Smashing Spotlight: Telford Burtts, Senior Producer
Wonder what makes Smashing Ideas so smashing? Our people! We sat down with Telford Burtts, Senior Producer, to talk shop, how trust and communication are the bedrocks of a well-managed and successful project, his most excellent time-travel adventure that would put Bill and Ted to shame, and how artificial intelligence will evolve the role of a producer.
You’ve been at Smashing for some time now. What keeps you coming back day after day, year after year?
That’s a good question. I joined the Smashing Ideas family 11ish years ago. I can’t believe it’s been over 11 years. That’s a long time with one company compared to many of the folks in our industry.
I would say what keeps me inspired to come to work every day is that every day is a new day…a new day to try and make a difference. At SI I know that I have the opportunity to make a difference alongside some great people; make a difference for my personal and professional growth, make a difference for our clients, and make a difference for their customers by designing and developing products or experiences that add value to their lives.
Speaking of great people, the people at SI are like family. Sometimes they drive you crazy. Sometimes they do things that don’t make sense. Sometimes they get stuck focusing on what went wrong vs. what went right. But in the end you still love your family. I love the moments when we are up against a conflict or challenge and we come together and put together a plan to address the problem. It’s a great opportunity to grow together and solidify our relationships.
Finally, I would say that our industry is constantly evolving. It’s a time of quick-to-fail and quick-to-learn experiences. This constantly pushes me to challenge my approach to project/product and client management and I can’t get enough of it.
If you were to have a new title that best represents what you do, which would best describe you: Quarterback, Cat Wrangler, or Professional Juggler?
Quarterback Cat Juggler.
As one of the agency’s senior producers, what role do you play in helping bring our clients’ visions to life?
The discovery phase of a project is one of the most important moments in helping bring a client’s vision to life. This is when my role is key in helping set the client’s vision on the path to realization.
At the start of any client/vendor relationship, getting to know each other is super important. It’s the time to get an understanding of our personalities, the way we represent ourselves, and ultimately establish how we plan to work together. Aligning our teams on goals, roles and responsibilities, communication, and process is the foundation for teams to understand the client’s vision. This moment is when I’m most sensitive to my aforementioned Quarterback Cat Wrangling skills.
As a senior producer you’re responsible for your projects staying on budget. If budget weren’t an issue, what would be the ideal vacation for you and your family?
Now that’s a wacka-doo question to ponder. A free pass to take my family anywhere, for any amount of time, with no monetary cost attached? Now that would be something! My first thought was to take my family on a whirlwind tour of Asia. But then I was like, what are you a dummy? That’s a wasteful use of a golden ticket.
Next I thought, wouldn’t it be great to blast off into space with my family on trip through the galaxy, visiting each planet, taking in all of their massive beauty and grandeur. But that wasn’t good enough for such an amazing opportunity.
Maybe a trip to the unexplored wonders of the seas on the fantastical Nautilus, or a ride on a train to the world of Harry Potter, or a boat to the Island of Swallow Falls to taste all the flavors of Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs.
But no, that still wasn’t it. But then it came to me. Clear as crystal. I would take my family on a trip through time, visiting various times and places throughout history and the future. I can imagine all of the interesting events we could witness: the fall of the Roman Empire, the rise of the dinosaurs, the rollout of the first automobile, and many other historical moments. When we got tired of the past we would jump to the future to see what my kids, and possibly grandkids, make of themselves. Then we’ll take the massive leap to just before the sun takes its last breath. That would be the vacation of a lifetime.
Projects can get long, personalities conflict, and despite the best of intentions, a smooth production cycle does not always happen. Do you have a magic methodology mix to keep things on track?
A smooth production cycle is like a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. They tell you it’s real. You see the rainbow that makes you believe it’s real and you keep chasing it in hopes that one day you will actually get to it. But that darn rainbow eventually disappears. Even though you didn’t get to the gold at least you enjoyed the rainbow while it lasted. The next time you see another rainbow you jump at the chance to take the journey in an attempt to get to the pot of gold because you love the thrill of the chase and the opportunity to try again.
But that doesn’t answer your question. Do I have a magic methodology? I would say not a magical methodology, but a practical methodology. My approach to keeping things on track leans heavily on trust and communication. These characteristics focus on the people and how the they work together to get things done. It’s not the numbers, spreadsheets, or schedules. While these are important tools for managing a project, the most important thing is how we work together – that is our best chance at keeping a project successful.
Trust: Kicking off a project with a new team can be a challenge for some people, especially if you haven’t worked together before. It’s never the same as your previous team. What I like to do to encourage trust in a small way is to ask questions about a team member. This is most effective when the team is together in proximity, at the start of a meeting or a co-located workspace. The outcome is usually a little shared bit of information about the person that others may not know. It brings out a personal side. It also encourages others to share similar experiences freely, which creates a bond throughout the team.
Communication: Open and respectful communication is also important when it comes to keeping a project on track. It’s easy to say, but many times it can be hard to do. I always do my best to be mindful of myself and my teams, and how we communicate with each other. Once I see or sense a conflict, my first approach is to get the issue out in the open with the parties having an issue, working with both sides as a mediator. If I’m involved with the conflict I will ask the person to speak with me so we can address what the issue may be. Many times these issues come out in a team retrospective and can be addressed quickly. The sooner the issue is addressed the happier the team will be, and the sooner we can get back on track.
You’re our resident Girl Scout Cookie supplier. We have to ask, which cookie is your favorite?
That question’s a tough cookie. Ha, see what I did there? I would say my favorite GSC is the shortbread/Trefoils®, just because it’s simple, clean, and goes well with ice cream.
What was your last Smashing ideas?
Catch the Berry was one of the projects I pitched that I’m most proud. It’s not every day that you get to turn your idea into your very own game. I still think it’s silly that the characters in the game are called Telfnord’s…a play on my name that one of the team members proposed that stuck in the storyline.
As technology becomes more advanced – think AI, the real-world implementation of VR/AR, etc. – do you foresee the role of a producer changing? Evolving? If so, what could that look like?
Yes, the role of the producer will change. It is inevitable. Even today we are adjusting our approach to Product Management and Relationship Management. As the services and technical solutions we provide to our clients become more complex and evolve, so too does our knowledge and approach to management.
In regards to AI, simple tasks will become automated. Reports, scheduling, estimation, and other related management tasks will be managed by machines. The producer will spend their time using the information, verses managing the input and output of the information. This will allow the producer to focus on problem solving, work on ways to improve how teams work together, provide and encourage leadership, and push their team to make things that matter.