Pre-Production: The Overview. The Script. The Plan.

This is the stage when most of the mistakes are made that determine the outcome of your project. Decisions made early on will only be amplified later, and the same little “oops” here can grow up to become “YOU’RE FIRED” further down the line if you’re not careful. [Hint: any problems or issues you choose not to address in pre-production are called mistakes.]

How much time and money it will take to reach your goal — and how you tell if it’s even right goal — this is exactly where that is determined. Pre-production is not the same as project management, it where you set the bounds of the project that will then require management. This is also where all the cognitive heavy lifting happens, so don’t expect it to be instantaneous.

Here’s how you do it the best way:

  1. Identify the goals, the dangers, and the players
    If your project is a wild success, what will change in your target audience, and in the larger world? What are the most likely pitfalls to avoid that stand to rob you of an otherwise successful project? Who has the power to kill your project? Who is the one person responsible for the success of the project, and who are the people they’re delegating stuff out to?
  2. Commit to the metrics
    What will the final measurements of success be for your key stakeholder(s)? How do these align — and how don’t they align — with the goal you just set? What are the incremental metrics that you’ll use to monitor & communicate progress toward the goal? Set the wrong metric, or allow different ones for different stakeholders, and your project will be seen as a failure by someone whether it succeeds at its goal or not.
  3. Tell the story
    If you’re writing a script or a song or a book or an event or a piece of marketing copy, your story must be spelled out now. Do not pass go, do not collect $200. Don’t worry, you can always change it later. But you can’t change what doesn’t exist, you will need something to edit from. So overcome that blank-page terror now, you need a fully-formed and engaging story or things will make themselves…much more interesting than that, in a bad way. Your story is the narrative that helps your audience navigate and care about your project goals.
  4. Find the constraints
    Make a quick test, and try it with some subset of your target audience. How well did it work? How much work did it take? What are the upper and lower bounds of the medium? What are the audience’s pain points? what are the budgetary and timeline pain points? Learn this now and refocus your efforts as necessary to accommodate. Oh, and do you have the rights to refer to that thing you didn’t personally make with your own two hands? Legal would like to know that you do, and so would Marketing/PR. There may be constraints on how you use your resources that you don’t know about. Ask now or forever doom your project.
  5. Seek approval
    You will likely need permission for something, get it now. Anyone who has the power to kill your project must say “yes” to your story, metrics, goals, dangers, and players before you proceed. Document this, you’ll need to return to it later when other people try and alter your project for their own nefarious/noble reasons. If the stakeholder(s) don’t say yes, then listen, learn, and come back with revisions until approval is granted. You haven’t built anything yet, so changes have zero cost. Soon this will change.

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Even if you’ve done a great job of the Pre-Production part, there are still plenty of things that can (and probably will) go wrong. Know that Pre-Production does not prevent the bad things from happening, but it makes fantastic insurance for if/when they do. Good or bad, “stuff” happens, and the act of Pre-Production tells you what it is important to track & communicate as they do.

Once you’ve got your target, your audience, your team, your metrics, your story, your constraints, and your approvals in order, you’ll also have the confidence you need to defend your project against enemies both foreign and domestic. You’re ready to win, so now…begin!