Project Justice League
Projects are everywhere, and design thinking allows you to solve everyday problems. Here's a fact. Project management principles can be used for many seemingly mundane activities.
Looking for an apartment to sell, renovating, writing a book or making a film, raising a dog, etc. Here I would like to focus on the film as a project in the sense of design methodologies. Because, after all, every film must have one:
a) business case - it has to pay off, at least in the assumptions,
b) budget - it's known, and not a small one,
c) business owner - someone wants this film, someone will hold the progress accountable,
d) team - more of a cast of actors, producers, writers and many, many others,
e) director - project manager,
f) schedule - clear,
g) risks - a whole lot.
It also happens, as it turns out in the example of the theatrical version of "Justice League," that the production of a film, like any project, can simply fail and there are changes in assumptions, approach, team and PM.
I love this movie! Of course, I'm talking about director Zack Snyder's 2021 version. Brilliant 4 hours of pure entertainment: apt, natural dialogues, enough time spent to introduce each character, despite the long screening kept the pace from beginning to end, wonderful knightmare ending, great special effects. One drawback: why are there no plans for sequels yet?
In this article I would like to tell you a little about how the director's version of "League..." was created, but with reference to the IT project category.
"I had this movie in my head all the time." - Zack Snyder says (source: spidersweb.co.uk).
The vision of the project is a very important thing. A high-level picture of the whole should be known, thought out, before the project even takes off. The "before project" phase, often overlooked, underestimated, is actually very important. According to the agile methodology, the vision of the project is presented by the Visionary possibly by the business owner, but this is not an ironclad rule. There just has to be someone who knows what the result is supposed to be and has the necessary power to achieve it. A fair amount of time and work has to be spent to know the exact requirements and put together a plan. And what may not seem obvious, this is one of the most difficult parts of the project.
Zack Snyder is known for such blockbusters as "Dawn of the Living Dead," "300," "Watchmen. Watchmen," "Sucker Punch," "Man of Steel" and "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice." All of them are high-budget spectacles. Of course, to this list should be added Justice League, this 2017 version, which was entrusted to Snyder by Warner Bros. Before League, Snyder released Batman v Superman, a film in which huge hopes were pinned. Fans waited like marrows. In 2016 the film saw the light of day, but unfortunately the BvS production did not get good reviews, some were even crushing. Nevertheless, work on Justice League continued, with Snyder at the helm, and Warner Bros wanted to continue the collaboration (source: wikipedia.co.uk). That is, the situation was as follows: work on project A, or "BvS," was completed, the film could enter its final phase, i.e. release, and at the same time work began on project B: "Justice League."
Does this resemble anything? Of course, this is a common project situation. One project has not yet been closed, and already another one is starting, and you have to carry out work in parallel. However, it doesn't have to be about overlapping projects at all, because it's often the case, especially in agile methodology, that one team simultaneously implements X functionality, work is done overlapping, implementations overlap, conflicts arise on test environments, everything has the highest priority, etc. Here there is a big role for the project manager, who has the power to convince the sponsor that there needs to be a certain order, harmony, you need to understand exactly what needs to be done and plan for it. A good PM will come to the sponsor with a plan that will take into account expectations, but nevertheless be a kind of middle-of-the-road meeting. A bad PM will either accept the sponsor's demands indiscriminately and most likely "fail to deliver" or worse, say "it can't be done" and lose a lot in the eyes of his boss.
The pre-production of "Justice League" began even before the release of "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. " There were certainly discussions about how best to approach it, there was certainly time pressure, decisions made quickly. This is the norm in a project, only a PM who understands this and a team that is ready for it will be able to find themselves in these realities, find some order in all the chaos of demands, arrange a plan and realize expectations.
In the case of 2017's Justice League, there was a situation in which Zack Snyder was ousted from the film. The project manager lost the project. Why? Of course, it is widely known that the reason was the suicide of Snyder's daughter and his resignation from the project so that he could spend time with his family. This is the main reason, but there is also speculation about others. The poor reviews of "BvS", the unfulfilled demands of Warner Bros, i.e. the "lighter tone" of the film were supposed to have caused the cooperation and mood between the director and WB to cool down a lot. A new PM, a new director - "Avengers" director Joss Whedon - takes the helm (source: wikipedia.co.uk). And what happens? What happens to the project when the manager changes? Basically, there are several options.
- The new PM can simply continue the actions of the first PM, change very little, continue on the same path. Only will this make sense? What will it accomplish? For some reason the PM lost the project, something must have gone wrong, so continuing exactly the same activities is rather doomed to failure in advance.
