Uncertainty is the principle

Or: Heisenberg would have made a great Producer.

A great quote from Ed Catmull:

“On managers self-destructive tendencies for creative work:

The notion that you’re trying to control the process and prevent error screws things up. We all know the saying it’s better to ask for forgiveness than permission. And everyone knows that, but I Think there is a corollary: if everyone is trying to prevent error, it screws things up. It’s better to fix problems than to prevent them. And the natural tendency for managers is to try and prevent error and over plan things.”

Another great quote that I like is from General G.S. Patton:

“If everybody’s thinking alike, somebody isn’t thinking.”

A production of any significant size and complexity is one of inherent uncertainty and it becomes the responsibility of the Producer to manage this. Part of our reason for being in this position is to anticipate everything that can go wrong and take steps to avoid it.  One can take this too literally and spend far too much time in trying to solve issues before they occur.

There will always be what can be considered are certain amount of waste that takes place. The mistake would be in thinking that this is always a bad thing. Obviously too much waste of resources will sink your project but trying to resolve all potential issues will surely sink your project faster. In a creative process there will always need to be a certain amount of experimentation that is required in order to solve problems associated with the desired outcome. Things like, “How do we animate hair like that?”, or, “How do we get the Bot AI to react the way we want?”.

Sometimes these issues get categorized as R&D costs and that is fine. Remember that there can be R&D costs associated with all sorts of things that you will not be able to anticipate until they happen. At that point they tend to be categorized as over budget line items which can then lead to all sorts of crying and wailing.

A good practice is to assume a certain amount of extra cost within a given creative process as well as extra time that may be required in order to deal with ambiguous requirements that may arise. This doesn’t mean you always add X amount of cash/time to every process but you need to make well-informed judgment calls for each creative process under your care. Budgets are too tight to assume extra cost for everything. You need to make judgment calls based on yours and your teams experience.

Expect mistakes to happen.  If you encourage an environment of collaboration then when mistakes do take place it becomes more of a group initiative to fix them.

Create a more regimented environment then mistakes will still happen but no one will want to point them out and by the time you hear about them it will be too late to do anything about it.

There are all sorts of definitions that can be used for best practices and I have used a few in articles before.  Bottom line for me is if you want to be a part of something that is successful, how ever you wish to define that, and then be part of it. Don’t try to over control it. Until someone invents a real Heisenberg Compensator, (Star Trek joke), then you need to accept the fact that no one can anticipate everything that can go wrong. Nor should you, as that is part of the creative process.

Expect the unexpected but don’t waste too much time in trying to avoid it. Deal with it as it comes!

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