Filming for TV: Some thoughts on process ownership

2007 WKAR TV Auction
Those of you who have been reading this blog for a while will realise that I do, occasionally, like to look into things that happen in every day life and try to understand the process issues inherent within them.  I want to move onto something related, but a little different.


I was fortunate enough recently to spend time working on a new comedy series to be produced for UK television. It was filmed (as many comedy programs are nowadays) in from of a live studio audience.

This is different to a lot of things I have filmed in the past for two reasons
1) There is a live studio audience!
2) The dynamics of command and control are very subtly different.
Let me explain.

In ‘filmed’ television (‘Downton Abbey’, for example), the director is in charge of the filming production and the first assistant director (1st AD) is in charge of running the set. The chain of command goes Director --> 1st AD --> heads of department. It’s a little slow, but it works and it keep the unions happy. Filming is done with one camera at a time (usually) and the final footage is edited together separately for transmission.

Television works quite differently. For a start there are more cameras. On the show I did recently there were five cameras running independently. These were big broadcast cameras which didn’t have on-board recording facilities. The signal from their feed was sent to a control room where they were mixed together by a producer. He is - effectively - editing the show as it is being filmed. 

Takes are quite long and complex involving a lot of camera movement and choreography. If a camera isn’t in the right place at the right time the take is blown and we have to go again.

So far, so good. But here’s the rub. I couldn’t work out who was in charge on the set. Sure there is a director and 1st AD. These two worked together in a similar way to on a film set. But there was also the producer character who was involved in all the artistic decisions because he had to make it all work in the control room. The issue came when the Director wanted one thing and the producer wanted another. It became a case of review & decide, cajole & threaten in order to reach a compromise. And a compromise is never good, artistically.

But the whole discussion got me to thinking about a topic which is close to my heart : Process Ownership. I think it's accepted that processes need to have somebody responsible for them. But is it accepted what the scope of process ownership should be? I don't think so.

I think that process ownership is oftentimes equated to project ownership at the senior level. In many cases someone is allocated project ownership at C-level purely as a way of ensuring that the project is seen as having “clout”. In reality the assigned C-level executive has minimal, if any, ’skin in the game’ for this project.

And so it is with processes.

An executive Vice President for finance might be nominated as the process owner for a process in the finance department, but - in the big scheme of things - has very little, if any, involvement in the day to day running or execution of the process. Some would say that this is fine - after all, why would a senior executive need to be involved at that level?  But I have a different opinion. I am sure that the are arguments that can equate the ROI of having the exec manage a process vs delegating, and these are all totally valid calculations. 

But they miss the big picture. 

Process is not something that happens in parts of an organisation. Process is something that happens across the whole organisation and having someone who can manage that at the organisational level makes a lot of sense. Any lower in the organisation and you start to suffer from the problem of silo mentality and not invented here syndrome. But at the senior level you have someone who has both the executive clout and the mandate to manage a process from start to finish right across the organisation.

However the logical extension of this is that there are going to be senior executives who mange processes but who will not manage them appropriately. Take, for example, a senior Vice President of Finance who is managing a process which touches more areas than just finance. If a change needs to be made he will, most likely (and politically) favour his own department if anything needs to be done that is positive, and favour other departments if negative changes need to be made. This is human nature. Of course the simple way to do that is by following the old guideline of “whatever gets measured gets managed”. If you recompense the finance executive on his ability to appropriately manage the whole of the process rather than on the results of the finance department alone, this will start to remove any political bias that may exist.

On the other side of things is the issue we experience in the TV studio where the process owner is not adequately defined and this results in two people having differing idea related to a change. They end up with a compromise, and this is - by definition - less than optimal.

Of course this isn't easy. Nothing at this level ever is, process even more so because it covers a larger part of the organisation. But these are the challenges that need to be addressed to make process management as a competency work in your company.

Photo Credit: Corvair Owner via Compfight cc

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