Smashing Spotlight: Lisa Smith, Senior Producer
Wonder what makes Smashing Ideas so smashing? Our people! We sat down with Lisa Smith, Senior Producer, to talk shop, why a shared sense of humor is critical to internal and client-team success, the massive impact the original Clash of the Titans has had on her family life, and why she’s the storm whisperer.
Hello Senior Producer! How would you describe your job to people who don’t know you?
I read somewhere once, “Project Managers live to say ‘No’, Account Managers say ‘Yes’ regardless of what’s possible, and Producers say ‘Maybe’ and then figure out how to make ‘No’ meet ‘Yes’ in the middle.” This really hit home for me. As a producer my job is to make the client happy, as well as keep the project on track – it’s a continual balancing act. A majority of interactive, digital projects can veer off course at some point, and it’s up to the producer – as a client’s strategic partner – to understand their client’s goals and to work with the team to seek out the alternate routes to bring it back home on time, and within budget; to transform those ‘Maybes’ into ‘Yes’ options without overextending the team to make it happen.
Since you joined Smashing, you’ve run one of Smashing’s biggest clients to great success (name and project withheld for confidentiality). Part of that success is due to a cohesive team culture your project team is known for. How did that come about?
A big part of a cohesive team culture stems from shared values. I believe one of the reasons this project has been such a success is the shared values between both the SI team and our clients’ team. SI believes in complete transparency with the client and encourages their participation and collaboration every step of the way (as long as they want to be). From user story mapping to brainstorming user flow, we want to involve stakeholders as much as possible in the journey of discovery. This inclusion not only provides everyone the same level of understanding of the project at its core, but excites the whole team about what’s to come by watching it unfold and contributing to the direction it’s headed.
This particular client hadn’t been as integrated with other vendors in the past, and they fell in love with the collaborative process. We essentially became one big team working together to solve problems.
Additionally, I think a shared sense of humor helped us all to push through the tough times and take a breather when needed, as well as create the feeling of an extended family, open to criticism, and learning from our collective mistakes.
What is the magical methodology mix you use to keep all the moving pieces running smoothly?
There’s never a one size fits all solution to any project, but there are some great practices in the realm of defining and maintaining expectations. User story mapping is a beneficial exercise with the client to really hone in on anticipated user goals and activities, which ultimately drive the development tasks for the product backlog. From there, weighing the level of effort against business and customer value can assist with shaping the Minimum Viable Product (MVP), and a roadmap can be created.
I’ve also found practicing Scrum, with clients acting as Product Owner, has great value in demonstrating the amount of work going into a project. This gives clients the ability to quickly evaluate trade-offs, and as such, ensure that expectations are being met every step of the way.
Lastly, retrospectives are key to surfacing things that aren’t working – and if done in incremental Agile Sprint cycles – gives the team an opportunity to change course more easily if need be.
Rumor has it you’re in a band…with your husband…and play the drums…we need some details!
Always digging for the juicy details! My husband and I have always been active in the music scene (even in Florida – yes, I’m from Florida, don’t hold that against me!) … it was actually a big part of why we moved to Seattle. When we moved here 15 years ago, we knew absolutely no one, so we decided to start playing music together. We bought a drum kit and I taught myself how to pat my head and rub my belly to the beat. It didn’t take long because I’ve always had the rhythm in me from so many years of dance school. Eventually we added a bass player and another guitar player, and Gary, my husband, became free to just sing and go nuts. We’re all so different, with diverse interests and tastes, that our music could be considered an acquired taste, but always fun from the hot seat!
We had been a band for 10 years, but just recently decided to take a hiatus this last year, so sorry people – you’ve missed your chance to heckle our live shows!
Working in tech can be pretty intense at times. How do you zen out after a long day or work week?
I am a true believer in the power of yoga on a healthy mind and body, but I don’t find myself there as much as I’d like these days. Right now I just run around the yard with a 4yr old and dance like Footloose in the living room! It is definitely cathartic for me to partake in music and dancing!
It’s been overheard that people on your team call you “Mama”. How did that nickname originate?
I should’ve known this would be captured in infamy! I could probably just start introducing myself as such, because even my clients call me it on occasion now!
It all started with a team in Florida that was onboarded to our project. There was an email exchange in which I was checking in on something I was expecting to receive and the person responded with “yes mama.” Now, being from the south I just assume he meant “yes ma’am”, but auto correct felt he meant differently – we’ll never know for sure. But, from then on I was forever branded “mama”.
Some may wonder why I don’t get offended by the shout outs to “mama” on a regular basis, but I know coming from my team it’s only meant in an endearing way, because I’ve always got their back and make sure they’re taken care of… except when they don’t fill in their time sheets – then I will definitely turn into their nagging mother!
While we’re here though, we should probably go ahead and capture the expression “ROADHOUSE”, which is also regularly used by our team when someone starts kicking everyone in the room in a metaphorical bar fight, but that only happens behind the scenes.
What top 5 qualities do you think it takes to be a successful producer?
- Open | Be open to change, to criticism, to new ideas.
- Adaptable | “Make it work!” as Tim Gunn would say. You’ve got to figure out how to play the hand you’re dealt.
- Calm | Never let ‘em see you sweat! Negative and nervous energy is infectious. You have to be the storm whisperer.
- Critical thinker | Managing ambiguity is a part of the job, so you’ll need to ask the right questions and find opportunity when presented with an obstacle.
- Relationship builder | Working together is success!
Our conference rooms are named after mythical creatures…Kraken, Ogopogo, Unicorn, Sasquatch, and Jackelope…which do you most identify with and why?
Funny you should ask, because I am a HUGE Clash of the Titans fan (the 1981 version ONLY). I loved Harry Hamlin in that movie so much, I named my son Perseus after him. You can guarantee the phrase “Release the Kraken!” is used quite often in my household.
What was your last truly smashing idea?
I can’t give you all the secrets! I once made a kiwi and cream cheese sandwich and it was to die for – I don’t think I’ve ever told anyone that. I’m also pretty thrifty, so if you’re ever in a pinch, I can definitely give you some creative and cheap alternatives! For instance, Halloween – I aim to never spend more than $10 on my costume, and it’s always worth it!
And last, how much chocolate does a producer need to be kept happy?
Oh, even just a single bite can make the world of difference! Everyone has seen those hangry snickers commercials…