Read the Full Transcript:Carl: Hey there, and welcome back to Digital PM Radio. It is your host Carl Smith, and with me today I have a very special guest, Demolish himself, Mr. Dan Mall How's it going, Dan?Dan: It's going really well. Thanks for having me, Carl. Carl: It's a little déjà vu. I think we were just on a podcast not too long ago. Dan: Here I am, I'm back.Carl: It was before we had you confirmed as a keynote speaker at the Digital PM Summit, so thank you for making our event even better. Dan: I'm happy to. I'm glad it's in Philly, so I couldn't turn it down.Carl: It is in Philly, and it's October 12th and 13th, the Digital PM Summit, and it looks like it's going to be an amazing lineup. Dan, more than likely, everybody listening knows who you are, but just in case they don't, why don't you tell us a bit about SuperFriendly, your company, and your role, and what you do that is project management-ish.Dan: Sure, so I run design collaborative out of Philadelphia called SuperFriendly, and I'm the director at SuperFriendly. I don't have any employees. I'm the only employee, so what I do is I call it the "SuperFriend" model, where I pull together people for every project. Those people might be freelancers, they might be people that are moonlighting. They might be other people that own their own businesses. Or it might be even other small agencies.I partner with those people for every project that I do. In that, a lot of my role is certainly like a director on a film. That's one of the ways I describe that. And a lot of that has to do with project managing or producing, depending on the term you like to use, how those projects actually run, and how those projects actually work.Carl: When you're doing that, Dan, do you ever have the need to actually bring in you're bringing together your SuperFriends. Do you have a project manager who's a SuperFriend? Dan: I usually have a dedicated project manager or dedicated producer on every project. I think it's a role that is very difficult to combine with some other role, so normally the person who's producing or project managing, that's the only thing that they're doing. So sometimes I'll be the producer, but in those situations I'll try not to also be a designer, developer, or creator on the project, or whatever that is. I find that the person who is managing that project needs to be dedicated solely to that particular thing.More often than not, I do bring on a project manager. I prefer to work with people that identify as producers, and we can talk about that if you want. But I tend to have at least one person who's doing specifically that role in every project.Carl: To start, why do you want them to be focused on just being a producer or project manager?Dan: I think it's the hardest role on a project. I think that everyone on a project does really good things, and is important to a Web project, for example, from developers, and designers, and creative directors, and technical directors, and all that. But I believe that a producer or project manager is the hardest one. It's the most difficult one.I think the reason is because every other role has a job description, so a designer specifically has to do certain designer things. That might be comping, or wire framing, or things like that. As a developer, maybe writing code or documentation. But I feel like a producer basically as no job description, and has to fill in the gaps between all the job descriptions. I feel the producer is really the one that picks up all the slack in the project. When there's a role missing, the producer, by default, has to adopt those roles, and really fill in the gaps between all the different jobs.Carl: That makes perfect sense. Why do you prefer the term producer? One thing I'm wondering is because you just said they're really the one person who doesn't have a defined role. So why does producer fit that description?Dan: A lot of my model is based off of the movie industry. A lot of people call it the Hollywood model, which I call the SuperFriend model, just because it's better branding. But it's really based off something called the Hollywood model. In the Hollywood model, if you think of any good film, like a film Christopher Nolan directed, he doesn't always use the same cast. He doesn't always use the same director of photography or the same producers. He tries to pick the right people for the job. If Leonardo DiCaprio is going to be great for one role and not great for another, he won't use him for both of those roles. He'll use him for whatever role he needs.A movie producer, if you think of that metaphor, is actually a lot closer to what we do in the Web industry. A movie producer is the person that makes all of it happen. They're not the person directing the project, but they're the person coordinating behind the scenes, making sure everybody has what they need. If there's phone calls that need to be made, if there's a certain catering company that needs to be set up, if there's connections that need to be made between actors and wardrobe, all of that kind of thing, the producer is really the one doing that, and making it all happen.I feel like that's the role on a Web project too. The producer should be the one that makes it all happen, and makes sure everybody has what they need, in order to do their best work. Sometimes I think the term project manager is kind of an overloaded term. A lot of project managers just sort of see themselves as administrative assistants, like a glorified assistant. You're scheduling meetings, or taking notes, but struggle to find the role outside of that. I feel like a movie producer is a better metaphor for how a Web producer or Web project manager should be thinking about what they should be doing on a project. I'll give you a quick example. One of the projects I did a few years ago was for building a touchscreen interface for a retail installation. We had designers, developers, and all sorts of things on that project, but we needed somebody to be in charge of touch foils. How thick does the glass need to be, what level of reflectiveness does it need to have? And there was nobody that was the specialist for that on