

But the fulfillment of a ‘shot’ task within a ‘shoot’ still involves a combination of users - typically multiple professionals working together in one location which, as we know, is not possible at the present moment. Only by breaking down the shot child further into its various elements and steps do we begin to identify the individual roles which contribute to the whole product. Those individual roles are supplied by individual contributors and, hence can be addressed remotely. This is the level of project management detail that a workforce requires.

Breaking down the tasks
Instead of just bucketing content creation into a single step, break this further into phases based on pre-production, production, and post-production, then detail the components of each phase. For example, during post-production, an apparel on-model image might go through 6-10 steps like:

  1. Retouch: Shape
  2. Retouch: Garment
  3. Retouch: Model
  4. Retouch: Skin Processing
  5. Layer Mask
  6. Color Adjustment
  7. Background Retouch
  8. Background Extension
  9. Finalize

When we break content creation into logical ‘steps’, these components can be addressed against skill competency and routed appropriately, even through automation.

That being said, in order to coordinate the individual contributions made by each remote team member, I believe, first and foremost, we must adopt a more granular approach to project management. Policies around a singular process to track all work, regardless of the job type, will no longer work in this new environment. We must structure the way we track content creation to address assignment and input by the individual contributor while making their ability to provide updates seamless.

We know intellectually that the best way to accomplish something big is to approach it in smaller pieces. This is how “we eat the elephant one bite at a time” and will adapt to the new normal.

“Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.”

- Francis of Assisi