You’ve Got Projects and People Working Them… Now What?

masthead-nowwhat-project mgr

Organization, it’s the box that we put all of our tools in when they’re required for a task. Generally speaking, this task falls under the commonly used term of “Project Management.”

Often, this is a job performed by both publishers and their various editors—anyone in a supervisory role. However, sometimes it’s a job that is performed independently of the rest of the development process—works that’s reserved for an Editor-in-Chief, Managing Publisher, or some other high-ranking title.

By the way, titles are often a key tool in project management, as they help establish the flow of work, the flow of productivity, the flow of communication, and the flow of responsibilities.

Additionally, as noted author and erstwhile Editor-in-Chief Dave Gross says, titles and responsibility shifts are often an enjoyable way to reward someone in a manner that doesn’t necessarily cost a company a lot of resources, yet can still improve morale and productivity. It can be similar to free or discounted product, author copies, and other such benefits.

Project Managers fill an important spot in the production chain, as they allow for there to be an insulating layer between the publisher or editor-in-chief and their design and the development staff and/or the editorial staff. It can seem counter-intuitive, adding an extra layer of management or official process and “red tape” to improve efficiency, but it can provide a needed buffer that allows upper management to focus on larger aspects of a company’s needs while giving the designers and developers someone to give status reports to, ask for clarity, and to report any issues.

Basically, a project manager is an information distillery. They take all of the current updates, status checks, estimated times for completion, needs to push back a deadline, reports of dropped balls, and other such event markers and condense them into a single, detailed report.

When the higher ups in a publishing endeavor hear things such as “Project Unintended Intersection is ahead of schedule” they get to decide if they wish to hear more or simply be pleased that things are running well. If instead they hear “Project Probability Unfettered has hit a snag” they can either ask for a full report or simply ask “is it bad?” (getting only as detailed a report as they need for their big-picture workload).

Project Managers are experts at simplifying the dissemination of information. It’s not just a matter of “need to know,” but always being prepared to give further details if thye’re requested.

As author and publisher Hans Cumming notes, “it’s important to know what your deadlines are and to make those dates.” Not only is that important for a freelancer, but it is important information for a project manager, who is often the gatekeeper for the flow of information.

Project management is less about the herding of freelancers and more about tracking the movements, positions, and accomplishments of the freelancers as they work on their individual pieces of larger projects. Unlike editors who focus on honing works and helping writers with their tools, project managers are more interested in whether the tools being properly used and how much longer they’ll be in use.

In a manner of speaking, project managers are responsible for knowing the actual and probable positions of a project in a wide variety of timelines. Is the project on target for editorial passes, proofreading passes, layout, art orders, cover design, pre-release announcements, printing (both proofing and delivery), inbound shipping, warehousing, distributor shipping, and so forth. It is like watching a series of balls rolling upon a vast blanket. The project manager is responsible for knowing where all the other balls are, keeping each and every ball rolling with its own timeline, and looking ahead to see where different tracks intersect with other timelines.

They also serve as reefs for the tsunamis of stress to crash upon. Pressures that don’t need to hit a publisher are often blocked by a project manager.

This often involves making decisions such as delaying or speeding up production on projects (or even phases of projects) in order to have a desired effect on the big-scale workflow. If one project is running late, can another be accelerate to cover a gap and quell troubles in the production cycle before they crop up? Has the project’s street date already announced and, if so, do we need to announce a change, or can we make up for a delay in the current work phase with adjustments further down the production chain? Who needs to know about this, just the affected individuals or do we need to plan for an all-hands effort?

If the editor-in-chief or the publisher is the brains of a publishing body, then project managers are its central nervous system. They transmit information, help determine what response is appropriate to the situation. If a action is needed, does it need to be a fast reaction or can time be taken in responding? Is it time for fight, flight, or a rage quit?

While a publisher or editor-in-chief can fill the duties of a project manager, it’s a lot nicer when a reliable someone else is doing it for them.

Dave Gross is the author of the Radovan & the Count novels for Pathfinder Tales. An erstwhile editor-in-chief of Amazing Stories and Dragon magazines, his latest novel “Lord of Runes” is currently published by Tor on behalf of Paizo.

Hans Cummings is an author and independent publisher at VFF Publishing. He is the author of the “Foundation of the Drak-Anor” duology and of the Zack Jackson series of young adult science fiction novels, as well as the upcoming “Scars of the Sundering” trilogy.

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