the project.The producer on the project, my producer Matt who was on the project, he became the touch-foil expert. He was the person who researched all the touch foils, found out how to order samples, figured out what the right companies were to get in touch with, and be able sample, and source some of the material that we eventually ended up using on that project. That's an example of it was between the job descriptions. It could have been the developer's job to do that, or it could have been a designer's job to do that, but it wasn't quite there. So the producer had to fill in those gaps and really just coordinate, and make sure all those things happened. Carl: That makes really good sense. To your point, project manager is one of those terms, and it actually feels like a downtrodden term.Dan: It does, yeah.Carl: It's like well, we try and charge for project management. When you hear things like that, you suck the value right out of it, when people say they can't bill for it. If you're doing something for the betterment of a project that you wouldn't do otherwise, how can that not be billable?Dan: Exactly.Carl: So the idea of somebody being a producer sometimes people use the word "product" for product manager, when you're talking about apps and stuff. But even then, it's still a producer, right?Dan: Yeah, exactly. I think a lot of project managers don't know how to describe what they do, and so it's hard for them to sell their own value on a project. I've had plenty of projects where the client has said to me, "We're paying for you to come to the kickoff meeting, and we're paying for these roles, and for these people to stay in hotels. Could we just have the creatives and not have the project manager?"Then I have to fight for that role, which I do, because I think it's important. But by default, I think people are like well, is that person really necessary? And unless they understand the value of that person, or unless that person or the people selling on behalf of them are able to sell that, then it becomes kind of a thing you're defensive against.What I like about the term producer is that it doesn't have as much baggage, and a lot of people ask what is that, what does that mean, as opposed to thinking they already know what that term means. I get a chance to explain it, and fill it in with my own rationale.Carl: Also what a great differentiator. When they're talking to another team and they go, "I notice you don't have a producer on this project, how the hell are you going to get it done?" Dan: That's right. Carl: So you're going to be there in Philly. You're going to be at the Digital PM Summit. What are you going to be talking about?Dan: I'm going to be talking about the magical topic of pricing design. Carl: Ah. I will be one to tell you that I think a producer, or product manager, or project manager, or Scrum master, or whatever other term we come up with; they've got to be involved in this process. I would imagine. I don't think you're going to show up and talk about it and say by the way you guys shouldn't be involved. Talk about that for a second. What role do you see that producer playing as you're going through, and pricing design?Dan: The producer I think has to understand all the different facets of a project. They have to understand design, development, and I think more importantly, they have to understand the value that those things bring to the project that you're doing. You could do a project without design. You could build a website without having a design phase. But it wouldn't be maybe good looking, or it might not be intentionally designed, or might not be a great experience. I think understanding the value of design intrinsically is a good skill for a producer to have.But then I think the next level of that, once you understand that, is okay, well, how can you actually articulate the value of that? One of the best ways to do that is with a dollar amount. Say this is how much it's worth, and this is how much it's going to get you, when you're talking to a client, and producers or project managers are often the people that are most in contact with the client. If they can understand the value of the work that they're doing, if they can put a dollar amount on that, they are able to have a dialog with the client and customer about what we're actually doing, and what we're on the hook for. I think it's really an integral part of understanding what the client is expecting and what value the client is expecting from you, and what value placed on a particular dollar amount, or equity split, or whatever it is that you're bartering.Carl: By being able to do that, that role has now increased its own value, right?Dan: Yeah, absolutely.Carl: They're not sitting there saying okay, well, let me organize a meeting to find out what it is we can and can't do. As much as you do need sometimes to rally with the team to find things out, the more that you actually have valid information the better off you are. Yeah, how could that not be a positive?Dan: Totally. More often than not, I see a lot of agencies that have producers and project managers that are involved with scoping work, writing estimates, and are an integral part of the sales team. So if you don't know how to articulate how valuable the things are that you're selling, that's what makes it difficult for you to actually scope something, or convince a client, or write a proposal, or things like that. That's part of the reason that I'm talking about that topic at the DPM Summit.Carl: That sounds amazing. For everyone who's listening, make sure you get your tickets soon. It's the Digital PM Summit in Philadelphia this October 12th and 13th. And there's also a workshop on the 14th. You can buy a combined ticket or you can buy them separate. The combined ticket, obviously, you save a couple of bucks. So that's always a good plan.Dan, I'm excited to see you again. It seems like I've seen you more this year than maybe ever.Dan: I'm okay with that.Carl: And my life is better as a result, so I look forward to it. Thanks so much for being on the show, Dan.Dan: Thanks, Carl.Carl: We'll talk to everybody soon. Have a great one.