IIMS 94 contents
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Multimedia production and people: Specialists or generalists?

James Sturges
VEATT Centre, Queensland
Jo Spring
University of Queensland
This paper focuses on the structures that are involved with production of training materials using an interactive multimedia approach. In particular, we are interested in the way in which development teams are structured and managed. We would hope that this paper may provide a catalyst to create standard industry occupational profiles to better enable employers to define, train and develop Australian expertise in this high growth area. We identify problems and inadequacies with traditional team structures and job titles and suggest a set of principles to help in the formation of interactive multimedia production teams. This paper also describes the results of a questionnaire administered to Project Managers actively involved in the development of interactive multimedia.

The production of multimedia presents a new environment for leaders and production personnel. This environment consist of new technologies, new skills and new dynamics that are undergoing evolution now! We hope that this paper may provide a catalyst to speed up this transitional period and adapt some existing development models into more appropriate models for the development of multimedia.

We would like to focus on the structures that are involved with production of training materials using interactive multimedia as an approach. In particular, we are interested in the way in which development teams are structured and managed. Many of the concepts and outcomes of this paper are still relevant to organisations that are producing pure multimedia applications without a primary learning outcome.

Assembling the traditional team

Having being involved in several large scale interactive multimedia projects ranging from academic to full commercial environments we notice the same genesis of the team structures including projects that we have managed. We define the following as the 'traditional' approach to assembling the development team. When an organisation starts a particular computer based training project they decide on the Project Manager and proceed to gather Instructional Designers, Programmers and Subject Matter Experts. In theory, once the team is formed the group is briefed on the project and the project manager describes the responsibilities of each of the members of the group.

This then culminates in a forum where the programmer shows the instructional designer what is possible with the authoring language or system, the instructional designer tells the subject matter expert how they will present the information. The project manager calculates time lines that are not based on reliable estimates and therefore are quite often inaccurate. This is because of the fact that multimedia development is relatively new and there is little historical data collated on which to base estimates. Because these people have predefined roles, they induce a pecking order which in turn can cause a lack of focus towards the global goals of the project. This pecking order normally separates certain people in the production team from the client group which can allow the project to miss the target required.

So what goes wrong?

One of the reasons why we feel that these traditional structures fail is because the model assumes that the project team requires a large number of specialists. It assumes that teams are defined by job titles rather than the grouping of skills that make up a combined skill set of a multiskilled team member. Our preliminary research tends to show that even the largest computer based training projects only have a development staff of ten, in fact the average team size is quite often less than ten. Hirschbuhl (1989) found in his survey that the industry norms for the number of people devoted to full time development of CBT were as follows:

100-15,000 employees2-5 people in CBT development
15,000-30,000 employees2-10 people in CBT development
30,000+ employees10-25 people in CBT development

Large organisations tend toward hierarchical structures which tend to limit information flow and control (Semler, 1989) and many researchers indicate that communication is a key to the successful development of CBT (Peters & De Paolis, 1990; Pinfold, 1992; Finch & Labinger, 1986).

Another reason why defining a team by traditional job title is inappropriate, is that current positions only require a subset of the skills that would exist in the traditional occupational profile as well as other subsets of skills from other traditional job titles. For example, a programmer required for multimedia development needs to possess skills that are widely varied to those of a traditional computer programmer. When assembling a team, and advertising for an instructional designer, programmer and graphic artist it is also necessary to specify what actual core skills are required. Otherwise, you may end up with an educator who has no appreciation for computer delivery, a programmer who forgets about human-computer interaction and a graphic artist that has only worked with subtractive colour systems. This will continue to be the case until the industry agrees and forms standard occupational profiles (Sayer, 1993).

A summary of skills identified by a number of researchers indicates that the following roles: Project Management, Subject Matter Expertise, Graphic Design, Instructional Design, Editing and Programming are the super six that are required for a project team (Gery, 1987; Finch & Labinger, 1986; Faiola, 1989). There is little doubt that these six skills are required for the effective production of interactive multimedia, but we feel that these job titles are not in the context of producing interactive multimedia. We propose the following inadequacies in using these terms out of context.

Project management

There am three reasons identified why traditional project management fails in producing CAI materials (Sturges, 1993). Risk identification: many of the technologies and methodologies are new and there is no historical data for predicting problems. Team dynamics: many of the personalities and backgrounds of team members do not respond to structured environments. Task definition: project managers that plan detailed tasks do not allow for ingenuity to blossom and forget to visualise global outcomes. Semler (1989) recommends an approach of not appointing a leader of a team, and waiting for a natural leader to emerge. Gabriel (1991) provides sound advice to overcome some project management problems but two factors that we consider important are 1) concentrate on the objectives, not the people and 2) do not organise the people, organise the job.

Subject matter expertise

Subject matter experts (SME) tend to focus on the content rather than the application and can hinder the efficient progress of the project. While there is definitely a place for a SME, it is a fact that others in the project team do gain 'expertise' in the content area as a result of their intense exposure to the subject matter. These team members are better able to focus on the application and the SME can then be used in a quality assurance sense.

