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The Director of Production Is Your Most Valuable Resource



In our article entitled “The Consultant Business Manager,” we made the argument that a role that’s pure overhead, without any direct responsibility for client service or revenue generation, can still deliver a huge ROI for the agency, even while not a member of the agency’s full-time staff. In this we’ll be highlighting another role that some consider an “overhead role” and a “nice-to-have” while others have decided that it’s critical to the success of their career and their agency, but which can only be done by a full-time staff person: the role of Director of Production.

The Director of Production (“DOP”) in a live event agency is probably the most important role for the agency’s success. In my experience, it’s the center of the universe in the agency. It's where everything flows into and out from. Have an RFP? Talk to the DOP. Need a project staffed? Ask the DOP. Need a problem? Get the DOP. They're the guide, the fixer, the peace-keeper and the problem-solver. They play an absolutely critical role in this crazy world of highly changeable, totally custom, live event work, made all the more difficult due to completely immovable deadlines.

And yet, many of the agencies Tonic works with do not have a Director of Production. They have senior project folks who are responsible for running their projects, managing their project teams, and who are totally focused on getting their work done. Then they have senior leadership doing everything else: sales, marketing, employee management, resourcing, project pricing and budget supervision, as well as running the entire business. With some of our clients, senior leadership is also providing creative direction and client relationship lead support.

Yikes.

So, you know what happens. Project managers are left to their own devices until there is a fire drill…which likely happens often, which means all those other needs are not attended to. It’s a vicious cycle.

Now, in full disclosure, I was a DOP for a significant part of my career, so perhaps I’m a bit jaded, but that experience also gives me a really good perspective on the job. The fact is, when I first became Director of Production there were only 7 employees on staff in the office I was working in – which is quite a bit smaller than a number of Tonic’s clients. 7 people. And yet the Managing Director at the time insisted on having a DOP on their team. Why? Because they knew it would allow them to do their job more successfully and help the agency as a whole be more successful. Ten years later, we were 125 employees.

It’s clear from my experience that the role of DOP liberates and elevates owners and other senior leaders so they can do their jobs with better focus and follow through. It enables sales folks to be more successful because they have a resource whose job it is to support their production needs – not run the entire agency. It allows production folks to have a coach, counselor and mentor which ensures project success and job satisfaction. And it gives leadership someone who can answer their questions, inform their business decisions with a “front-line” point of view, and ensure the agency is delivering on its promise.

And perhaps most importantly, in our experience, the position quickly pays for itself. When one person is tasked with ensuring top quality deliverables, maximizing project margins, optimizing time tracking and fee recovery, and ensuring all costs, including changes, are covered by the client whenever appropriate, the results are increased sales, increased efficiency, and increased profits.

Not bad, huh?

So, what’s the role of DOP? It’s at the center of the organizational chart. The DOP is the first point of contact from the bottom up and the top down. They know everything that’s being delivered to clients but are directly responsible for delivering very little of it (they can, and probably should, still have some direct delivery responsibilities as it can help them know first-hand which processes are helping and which aren't – but these need to be limited so they can fulfill their main role). They have client relationships but at an executive level, and yet they can also be found on show site helping in any way needed. They know who's doing what, and where to find others that can help.

The skills needed to be a successful Director of Production are somewhat unique and often challenging for many individuals to fill. This is due to the fact that the project management experience required for the job doesn’t necessarily equate to the leadership skills and attitude needed for the role. So, there is no “training ground” that covers all of the needs of the role. In fact, over the years I tried to hire DOPs who didn’t have a project management background in the hope they had the other skills needed, but those experiments generally weren’t successful.

Accordingly, first and foremost, the DOP is a master of the discipline of project management. They understand intimately all of the processes, best practices, and tools the agency utilizes. They can use them, teach them, and adjust them. Additionally, from their production experience, they’re good at client management strategies, pricing and analyzing budgets. They’re process-driven, and yet, they also understand that many processes go out the window when the sh*t is hitting the fan.

Which brings me to the second necessary skill: flexibility. I’ve seen DOPs crash and burn because they mandate certain procedures or tools no matter what. Our world of live events is never that black and white. The creative and technological possibilities create a dynamic environment in which we’re constantly pushed to “figure it out.” The DOP has to be able to lead people down a path that ensures success, good communication, and financial discipline, while also allowing for a quick right or left turn. And they have to do all this with a smile on their face.

That smile leads to the third critical element: they have to be a great people person. That doesn’t mean they’re always nice, but it does mean they know how to get the best out of their staff. They understand how to motivate people; they inspire trust and confidence; and, perhaps most importantly, they’re able to get staff to take on even more when needed.

If they have these skills: project & client management expertise, flexibility, and the ability to manage and motivate people, they’ll most likely be successful in the job.

So, think about your organization and how you do your job. Think about whether you could be more successful as a leader if you were elevated out of the production fire drills. Think about whether your staff would be more successful with someone whose primary role is to coach, manage and support them. Think about whether your agency would be more successful if there was someone dedicated to deliverable excellence and margin maximization.

And if you answer “yes” to anyone of these, the Director of Production role should be on your radar…and on your team!

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