!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.0 Strict//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/xhtml1/DTD/xhtml1-strict.dtd"> Streamline Training & Documentation: The Producer Role in Managing a Hollywood-Style Project

Friday, September 26, 2008

The Producer Role in Managing a Hollywood-Style Project

I've discussed the "Hollywood model" for designing and carrying out projects in a couple of previous posts. Now I've come upon a valuable study of how such projects are managed by the person in the producer role.

In "Nexus Work: Managing Ambiguity in Network Based Projects," Elizabeth Long Lingo, a research associate at the Curb Center for Art, Enterprise and Public Policy at Vanderbilt University, and Siobhán O'Mahony, an assistant professor at the Graduate School of Management at UC-Davis, report on results of an ethnographic study they conducted of the practices used by people responsible for getting a network-based (Hollywood model) project on track and keeping it there.

The group Lingo and O'Mahony studied were country music producers in Nashville. These individuals play what Lingo and O'Mahony call a "nexus role" in the creative process: They are responsible for integrating the work of a variety of experts whose contributions are potentially competing in terms of aesthetic values, expected roles, and identification of what will be a hit in the market. Producers have to achieve this integration without direct authority over the various experts — notably, musicians and label personnel — contributing to a particular project.

(click to enlarge)

As indicated in the above graphic (Figure 1 from the paper), Lingo and O'Mahony found that there are three types of ambiguity1 inherent in creative projects, all of which producers must manage:
  • Ambiguity concerning how to measure quality/define success.

  • Ambiguity concerning the scope of each person's involvement in the project.

  • Ambiguity concerning the transformation process, i.e., the manner in which the individual contributions of the principal artist, label personnel, session musicians, recording engineers, and the artist's manager will be transformed into a coherent whole that will sell well. This is the infamous problem of there being no known formula for producing hits.
The key point that Lingo and O'Manhony make (with considerable redundancy in their paper) is that the "nexus work" producers do (see the "Nexus Work Practices" box in the graphic) involves:2
  • Managing the ambiguity concerning how to measure quality by using relational practices to create "a shared quality aesthetic that would guide what the group produced."

  • Managing the ambiguity about who does what when — the "potentially competing claims of control over individual performances, the choice of songs, and the overall direction of the creative product" — by using relational practices to articulate role boundaries.

  • Coping with the irreducible ambiguity of the transformation process by building creative capacity — talent, songs, and label support — in order to "generate options, be open to opportunities and handle problems [the producer] could not articulate or anticipate a priori." Notably, during the actual recording process, producers obsess "about creating the best possible conditions for 'magic' to occur"; they concentrate on creating "a positive working environment that [is] conducive to improvisation, experimentation and suggestion."
Lingo and O'Mahony summarize their findings as follows:
By showing specifically how those in the nexus role responded to this call for invention, we contribute a more refined understanding of network based projects — a critical postbureaucratic form of organizing ... By specifying the precise types of relational work practices that individuals in the nexus role use to reduce ambiguity and cultivate a creative contribution from those upon whom they depend, we also identify a more relational type of brokerage where individuals use their unique position to achieve mutual benefit as opposed to political advantage.
Finally, Lingo and O'Mahony note that further research is needed to determine whether their findings concerning the nexus work of music producers apply in other entrepreneurial settings.

1 Lingo and O'Mahony adopt as their definition of ambiguity, "multiple and potentially competing understandings of the same situation."

2 Definitions of music producers' nexus work practices are provided in Table 1 in the paper.


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