The Changing Face of Production Management
John C. Dunn is Production Director for Wizards of the Coast Periodicals Group, a division of Hasbro. Dunn began his career in printing more than 12 years ago. Although John chose a path in production management, early on he enhanced his career by working as a prepress operator and a CSR for a midsize commercial printer. In 1998, John took his current position at Wizards of the Coast where he immediately redeveloped the company's production management system for periodicals and developed procedures for CTP production as it related to the company's publications and their collateral aspects. Working with Quad Graphics and RR Donnelley and Sons, John planned for and developed the in-depth systems necessary to ensure accurate and consistent CTP production, including the magazines' digital advertising program. Currently John directs the production and prepress of six magazines, their collateral aspects and digital advertising.
For many of us, one of the aspects of our industry that we love is that it is ever changing. I entered the industry at the dawn of "desktop publishing" and boy were things on the move. Paste-up was still being used, the comment "well it looked okay on the monitor" was common, and RIPs took forever. Today we're still changing. New file formats are being developed and used, computer to plate (CTP) is becoming the norm (oh, happy day), and more to the topic of this article, positions that were traditionally outside of the prepress loop are becoming more and more driven by technology. I'm speaking of Production/Project Coordinators, Managers and Directors.
There was a time when being in production meant that you looked at digital/analog issues like I do airplane pilots -- I know they fly the planes but I don't know exactly how they do it. Production was, in some companies, relegated to trafficking and print buying, with little emphasis being placed on file preparation or the specifics of prepress. Today those positions are, for many, changing.
With technology determining much of what you can and can not expect on press, understanding that technology was never more important. Today's production folks are expected by many companies to incorporate all the skills and knowledge of a scheduler, a trafficker, a print buyer, a Production/Project Manager, and a prepress manager (they might not operate the Brisque, but they had better know what to expect out of it). My own feeling is with the proverbial belts getting tighter and tighter at companies and with production being more and more driven by technology, this trend will eventually become the norm.
So what do we have and why is this important enough to write about? Here are my thoughts.
Butcher, Baker, Prepress Operator
We have, in many forward thinking companies, an evolving position. We as production types are not only expected to be "butcher, baker, candlestick maker," but in being so we make ourselves much more marketable and valuable to our employers and THAT is the reason why this is so important -- viable employment for us all and top managers for our companies. So what about those companies that are not forward thinking and whose folks are still getting use to not proofing Color Keys? I feel those companies will evolve their systems eventually and, if a person wants to, production can play a key role in helping that process along faster than they might have ever imagined.
I'll use myself as a case study. When I first reported to my company, I was a Production Manager. I stepped into a position in which I was expected to schedule production and send film to a printer and little else. It was boring and it was obvious that I was not going to be the happiest camper on the block unless a change was made. I was lucky that I worked for a publisher who was open to change, especially if it could be backed up by money saving ideas. We set about evolving my position into what it is today, a true Production Director. I got involved in and directed every aspect of production. From basic inception of a schedule through final delivery, including prepress, I began (with my publisher's blessing) to direct what I could and to educate myself in areas that I was lacking in knowledge.
Over the years as technology has changed, we've changed too. By being adaptable we've found cutting-edge ways to save even more money and to improve our internal production workflow. It's been a good ride. I've come out the other end with a great deal of knowledge (thanks to my many colleagues who have been so kind to educate me) and being very valuable to my company, or so I'm told. It's also made my life a great deal easier. Instead of having to contact a designer, prepress person, or other technical type when asked a question by a vendor, I can answer them myself and move on to other challenges.
Some might say that taking on more responsibilities was a personal choice and I suppose it was, but I've looked to highly successful people in our industry and they all have the same attributes. They are proficient in ALL aspects of the production cycle. By being so, only then can one truly manage or direct a process.
Here are some ideas that might help you evolve more painlessly with the industry:
- Assess your current production cycle and look for areas of technological and professional improvement. If you don't know some aspect of production, get a working knowledge of it, and hey, none of us ever know all there is to know, so don't be ashamed to ask.
- Once you've made your assessment, plan your work and work your plan. Meet with your manager or VP and let them know your thoughts and what your plan of action might be. If you can back up any change with hard Yankee Greenbacks saved, they'll listen every time!
- If there is a need for professional improvement join online forums like PrintPlanet.com and subscribe to informational sites like WhatTheyThink.com. Lurk and ask questions, but also provide your thoughts. You'll meet a great number of your colleagues this way and help others. Join professional organizations in and out of your area and attend, as you can, conferences and professional events. Look to your printers and service bureaus also for educational opportunities. Also, have a working knowledge of basic page layout and art applications used so you can talk intelligently with designers and printers alike.
- Get involved with all aspects of your production flow. Specify workflows and file formats to be used. Specify proofing so you're sure that what you are getting is adequate. Buy your own paper (if the fit is right) and manage that too.
- Always look to industry trends and stay in the lead.
In closing, being a leader in our industry doesn't take a lofty position at a mega corporation. It takes a single individual who is willing to evolve as our industry evolves and who is not afraid to take chances and sometimes fail, but at the same time making informed decisions for the benefit of their company and their employees. In this scenario everyone's a winner!
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