Lesson 10: Winner take all

No, this one doesn’t talk about anyone winning at anything.

The winner was simply the first person to get to the office. We had a bout 20-something computers.

The concept was ‘first come-first serve’. If you got to the office at, say 7:55 you had 20 computers to choose from. You could sit anywhere you wanted. The later you arrived, the fewer computers that were available. No one had a place assigned, except, of course the big shots like Larry, Mathew and Sam. They had their own private office.

For some reason they didn’t want to assign a space to their employees. Why? Because that way all of the computers are “for everybody”. Nobody “owns” a computer, so to speak. So everyday, we arrived and we didn’t really KNOW where we would work that day. So if I had worked on a couple of files the day before, I would have to save them to a flash drive, a portable hard drive or upload it somewhere because I wasn’t sure that I would be able to use the same computer the next day.

You can imagine the implications of this. Computers often got viruses and had performance issues. Files often got lost or corrupted. If someone saved their work in one computer and the next day someone else was sitting there, they had to “borrow” the computer for a while so that the files could be retreived and work could continue. Just writing this now, gives me a hint of a headache.

But that was the way these guys had designed the working-system. If it can be called as such.

There was this guy, Larry’s cousin, who I will call David. David was in charge of tech support. He was the ‘computer guy’. And he had A LOT of work to do when we worked like this. He used to format computers almost on a daily basis (I wonder why). And when he asked what was done in the computer or when he tried to figure out what was wrong with it, he had a hard time. Because he couldn’t find out exactly who had used it or who had done what with it.
This continued for like, the first year or so. Everybody had problems with the computers. They often had viruses, which was the most common problem. Then when new teachers were hired, we began to run out of computers. So there were times when people arrived and found out that there were no machines available.

luck_next_time
Better luck tomorrow, buddy. This one is mine for today.

So Larry lent them his own laptop. How do you hire someone and not take into account that you don’t have enough work stations?
They bought like two laptops to lend when this issue arised. It seemed easier than assigning specific work stations to teachers. At least, it seemed like that.
And people complained and got ignored and we kept working like this for quite sometime.

This time, it feels obvious enough to say that your company should look for practical solutions and simple ways of organizing. But, after this little incident, I can’t stress this enough.
The lesson this time is this: think simple.
In this case, it would have been A LOT easier to just assign a workstation to each teacher.  John, your machine is number 1, Frank-yours is number 2, Helen-you’ll take number 3 and so on.

This way, everyone had their files on their own machine. No files would be lost. Or at least the possibility of them getting lost would have been scarce. If everyone wasn’t putting their flash drives on every computer, viruses would be avoided.
Well, they came to this predicament about a year after starting the business. And we have worked like this ever since. Why didn’t they do this before? I don’t know. Apparently, things get done when Larry says, not when it is needed.

So think practical, easy, simple. If it seems too complicated, it probably is. And employees will have headaches trying to work like that. Problems will eventually present themselves and you will have to deal with them. This will cost you time and money.
Some problems can be foreseen or prevented. But others show up much later. We really can’t do much with unexpected conditions, except work them out as they arrive. But we CAN prevent easily identifiable problems using common sense.
Wheter it’s organizing a recording session, assigning a work station or figuring out what the next step in your venture should be,  apply the KISS principle: Keep it simple, stupid.

Don’t believe me? Check these out:

http://whatis.techtarget.com/definition/KISS-Principle-Keep-It-Simple-Stupid

http://whatis.techtarget.com/definition/KISS-Principle-Keep-It-Simple-Stupid

http://www.computerhope.com/jargon/k/kiss.htm

http://www.slowdownfast.com/the-kiss-principle/

Next: Army ants.

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Lesson 9: Headaches make people cry.

Inside the world of ”lesson recording’, there was a little character widely referred to as pure evil.

I will, obviously change the name of this software so I don’t give away the company and people that are involved in this little writing exercise. Let’s name it ‘the grape’, because it kind of sounds like that in my native language.

I am going to get a bit technical to make my point, so bear with me.
All the lessons were designed in one of the most widely used software for presentations. Yes, you got it, that’s the one.  We designed one file with picture slides, information slides, examples and so on. And we would design another slide show where we would write everything we would say while recording. A.k.a. our script. They believed that we should not improvise when recording, because we weren’t actors. And I think they were right. So we simply wrote everything down and we just read in front of the camera. Kind of like a tele-prompter.