- The new PM can also enter the room along with the door and turn everything upside down. We then achieve a "wow" effect. Well, because suddenly it turns out that someone has come in who quickly, efficiently introduces changes, presents a fresh outlook, promises to be a veritable revolution and success. However, there is the other side of the coin: while the sponsor may be delighted, the team the PM will be working with certainly not. No one likes dramatic changes introduced quickly, especially by a manager who has just joined the project.
- Evolution. Not necessarily slow, but certainly a gradual introduction of changes, or rather improvements, because quality improvement does not necessarily mean change at all. It is possible to continue certain activities, only better, drawing from other experiences and keeping a given method, improving it. The sponsor will be happy, because something will change, something will vibrate, and so will the team, because evolution requires discernment, questioning, gathering proposals, so the team will feel part of the change, not a guinea pig facing a new reality.
What was it like with Justice League? Joss Whedon changed virtually everything from Snyder's previous picture. Most of the scenes were re-recorded, the characters changed, the script rewritten. And as we look at Snyder's Cut, Whedon's version met WB's requirements - his films are family-oriented, in a "light tone", not very violent (source: spidersweb.co.uk). The film is released, crowds of viewers sit in their seats, the moment has arrived - the big premiere! And what?
And here we come to a very important design issue. Who should really put or verify business assumptions? Well, because we have a sponsor who pays for everything and a business owner who commissions the work. It is the business owner who will be the recipient of the project's products. Except that it's often the case that the business owner, or really some representative of the business owner, doesn't quite know what he wants to achieve. He doesn't know because he personally won't be the so-called end user.
For example, if the Director of a particular Department in an organization personally decides on the final shape of the product to be used by his subordinate employees, and only after a person at the Director level approves the production implementation are the functionalities delivered to the users - there is a huge probability that the customer has just received and - worse - accepted something he did not want. Something that was supposed to help him, and turns out to be a misunderstanding. Why is this the case? Because the people for whom the product is being developed were not invited to the project. None of the end users got a chance to talk about their daily work, the problems they have, the shortcomings of the current process. This information came into the project secondarily, filtered through managers and directors. No one in the organization asked the operations staff for their opinion, no one gathered feedback from all those people who work on a particular system or use a particular tool for 8 hours every day, or just perform a process. "At the top" it seemed that the changes were as necessary and as appropriate as possible, because a) this is the trend, b) this is the way things are done, especially abroad, c) this is modern d) this will be a revolution and the organization will score before the Board of Directors, and many other non-meritorious arguments.
In the case of 2017's "Justice League", the vision of the business owner and sponsor was realized - no one asked the fans. And fans - that is, comic book readers, viewers of various versions of animated comic book productions, amateur cosplayers - like it when it happens! They like their favorite heroes in epic scenes from which realism gushes, horror is felt. They like a dark, heavy atmosphere. Of course, the question arises, how to effectively ask such a huge crowd of people? However, it's quite simple: fans are everywhere, social media trends simply pour in from every direction, fan movements spring up like mushrooms after rain - you just need to have a willingness to find out opinions and go beyond your own vision, accept the opinion of others, build on it, find a compromise - that's the smart approach. In IT projects, this is easily achieved with research and the increasingly common use of UX/UI methods in projects, which yield very good results. In IT projects it gives another huge gain: the user feels ownership of the system, feels that he created it, that it is his and he will take care of it, use it and promote it. He will promote the product, and therefore the project itself.
This hashtag has circulated the world with an over-speed worthy of Flash. There was a massive movement of fans - audiences, or to put it in design nomenclature - users. Postings on the Internet, posters on bus stops, cosplays, throwbacks during Comicon or even planes that flew over WB headquarters. It couldn't go unnoticed. Without going into too much detail: Zack Snyder, Warner Bros and HBOMax came to an agreement. Undoubtedly, Pandemic has also put its stamp on the deal. The project is re-established, with Snyder at the helm. What was the difference between this new project and the work on the 2017 film? As it turns out - huge.
