Digital production payroll


When the Hollywood strikes forced us to pivot our business strategy, I designed and validated an MVP of an end-to-end contracting, timesheet and payroll system in just over two weeks.

In that two-week period:

  • I leveraged the component library to quickly design and iterate multiple new features
  • We validated the prototype with more than 15 Production Finance teams (eg. Netflix, the BBC etc)

The result was a development-ready reference design that demonstrated all of the happy and unhappy paths of our new service interface - which scored an average of 4.1 out of 5 indicatiive product satisfaction score.

This product is still in development and is due to be released in Q2 2024.

Skip to: 💡 Discovery process 📐UI design 📈 Results 💬 User feedback


At the end of July 2023, Hollywood went on strike.

Up until this point, our strategy had been to complete the rebuild of our Timesheets feature, before moving on to work almost exclusively on bringing an end-to-end production payroll service to market. The strikes forced our hand. Anticipating up to a 60% loss of revenue for the rest of the year, we decided to go all-in and work on both initiatives simultaneous - enabling us to go-to-market quickly after the strikes were broken. In order to stand a chance of delivering this in time (the predicted duration of the strikes was 3 months), the initial designs needed to be in the developers hands as quickly as possible.


  • Hundreds of freelancers employed by a temporary company
    • Different tax statuses
    • Different deal terms
    • Working to different union agreements or contract terms
  • Productions shooting in multiple territories and currencies - often at the same time, on the same production
  • Production teams often contest that there is not enough time, incentive or expertise to roll out entertprise software - so resort to using paper, leading to high levels of noncompliance
  • There is no agreed industry-wide standard; processes differ at best by per-territory and, at worst, by production
  • As the sole designer on the Production Portal (the underlying platform that powers these separate features), I had to collaborate with the product team to ruthlessly prioritise my time. There were three development squads, each lead by a separate PM with their own to-do list.


On the first day of the pivot, I partnered with the payroll PM to define success metrics for discovery process - how would we know when we’d done enough to get started?

After much consideration we settled on the following objectives for this project:

  • Maximise the indicated product-satisfaction scores for all key user personas, do this by:
    • Minimising the time it takes to prepare individual pay runs
    • Increase or maintain the accuracy of each pay run (eg. don’t compromise accuracy for speed)
    • Minimise the number of revisions required

Discovery and design validation

Given the urgency of the project, we abandoned our usual and ran the disocvery and design processes in parallel.

Payroll hub

We had previously mapped the potential user flow, so this gave us a head start

  1. We mapped the jobs-to-be-done and then prioritised the individual user stories to determine the minimum viable scope. We then overlaid the current service design to determine initial scope - payroll handover process
  2. We created an initial design based on existing understanding and then iterated
  3. We lined up 15 remote user interviews with Production Finance teams, over three weeks, from across a range of productions. As there was a tight timeline, I published a deck with the results of each conversation - and a changelog for the prototype - this enabled stakeholders to keep up-to-date with the changes as we progressed.
  4. We conducted the interviews remotely, recording them using Microsfot teams - capturing the video for later on and publishing quotes from the transcripts into our deck and research system

By the end of the three weeks:

  • We had achieved an indicative product satisfaction score of 4.1 out of 5 (from 15 production finance teams including BBC, Netflix and LucasFilm)
  • We had quantified the potential time saved
  • All of the key stakeholders were up-to-date with the progress

We also chopped up exceprts from the user interviews into a three minute teaser, which we played during the kick-off meeting, to get the wider team excited by the problem we were planning to solve.

Payroll hub

Summary and reflections

This project demonstrated to me what was possible when you have a detailed understanding of the problem-space and maintain an active relationship with your users (if we didn’t have so many production accountants on speed-dial, we wouldn’t have been able to achieve the result).


  • Met the discovery KPIs
  • Created a solid design foundation that has remained largely unchanged since inception
  • Got stakeholders from across the business


  • Since the initial discovery and validation period, the business focus has changed and, in order to meet other deadlines, this work has been delayed. It’s frustrating knowing that we’re implementing an inferior solution, even if it’s temporary.