So we had two presentations. When we got to the recording set, we had to work with a recording program. And we had another little program called ‘the grape’ to link both presentations and the video recording program. With these four programs, we would use a remote control to tell the computer when we wanted to show ourselves on screen, then switch to the slide, then combine teacher and slide at the same time, then back to the slide, then just the teacher and so on.

With the remote, we wouldn’t need a camera man. Just the teacher, controlling the slide show, camera and everything.
But there was a catch: the grape program was extremely complicated to learn and even more complicated to make changes if you made a mistake while recording. This program was designed and written by the main engineer of this whole operation, the right hand man of Mr.Gestures, Todd, or Mr.T.

This guy was the author of the software that linked everything inside the set and he was quite selfish about it. The only computers that had the software installed were those inside each set.

When we had to record a lesson, what teachers had to do was take all their files to the set. Then, we had to painstakingly build a sequence in which we told the computer which slide would go first, then just show what the camera sees, then show the teacher and the slide at the same time, then go back to just the slide, then advance my script, then advance the slide…you get the idea.

This program simply recorded steps. Each step would tell the computer to switch from program to program. The concept was simple, but the average slideshows had around 80 slides, not counting animation effects. Yes, each clic was considered an additional step.

So we would have to make 150 or 200 steps per sequence, one by one. Maybe even more. And we did this for each lesson.
Not only that, when we were done with the sequence, we used to run it BEFORE recording, to check for mistakes. If a mistake was made or something was not working properly, we had to look for the mistake manually. This meant that we would have to check every single little step of the process, to find out where the mistake was.
When it finally worked, we would record the lesson, save it on the computer and continue with the next one.

When high-school was being recorded, some teachers cried because of the frustration of not being able to make the program do what they needed. Others banged on the walls to show their anger. It was definitely not pretty.

When junior-high was recorded, we didn’t have as much trouble because we had some experience. But the new teachers had to experience the same frustration that we did.

Luckily for them, the five supervisors in charge of each area had already recorded some lessons and were able to give some tips and suggestions for the newcomers. This aliviated the frustration, although not entirely.

Imagine analyzing each clic, step by step, around 12o of them per lesson. And each subject had around 40-something lessons. You do the math, it was very tedious work. Also, we had to do it in a tight schedule because editing was waiting for us and they wanted to send out the product in order to get students enrolled by the government.

Tough_Job
Not exactly, but yes. I guess it kind of felt like this.

The process improved somewhat, but not enough. What could we have done differently?

Well, we could have gotten rid of that damn ‘grape’ program. Nobody actually thought about the efficiency of using it or if there was an easier, quicker way of designing that sequence. It was Todd’s masterpiece so, why would we dare try to change it or use something else to record?
But the point is that if something seems too complicated or it’s taking too much time to do., if you are constantly getting frustrated about how you are doing something, then you are probably not doing it right. Too many frustrated teachers should have been a sign to come up with a better way of recording.
Eventually, some teachers who specialized in computer science and programming came up with an idea to make the program work more efficiently. But they did this in their own time, out of compassion for their fellow co-workers.

So here is the lesson:
If you are the boss at a startup or any work environment, make a habit of talking with your employees. Find out what their needs are, search for ways to make their work more efficient, less tedious, easier and faster. How can you improve something if you don’t even know what you produce or how you go about making it a reality?

The guy that designed this little gem never actually recorded any lessons. So it was doubtful that he could really understand how things developed inside a recording set. The general rule for new teachers was just “you’ll get the hang of it eventually, don’t despair”
The owner, obviously didn’t know that this was happening, either. He rarely stopped by to see what was going on.

And when he did, he just went into Larry’s office and asked him how things were going. And it was kind of interesting to know how the owner, the guy providing the payroll, only bothered to ask Larry. The only guy who didn’t design lessons, didn’t record and didn’t really know how the production process worked.
So, get involved with your company. Get your hands dirty, investigate, ask around, evaluate how work gets done. Then come up with ways to improve that. Your employees will appreciate it quite a lot. And everyone knows that happy employees are employees that work efficiently and tend to stay with the company.

Next: Winner take all