First of all, Warner Bros. seems to have let it go. Snyder himself says in an interview that his version, the long one, succeeded and was well received because it was "put together without the comments, requirements and rules of the studio." We can guess whether WB actually didn't interfere with the work, although that's unlikely, but we can conclude that it is indeed the director's vision - he says so himself. What does this resemble in the world of projects? Collaboration between the sponsor and the PM. An understanding of each other. A good sponsor places trust in the project manager, gives him a lot of freedom, but expects extreme responsibility from him. This is a very good arrangement, if not the best. If the sponsor interferes too little in the project or his role is reduced to only evaluating the overall work once every few months (as in the case of "JL"), this does not bode well for the project. If the relationship between the PM and the sponsor is a partnership, a business relationship of course, but a partnership - then we have a wide room for maneuver. Ideas are born, innovations are made and they are implemented. The project has a spark, it's happening, you can feel the interest in the project in the organization, its fans appear. In the case of Snyder's film, there was more of a "letting go" by Warner Bros. rather such a "well, we'll see", but it's the effect that counts. One would think that after the success of Snyder's version, it would be obvious that this would be just the beginning. And I still think so! I'm keeping my fingers crossed.
How do the two versions actually, on screen, differ? It's best to compare for yourself and just watch. Here I would like to draw attention to one more element of running the project. Experience.
Drawing on experience
Watching Zack Snyder's Justice League, one can see numerous themes of trauma after the loss of loved ones. Both the one telling the story of the world after the death of Superman, and especially in the story of Cyborg. The director lost his brother at a young age, just before he began shooting "League of..." Snyder's mother died, and during the shooting his daughter committed suicide. All this found its way into the film. Of course, not these situations, but the way of depicting similar tragic events in the lives of the characters (source: spidersweb.co.uk).
These are difficult experiences, hard experiences, and to say that they helped Snyder make an even better film sounds pretty bleak, but there's no denying that you can see it in the scenes, you can see it in the way the actors act, you can see it throughout the film and feel the atmosphere of fighting for the world, just so you don't have to experience another loss. Each of the characters in "League of..." has lost something or someone. However, let's look at it from the point of view of the project. By definition, a project is a unique event, but the truth is that all IT projects are very similar. It is possible to adopt a pattern and execute a project safely, based on previous experience. This is actually a very good method, because it is definitely not worth breaking open doors. It all depends on the level of sophistication of the PM. If he has more than a dozen projects to his credit, the baggage of experience is large, if he is just starting - he can benefit from the experience of others. How does this help? First of all, it speeds up the project, sets the pace, helps in decision-making. The PM faces tasks he has already completed before and knows how to approach them and, more importantly, what to avoid. It allows better planning and estimation of the team's work. On the other hand, collecting experiences, writing them down, creating a knowledge base, allows better interaction with other projects. Individual project tasks give a new quality, are duplicated, but should be improved, always. The improvement can be anything: cost, time, fewer resources, less failure rate, less documentation, faster bureaucracy, etc. - the important thing is to add something from yourself and perform better every time.
In the case of "League of..." Zack Snyder's "League of..." we are dealing with yet another potential source of experience. Namely, the first version of "League of..." Joss Whedon. Only that Snyder consciously did not use this source, as he said himself, he never watched this version.
There is no project without a budget.
The budget is provided by the sponsor.
He provides it if it pays him.
It is up to the manager to convince the sponsor to fund the project.
In the case of "JL," it's clear what Snyder wanted. The end of the film, an absolutely magnificent vision of knightmare, leaves no illusions: he wanted a sequel. The sponsor's stance is that it's the 2017 version of "JL" directed by Joss Whedon that is the studio's "canon," Zack's version was just a slight tweak, and it's unlikely WB is interested in further collaboration
Such a role and such a right of the sponsor. I won't judge it, they probably have their reasons, although I can't think of any sensible ones. Unfortunately, in the world of IT projects, some of them are "cut" for no apparent reason, suddenly there are personnel changes, not in the project itself, but in the organization, there is a juggling of priorities and suddenly number one falls to the end of the list. There is little that can be done about this. On the one hand, a project should be treated as a task to be done, which someone has commissioned and which someone can abandon. But on the other hand, sometimes it's hard to abandon a project in the middle, squander your work and leave with nothing.
I love Zack Snyder's "Justice League!" I consider it a very well completed project. Its end result is absolutely wonderful, but the implementation and guidance, phases and life cycle could have looked much better. Today's IT projects only have a chance to succeed if they have a good leader (Batman), are completely resistant to change (Superman), can deliver quickly (Flash), live in any conditions (Aquaman), use the latest technology (Cyborg), be promoted in an attractive form (Wonder Woman) and have a bit of madness in them (Joker). This is a recipe for success. Every project should have its superheroes who can change the image of the organization they work for and take it to the top, or at least save it from extinction. The kind of team that will not give up and, at a critical moment of the project, will fight for it and state:
He's never fought us. Not us united.