Lessons from the Entertainment Industry: Updating Project Management for the Modern World


Lessons from the Entertainment Industry: Updating Project Management for the Modern World

September 9, 2013
Image of people at a music concert

The entertainment industry is one of the most fast-paced, ever-changing fields in existence today. From digital to live, the entertainment industry relies on a variety of platforms, methodologies, and strategies to generate relevant and profitable products. Project management plays an integral role in this kind of production, yet the nature of the entertainment industry leads to heavier focus on people and consumer-based quality ratings.

This shifted focus leads to the practice of slightly different practices than those exercised by traditional project management teams. But these variations allow the entertainment industry to deliver successful projects under strict deadlines and on budget, qualities from which traditional project management could benefit.

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Entertainment project managers have a unique responsibility: because they are working with artists, they cannot allow the technical aspects of project management to take precedence over the creative flow of their employees. At the same time, however, they must ensure that their projects are delivered on time and without any publicly noticeable issues. In the words of Kamal Bhadada, head of Tata Consulting Services (TCS), “Entertainment project managers must harmonize the science and structure of good project management practice with the art and fluidity that these projects demand.”Those who work in the entertainment industry are accustomed to performing both under intense public scrutiny and tight deadlines; if they produce a product that doesn’t sell or if they don’t bring a product to market on time, their brand image is threatened. Even in the case of live entertainment, such as musical performance, the musicians must create a product which is appealing to customers, and they must stay relevant by releasing music on a somewhat regular basis. The methodologies utilized in the entertainment industry encompass an agile approach which is highly flexible in the beginning and narrows as the scope is finalized. They also rely heavily on market research to ensure that their projects comply with the current demands. These tendencies have allowed project management in the entertainment industry to flourish.

Yet there are many aspects of the entertainment project industry that could benefit from traditional project management practices as well. For example, because artistic projects are so fluid in early stages, a waterfall project management process is not ideal. Instead, entertainment PMs should revise their strategies and encourage more communication, review, and feedback during the entire cycle of the project. Risk management strategies could also be more developed. Rather than addressing risks as they arise, potential risks should be clustered in a manner that maximizes intra-cluster interactions. This method allows 1) risks to be checked earlier in the process, as interactions will be listed twice (cause à effect, effect ß cause); and 2) emphasizes the value of communication and cooperation as it promotes coordination of risk management activities. This method of clustering risks allows early detection of realized risks, as it places emphasis on the causes of risks rather than merely project results. Additional aspects of traditional project management that should be implemented in the entertainment industry are stakeholder involvement and team development and training – though these must, of course, be adapted to the unique social demands of the industry.

The music industry is one arm of entertainment that involves stakeholders very effectively. According to Colleen Armstrong, PMP, senior director of the operations project management office for Universal Music Group, “You have to keep stakeholders engaged so they understand the currents status of the project. This is vital not just to gain their support, but also so they can communicate about the project to their own customers and stakeholders throughout the organization.” Armstrong emphasizes the importance of recognizing the uniqueness of each stakeholder, as this promotes effective communication and predictable project delivery.

But these shortfalls pale in comparison to the lessons traditional project management can learn from the entertainment industry. First and foremost, project managers could benefit by treating a project deadline like a performance or public unveiling. This would instill a greater sense of urgency and accountability in the project team. PMs should focus on a strategy that allows for increased flexibility at the primary stages of the project and formalizes as ideas, expectations, and stakeholder preferences become clearer. The entertainment industry exemplifies the ideal that “being agile around scope is the only way to deliver a project that everyone will buy into.” Feedback and exit surveys should be more heavily emphasized in traditional project management. The entertainment industry is rewarded for successful management practices when the public buys a product. Traditional PMs should utilize surveys of stakeholders and clients and examine past projects to determine success and current as well as future project revisions.

The entertainment industry is one of the best examples of successful and appropriate project management practices. The pace and customer-driven incentives of the field have allowed it to flourish under tight deadlines and high public visibility. Though there are aspects of entertainment that are still undeveloped, traditional project management can learn many valuable lessons from the entertainment industry.

If you have questions, you are welcome to contact us at Contact@RefineM.com.

RefineM’s project management consulting services are built around the greatest needs of organizations. With our services you can take your organization’s project management processes to the highest level of maturity where almost every project is delivered in a predictable manner with no surprises. We offer outsourced PMO, project management planning, project recovery, earned value management, risk management, and many more consulting services.



Hartman, F., Ashrafi, R., and Jergeas, G. (1998, October). Project management in the live entertainment industry: what is different? International Journal of Project Management, vol. 16 issue 5, October 1998.


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