It is a positive experience when partners are aligned because everyone will be motivated to make a 3D animation or VFX project better. While that might be the best scenario, we have also experienced situations where our partners reverted to being clients.
Yes, you read it right. Imagine everything going smoothly and suddenly you realize that your partner is becoming demanding (e.g. frequent changes, scope creeping, indecision, oh the horror!). Even after all the effort, there are still some chances of our partners devolving back to being clients.
This strange phenomenon is something that needs to be rectified immediately. Because over time, it has the tendency to complicate the 3D animation, VFX or motion design production process. Based on our experience, there are three plausible reasons that may spark this issue:
1. Lack of communication
Undoubtedly, this ranks as the number one root cause of our partners adopting the client mindset again. In the past, our level of communication with our partners was relative to the scale of the project. Rightfully so, because the bigger ones tend to have more stakeholders and require more effort in managing expectations.
Gradually, we noticed that the low frequency of communication for the smaller projects led to the partners becoming more demanding. Not only that, the progression of these projects was rather erratic as well. The main reason was that the partners were not aware of the statuses of their respective projects. This led to uncertainties and they expected more and more out of us to retain their confidence in the projects.
2. Unclear expectations
Imagine sitting in a meeting with a partner and discussing project matters. The partner goes ‘Ok, let’s aim to see something next week!’. This leaves an open interpretation of what is expected and may potentially lead to confusion between the various stakeholders. This a classic case of ‘I thought…’ and ‘He/she said…’. Misalignment of expectations will lead to misunderstandings. If this continues, there will be frequent disputes and partners will become doubtful of everything.
3. Prior experience
We had a really surprising experience when a partner suddenly became distressed and difficult even though everything was progressing smoothly. The partner started requesting frequent check-ins and numerous work-in-progress (WIP) submissions, severely hindering our work performance. During a discussion, we discovered that there were multiple hiccups from the other external parties. The experience influenced the partner to take a more defensive stance across the board.
There might be other factors that can lead to the reversal so one needs to be attentive to project matters lest such complications start unfolding. It takes some experience to read your partners because time and effort are essential in building rapport. But spotting signs and countering this reversal process will be much easier once the foundation is set.
All is not lost when the reversal process happens! It is definitely possible to halt the flow and help our partners get back to being the effective collaborators that they were. In fact, it is best if the intervention can take place as early as possible so that lesser resources and time are taken to resolve the situation. It was rather confusing for us at the start but below are some of the measures that we took to dampen the impact:
1. Weekly update/summary
Since we have identified there was a need to ramp up the level of communication, we concluded the efforts should be the same across all the projects, no matter the scale. This also introduces a new belief to our studio that ‘Every Project Is Crucial’ (EPIC) which resonates with our vision of achieving the best for our partners. To ramp up our level of communication with our partners, we started providing weekly updates to ensure every stakeholder is aware of the project progress at the start of the week. This update comes in the form of a deck that includes:
- The statement and scope of work that we have agreed on
- Our process and workflow
- The overall project schedule
- The list of deliverables
- The upcoming milestones
- Tasks updates; currently in progress, completed and late ones
We received feedback that the deck is a convenient tool for our partners to understand the project’s status for the week. They are able to read through the information at their own time and pace, counter-check with other stakeholders if there are any discrepancies and use it as a reference point if there are any questions. It is also useful to boost our partner’s confidence in our studio by formally informing them that work is still being done even though no meetings have been scheduled. This amplifies the level of communication and helps to avoid breaking the partnership approach.
This means we take on a more proactive role rather than a reactive one, something that most of our partners prefer. While we tend to send the weekly updates at the start of the work week, there are some who prefer a weekly summary so it might be good to discuss with your partners their preferences.
2. Ask and be clear on expectations
As a creative studio, we know that it can be challenging for partners to visualize certain things and quite impossible to read their minds! We can, however, acknowledge their feedback and start asking questions that will help them to verbalize their thoughts better. For example, if they are hesitant towards certain ideas then it would be helpful to ask questions like ‘‘What are your concerns regarding this matter?’ or ‘How can we help so that you are comfortable with this treatment?’.
These questions help us to specifically narrow down and dispel the partner’s doubts. Clarity is really important when it comes to proposing solutions and ideas in order to manage expectations. For us, a good practice will be to verbally summarize key talking points such as important problems, possible solutions and actions to be taken at the end of every meeting.
We will then include those key points in the weekly update to our partners to ensure proper alignment.
3. Practice empathy
A partner who suddenly turns demanding could be going through some issues from various vendors or at work. While they should be more professional, we can also take a step back and be more empathetic towards their situation. So how can we avoid breaking the partnership approach in this case?
The first step is to be an attentive listener and try to put yourself in your partner’s shoes so that you can see things from their perspective. Use positive language to communicate with them in order to control conversations while trying to improve their engagement with them. This helps them to understand that you are on their side and trying to help them in this situation.
SKIP A TURN!
The above are some of the ways that we have discovered that will help in countering the regression. Each of your partners are unique so it is best to think about the approaches that can help to avoid breaking the partnership approach. The more specific, the better they are for the partners because similar doesn’t necessarily mean the same.
Going through the experience of having a partner regressing back to behaving like a client is quite the nightmare. When it happens, the project can turn into a stress fest so it is important to spot the signs early. There are no guaranteed ways but having a system that serves as an intervention plan will benefit everyone. It helps in managing the situation while re-establishing our roles as partners in the relationship. There is even a high chance that you will be able to skip the conundrum before it unfolds!
Graphics by: Deemei Ong (https://www.instagram.com/deeeemei/)
If you are exploring the ACES system for your team, check out our guide to ‘ACES workflow for VFX production (ACEScg)‘. It really is a game-changer!