A Process for Getting It Right the First Time
Back in the day, when I donned my “power” business suit for work, I had a long-running assignment that I affectionately referred to as “knocking heads together.” In retrospect, it was pretty good training for my future role as a mom. Officially, though, it was a workshop process called Joint Application Design (JAD), used to collect business requirements early in the development cycle while creating a new information system for a company.
At the time, I was one of the first trained JAD moderators (now called facilitators) in the U.S., first for Texas Instruments and later for IBM, and led workshops across the US and in Europe. I loved it. It was a wonderful opportunity to learn about different industries, how they operated, and how they were going about modernizing to become more competitive in their markets. As a moderator, I would spend one or two days touring their facilities, interviewing the executives of the departments who would be using the new system, and setting expectations for the process and end results. I met interesting people at all stages of their careers and in many different fields, and gained an appreciation for all the moving parts involved in developing a product and bringing it to market.
JAD is a method of including key end-users in the design and development process of a new enterprise-wide computer system. The idea is to “get the job done right the first time” by involving these future users of the system right from the start, so that the end result addresses their needs and is more satisfactory to the client company. This gives the client autonomy throughout the process, creates buy-in and support of the finished product, and delivers a system that helps them do their jobs as efficiently as possible. JAD has been used for implementing new systems, enhancing existing ones, converting old system, and purchasing new ones.
The process includes representatives from every affected department who deeply understand the major job functions within their departments and what is required from other areas of the company so that they can most efficiently do their jobs. For example, when Texas Instruments was designing an enterprise-wide system for the manufacturing of their silicon chips, knowledgeable representatives came from TI’s engineering, inventory, customer service, operations, financial departments, and of course, information systems, who would be implementing the results from the JAD workshop. The IT representative provided technical advice and guidance, so that the JAD team would develop logical models and specifications to build the prototype of the end result.
I won’t go into the full methodology, but suffice it to say that the JAD workshop required a group of busy departmental experts to dedicate themselves to several days of intense discussion and negotiation with one another. And sometimes personalities were at odds with one another. This is where the “knocking heads together” reference comes in, as not everyone was 100% cooperative and focused on the end result. It was my job as the workshop facilitator to keep the process flowing, to moderate the factions and keep the peace, so that we could deliver a workable prototype design that all participants could agree on. Mostly that was achieved by reminding everyone that we all had a common purpose. And a deadline.
I learned many things from my experience as a workshop facilitator that I’ve brought over into my voice over business. While the element of “knocking heads together” isn’t one of them – let’s file that one under useful parenting skills instead – here’s my list of the main take-aways, which can be applied to any business:
A common goal
A well-defined budget and time frame
Requirements spelled out before any work is begun
Clear and consistent communications
Documented work flow
Agreed upon result
A common goal. The clients and I both know what we want: high quality voiceover audio that will help sell their product, promote their message, instruct their employees, entertain their customers, help their communities, or whatever else the clients are trying to do.
A well-defined budget and time frame. Before a voice over job is accepted, the client and I have agreed on a rate and a deadline for my work (if it’s not recorded during a live, client-directed session). No surprises, no disappointments, although I often will submit the finished audio files well before the client needs them.
Requirements that are spelled out succinctly before any work is begun. Before I turn on my microphone to record or connect for a directed session, I make sure that I understand exactly what my clients need. If I’m not certain, I ask in advance, so as not to waste their time delivering what I think they want instead of what they are expecting. That includes the type of read (is it friendly and conversational or more authoritative?), number of alternate reads, length of recording, labeling naming convention, file and delivery specs, and so on, including any contract requirements, usage, invoicing and payment, or the signing of any non-disclosure agreements. There may be only two or three of us, rather than a whole room of department heads battling for what they want, but the principle remains the same: understand what the others require from me and know what I need in turn to get the job done for them.
Clear and consistent communications. To ensure that client requirements are met, you cannot be afraid to ask for clarification, whether that’s for guidance on pronunciation, understanding their terms for delivering voice over files, or anything else related to the job. Very few clients balk at answering reasonable questions that help talent deliver what they were hired to provide.
Documented work flow. If I’m recording live during a client-directed session, I will keep track of each take in two ways: I’ll note on a physical paper the number and description of each take and I’ll include markers within the voice over recording to delineate each take. If I’m delivering finished audio files, I’ll keep both the finished (and processed, if that’s what the client wants) .mp3 file and the working, unprocessed .wav file in my computer’s client folder, should the client request changes or corrections later on.
Agreed upon result. Before submitting any work that I have recorded at home, I always check the recordings to be certain that they are clean, clear, free of mistakes, and to the client’s specs. I like to follow up with the client afterwards, just to confirm that they have received what they need and that they’re satisfied with the work. There’s no cost to the client for changes due to my mistakes (mispronunciation, for example), or for any little tweaks that they need to make after hearing the recordings.
While on the surface, voice actor seems a far cry from JAD moderator, there are quite a few things the two careers hold in common. Professionalism from start to finish. Organization and teamwork. Communications. Client-focused results. Top notch customer service. Both are businesses that seek to serve individual and corporate clients by helping them achieve their goals. And I consider myself most fortunate to have thoroughly enjoyed both. Though I’m much happier now that I no longer need to wear a business suit every day to work.