If you read my blog, I am sure that you know that I am a believer that Technical Directors are very similar to Project Managers. A typical show, by definition, meets the definition of a project in a variety of ways, but there are some differences as well. I am currently taking a formal class on project management, so I expect I will (hopefully) have a number of comments to make about what I learn in class and from the text versus the theatrical point of view and even my point of view coming from the specific types of projects that I am currently managing.
The formal definition of project management requires that projects must cross functional lines. I think theatrically there are a couple ways of looking at that. Obviously, where you are in the organization matters- as the lines that you manage are different. The production manager would be managing the “functional lines” of props, costumes, scenery, lighting and sound. The Technical Director would be managing the heads of carpentry, metals, automation, and paints.
A project would have one project manager and a variety of assistants, if the project was large enough to need them. Viewing the TD as a PM, in a theatre that has a Production Manager may appear to be a conflict of interest as in some ways they can both be viewed as project managers – they are just managing different aspects of the project – or mostly closely monitoring a subset of the work, under which the Production manager more globally manages.
Project managers know a lot about managing a project, communication, dealing with all of the different types of people working on the project and managing, defining, estimating and achieving deliverable, but they may not have the technical skill to actually make the product that they manage. Also, they defer to the department heads (or line managers) on how to accomplish a task, as long as the department head achieves the task according to the expectations set by the project manager. This is very different from my project management experience and my experience in theatre. While the TD may not be the best scenic painter or welder, they can usually perform the task, or teach the task to someone underneath them.
Another point is that PM’s generally don’t have official authority over those assigned to their project. They can’t fire people, or demote them, or give them pay raises or promotions. As a TD I had this control over my crew. As a PM, the department heads control the purse strings, and my job lead may be assigned too many other projects besides my own. Thus in the situation where there are multiple projects taken place, and priorities are always changing, you have to negotiate for time on the floor and resources to build your project. As a TD, even when there were multiple shows to be built, I had control over the flow of all of the work on the floor.
The triangle exists in project management (time, cost, quality). However, all of these objectives happen inside a circle that is made up of the “project stakeholders”. While there are several different ways that you can define project success, you must satisfy these stakeholders for any version of success. This is true in theatre as well, we just don’t think about making management happy, or the board members, or even the audience as we go about our day to day activities.
The class gives 4 main tasks for project managers:
Represent the project – promote the project within the organization, negotiate for resources, establish expectations. This isn’t necessary for theatre as much, because the mission is to produce the plays. Unless perhaps you have a graduate show in a professional shop, or the black box production, negotiation and promotion isn’t necessary. However, promoting communication and expectations still are important activities.
Plan and oversee project workflow; from procedures to targets, monitoring performance and corrective action, these happen in both situations.
Facilitate the efforts of those working on the project also occurs in both.
Manage Project Risk by identifying and developing contingency plans. Some theatres take little production risk (in scenery). Others push the envelope and try a lot of new things.
As defined by the book, a technical director would be an example of an informal project manager where trust, communication, cooperation and teamwork are important and the tasks of management revolve more around methodology, life cycle phases, and core skills.