But What Do They Do?
RPG Project Manager
by Michael G. Ryan

Martin Durham loves his job: project manager --Dungeons & Dragons brand at Wizards of the Coast.

"What that means is that I project-manage all internal intellectual properties," he explains, "including D&D and Forgotten Realms and some others that are coming down the pike."

Okay. . . and what does that mean?

So a Project Manager . . . Manages Projects

Every product that Wizards of the Coast publishes is considered a "project," and each one involves many different departments in the company: R&D, Business Managers, Art, Cartography, Typesetting, and more. Martin is the guy who keeps all these departments on schedule for their part of each project, and makes sure everyone has what they need from other departments to do their jobs and get the product out on time.

Of course, the job isn't simply about "moving stuff around," he says. Much of Martin's role is to serve as a vehicle between the various teams that create a roleplaying game product. "I act as the go-between for any and all communications between creative teams and the business people, as well as the different creative and service teams. Project managers are pretty much supposed to know the basics of how everyone does his or her job so that we can be that person's champion in discussions with other team members."

The job takes Martin all over the company and keeps him involved in the creation of new products from conception to publication.

"The basic process," Martin explains, "is that the business guys and the R&D guys get together and figure out what products they want to release in a given year and when they want them. Once they give me that information, I create the schedule of when everything is going to be due. This includes the cover art, interior art, and maps, and the text."

He assigns predetermined amounts of time to each stage of a product's development and production. And then artists, designers, developers, cartographers, and editors get down to work.

That's when it gets interesting: Project managers have to juggle quite a few products at once, all in different stages of development. "For example," Martin explains, "right now, I'm working on the covers for the first part of 2003, the interior art and maps for this summer's releases, and the text for this spring's releases. As you can see, a certain level of organization is required. I hope I achieve that soon...."

His workload is varied; working roughly 18 months ahead of release dates, Martin currently has some 30 different projects in various stages of completion. "That may sound like a lot," he admits, "but it really isn't hands-on for me until we get to the stage of putting it all together. Right now, that's Deities and Demigods [April release] and Faiths and Pantheons [May release]. Both are highlights of my career so far -- they are the first ones that I can truly say are mine from start to finish."

It's in the Bag

What's a typical week like for a project manager? Well, take this week, for example. Martin started out with a scheduling meeting, where he and the other project managers go over the projects on their lists "and look for roadblocks we might be experiencing during the week." That's followed by a concept meeting he runs for members of the R&D, art, and business groups to discuss the covers for products due out the first trimester of next year. In addition, he attends a weekly cross-departmental meeting to cover ongoing roleplaying game sales and marketing topics. "Other than that," says Martin, "it's job bags."

Job bags?

These bags, Martin explains, each contain a component of a product currently in development or production. A bag might hold a book cover, the interior pages of text, or just the maps, for example. Each bag also contains a sheet listing the specs for the work (identifying the number of pages, whether it's full color, and so on) and a sign-off form. "I move those bags around to the various people who have to see everything so they can actually sign off and say, 'Yes, this is good to go.'"

Martin says he has anywhere from eight to 15 bags routing at any given time. "Just about everyone in the company knows the project managers, because we're always the ones running around with our arms full of oversized plastic bags full of paper!" At least he gets his exercise -- the four buildings in the Wizards office complex form a ring that measures a quarter mile around the inside. "So I imagine I average about three miles a day," Martin says.

From Banker to Wizard

His career is still in its earlier stages, as Martin has been with Wizards of the Coast only a little more than two years. Prior to that, he worked in the banking industry. "I was an operational analyst for a credit union," he recalls. "It really laid the groundwork for what I do now. It was looking at and implementing new processes at the credit union."

A theater friend who was working at Wizards at the time sent Martin some job postings from the game company, "and the next thing I knew, I was giving my notice to the credit union."

Since July of 2001, he has served as the D&D Project Manager, a step up from his previous gig at Wizards, that of master scheduler. "Insert fanfare here," Martin says of his former title. "That was the coolest job title I've ever had. I always said it as if it were a superhero's name. At the time, the master scheduler took all of the schedules that the project managers had outlined and turned them into one big company-wide schedule. That was when I was introduced to what project managers do."

His first project management job was the hardcover version of Elminster in Hell. "I just remember being fascinated by the novel process, how the cover and the text come together to make a book," he says. It wasn't long before Martin was carrying that 30-plus project load.

As his career advances, Martin has no doubt he'll encounter lots of projects that challenge him, and certainly many that bring him great pride. For now, he holds up Deities and Demigods ("that's my first project," he says) as one of his finer moments. "I think project managers certainly do get the credit they deserve," he says. "Internally, at least. I don't think that there is a single team at Wizards that doesn't benefit from the Wizards project managers."

He gives credit where credit's due, of course. "The creative people are the ones who most deservedly receive the recognition by the public. They are the ones who create!" he says. "I'm just the guy that makes sure it all happens on time."

So, is this Martin's dream job? Well, he concedes that he wouldn't mind working on a movie or TV project, but preferably in the capacity of producer. After all, he points out, "Isn't a producer basically a project manager? Of course, there really is more to it than that. While I'm still in 'pinch-me' mode about being the D&D project manager -- being on a project like that, I would probably never touch ground again."

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