No industry is a more visible symbol of the project economy than Hollywood. Producers, directors, and a huge supporting business cast come together around specific films, collaborate intensely, and then disband. The results are sometimes glorious, sometimes disastrous. But blockbuster or bomb, there's always the next project.
Jeffrey Wyatt, 30, doesn't make movies. But he does know how to operate Hollywood-style. As a project manager with Universal Creative, the unit that designs and builds attractions for Universal Studios's theme parks and resorts, he works on the leading edge of the project world. Wyatt recently led a seven-person team that completed in six months an effort that can take as long as three years launching a new attraction at Universal Studios Hollywood. The show, called Totally Nickelodeon, opened this past Easter. The date wasn't negotiable; the show was to be the park's marquee attraction for the summer. "We started in September 1996, so it was a fast-track project," he says. "Very fast."
Here's where Wyatt thinks the project world is heading in Hollywood and elsewhere:
Teams that deliver together will stay together. "Half of my Totally Nickelodeon team, including me, is joining a team with several of the core people who worked on Jurassic Park, a mega-attraction that took three years to create. Management knows the value of keeping core people together. They have a common language, a set of shared experiences. Companies won't invest just in people; they'll invest in teams."
Smaller teams will do bigger things. "We want the best talent for every project. That's why we hire people job-by-job. We may work with the same people a lot, but we're always looking for new talent. Full-time teams will keep getting smaller. Companies will keep a core group: project coordinators, finance people, schedulers. But that's as much to manage the company and its relationships as to manage the project."
Teams will work closely, even when their members work apart. "Life becomes email, voice mail, conference calls, swapping computer files and I mean complete design files, which people can mark up and send across the country. Totally Nickelodeon was designed by Nickelodeon's in-house designers, who are based at Universal Studios Florida. But we managed the project from Universal Studios Hollywood. Before I joined Universal, I was a show producer for interactive exhibits at Coca-Cola's Olympic City, a temporary theme park for the Atlanta Olympics. I managed that project from my home in Newport Beach, California."
Teams will do more than one thing at a time. "We do a lot of 'fast-tracking.' It's like the construction industry they start putting down the steel before they've finished the design. On Totally Nickelodeon, it wasn't unusual to work in three shifts: the general contractor would work during the day, the lighting specialists would come in at night, and the performers would rehearse whenever possible. The theater was never quiet."
A version of this article appeared in the December 1997/January 1998 issue of Fast Company magazine.