Graphic design

Developing the graphical aspects of interactive multimedia has only recently evolved as an area of expertise. There is a gamut of skills in the media development field from Graphic Design to illustration and animation. It is wrong to assume that a graphic designer can produce an illustration of an object. It is more likely that the Graphic Designer comes up with the concepts for the graphical environment, and other specialists such as graphic artists and animators create the artwork. The term Graphic Design or Artist is a term that is used too loosely.

Instructional design

This is probably the worst defined job title in the computer based training industry. There are needs for skills in Instructional Design in the purest sense. However, there are also needs for competency based design skills, computer based metacognition skills and human computer interaction skills. Instructional design originates in the traditional print based world - following the systematic design of instruction which has its base in the behavioural and cognitive-behavioural science areas. Therefore an Instructional Designer may not be using methodologies based on current technologies or approaches. Campbell and Sherrin (1992) reported that appropriate staffing was their biggest management hurdle. One of the basic problems they indicated was that there are very few people experienced in multimedia development or instructional design for technology based training.


Editing is an important skill in the production team. The scope of editing skill is sometimes lost. There are a range of editing that is required such as grammar and spelling, cultural and equal opportunity bias, colour, style and consistency, continuity and level of language.


As authoring systems became common in the CAI development room, the need for traditional programming skills diminishes. The modem day authors require a skill set that allows them to understand the target audience (I purposely don't call them users) and the multimedia capability of the delivery machines in mind.

What can we do?

So, our problem seems to be that by defining teams by job title seems to cause quite significant operational problems which affect the success of the interactive multimedia project. Crock (1992) identified skilled professional staff as one of the key critical success factors contributing to the success of CBT development. Campbell and Sherrin report that selecting staff was a key issue during the initial project planning phase of their project because of the lack of experienced multimedia developers. They recommend planning for extensive training to bring all team members up to commercial standards. Recent research indicates that developers are becoming aware that changes in team acquisition and management must be made. Faiola (1989) believes the changing state of the authoring technology has made it necessary to redefine the roles of the traditional courseware team to a more flexible evolving team dependant on the content and nature of the courseware being developed. He reports an evolving team concept known as Team Integrated Productivity (TIP) which adjusts the traditional team approach which integrates the job roles into a smaller team structure. Gery (1987) defines the roles required for successful CBT development, however also he clarifies the fact that the roles she defines need not necessarily be filled by separate people, rather the fewer people the better.

We administered a questionnaire to a number of companies and tertiary institutions who are involved in the development of interactive multimedia. This questionnaire was designed to be administered in two parts, the first one to find out some initial statistics about the projects and the team members involved, with a follow up questionnaire which directly questions the way in which the team members are selected, acquired and what their inputs to the interactive multimedia development are. Our initial survey covered 13 projects that are currently being developed or have been developed in the past year. They range in budget size, however eight of the projects were of a budget of over $200,000. Although we have not undertaken lengthy analysis of the ways in which the team have been assembled, a few key points have been identified.

Firstly, it is interesting to note the size of the teams with respect to the size of the project. The size of the team is remarkably low, and for the majority of the projects under $200,000 there are only two team members. For the projects over $200,000 it is also surprising that these teams are generally under 6 full time people and the total team including part time input and contract staff for the most part is less than 10 people. This hopefully means that the team members are multiskilled and are providing the inputs necessary to complete the projects on time and within budget. If not, as Campbell and Sherrin (1992) found, extensive on the job training can lead to blowouts in time unless this training is planned for. We hope to follow these projects up in the very near future to see how the teams are actually formed, and staff acquired and trained, what inputs the team members contribute and how the communication channels work.

We suggest that the following principles are taken into account when assembling and managing an interactive multimedia development team.

Further research

Sturges (1993) suggests that a multimedia development team consists of people that possess a variety of inputs, with an emphasis on Multiskilling and focused on developing multimedia. The difficulty is that the success of the team depends of the selection and balancing of these skills. We are currently working on an inputs based model, which relies on the three inputs of a successful interactive multimedia application defined by Sturges (1993): Content, Interactivity and Multimedia. These inputs must be focused and controlled. Our model includes the management, business principles and governing principles as an attribute called Focus. We will be administering the second part of our questionnaire in the near future. This information will provide us with information on assembling the team which we will incorporate into our model. We hope to report on this model at the next IMS conference.


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Faiola, A. (1989). Improving courseware development efficiency: the effects of authoring systems on team roles and communication. Educational Technology, August 1989.

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Authors: James Sturges
VEATT Centre, Ground Floor, 19 Finchley St
Milton Qld 4064
Tel. 07 368 3277 Fax. 07 3682936
Email: VEATT@qut.edu.au

Jo Spring
CAL Unit, TEI, University of Queensland, Qld 4072
Tel. 07 365 2390 Fax. 07 365 1799
Email: j.spring@uqvax.cc.uq.oz.au

Please cite as: Sturges, J. and Spring, J. (1994). Multimedia production and people: Specialists or generalists? In C. McBeath and R. Atkinson (Eds), Proceedings of the Second International Interactive Multimedia Symposium, 536-539. Perth, Western Australia, 23-28 January. Promaco Conventions. http://www.aset.org.au/confs/iims/1994/qz/sturges.html

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