If you read the previous lesson, you can probably guess what this one is about.
After we finished uploading all of the questions, answers, files and the rest of information related to each of the lessons, the next step had to be done. This was the task of retrieving every-single-little-file that was used to upload information. They wanted to have a backup of information.
David, Larry’s cousin, was in charge of this. This took him..well… I think that to this day (about four years later), he hasn’t finished retrieving the information and I doubt that he will get it anytime soon.
Obviously this was more than expected. It wasn’t so much the idea that he couldn’t FIND all the information, because all he had to do was ask which person uploaded this or that subject. That wasn’t it.
They wanted to backup ONLY the information that was uploaded. That was quite a task, because maybe someone uploaded 10 questions but changed half of them while he was uploading them because they had mistakes of context. Or some answers were changed because the teacher who uploaded them thought they were way too easy for a high-school level student.
The process was done with very little time and many people were involved, so mistakes were bound to show up sooner or later.
So, which questions were changed? Who had them? And could we be sure that the files they had matched exactly what we had uploaded? No one knew.
I think that, at the end, they simply decided to not get those files but simply copy and paste the information on the site to an independent file. Again, more extra work that wouldn’t be needed if they just organized properly. The teachers, obviously, had to do this tedious copy-and-paste work.
In short, we copied and pasted the files to the system. Then we copied and pasted information from the system, to individual files.
Long story short, one more time, a consequence- an avoidable consequence- of the continuous lack of organization.
At this time I honestly don’t know exactly what the lesson is, but I figure that as a write, the idea will come to me.
When we had finished recording high school level, it was time to upload the activities that were related to each lesson. They consisted of a Blog entry, some questions about that blog entry, interactive activities, an exam at the end of the lesson and frequently asked questions.
We had to manually upload every single letter of those activities. They hadn’t developed a way to automatically upload this information (they still haven’t). Also, we had a system that didn’t allow right-clic options. So we had to manually select a piece of text, type Ctrl-C, then go to the system window and Ctrl-V the information on to it.
This was very tedious work. Imagine having to copy and paste 25 questions, then their possible answers (3 at least) for 30 something lessons. Then frequently asked questions were about 5 per lesson (times 30 as well). In short, it was quite a lot of information to copy and paste manually.
And, as always, they wanted this done yesterday. So, their idea to get this done quickly? Everyone do it.
We divided the work. Or distributed rather. One person got 5 exams to upload and someone else got 10 exams of that same subject.
In this way, one subject was being managed by two or three people at the same time.
And it was done like that, no questions asked, just upload everything as quickly as you can. Of course, something done in haste has a high chance of resulting with poor quality.
And it did.
Files got lost and there were many mistakes made. If a physics teacher was uploading a History test, it would have been difficult for him to spot a mistake in context or an important date. The same happend with biology teachers that uploaded information for math or calculus.
It got done quickly, yes. But at the cost of quality. To this day I still don’t understand why that had to be done so quickly, since there weren’t any students enrolled. One might think that they wanted to save expenses, but the difference in doing it with more care would have been a couple of days. Maybe a week.
And we ended up re-doing this a few months later, when there wasn’t much to do. Maybe this was their plan all along, to do the exact same thing two times.
So what was the point of doing everything in a hurry? Just the fact of being able to say ‘it’s done’ (even if we don’t know what the hell we uploaded because there were so many people involved in the process). Again, the lack of organization was evident.
Therefore, one more time: organize, organize, organize. That is the lesson. Even if we had to do something quickly, nothing would have happened if we had taken a couple of hours trying to figure out the best way to get the work done.
A two hour salary of three or four people is much cheaper than the salary of 15 people during three weeks. So spend some time planning and figuring out WHAT you need to get done and HOW to do it. Also consider the possible implications or consequences. This alone can save a few headaches. Then go ahead and act.
What came next could be the only outcome of this lack of vision.
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.
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.
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.
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.
After failing at improving the work schedule, I decided to keep doing what I was doing and just comply with whatever I was told to do.
Even though a lot of us told the people at the top that professional level courses were the way to go, Mr. Gestures had a meeting with the government and had agreed to finance a junior-high level studies virtual course and forget about professional training. At least for the moment.
So all of the teachers focused on that.
I am trained as an architect so I was somewhat surprised when they gave me the subject of Geography. They said it was the subject that I was best suited for. Might I add that History and Geography were not my favorite subjects in school, but I had to do it, so I did. It came out pretty good, actually. It is still online, to this day- I think.
The interesting part of this anecdote is the moment when we had to record the lessons. Junior high had about a thousand virtual classes. There were around 14 teachers designing lessons. We all had to record them. There were 5 recording sets available.
The high-school recording sessions were a mess. We took around two or three months to record. Maybe a little more. No one knew where you had to record, which set was available or how much time you had to work in there.
Most of us thought that it would take almost the same time to record junior high, if not more. But, in this case, the person in charge was a female teacher by the name of Helen. Yes, Helen, that’s the name I will give her. She was and still is, quite responsible and organized.
I don’t know if gender has anything to do with it, but most of my male-bosses have usually been disorganized. The only female boss I had ever had was a principal and she was very organized as well. This time, Helen was partly in charge of junior-high and she came up with a simple schedule for the recording of the lessons. Some of the teachers helped her a little in elaborating it.
She gave each of the teachers a schedule in a printed sheet, which included the set number, the time and the names of each teacher. This way, I knew exactly at what time I had to record and in exactly which set. It was simple, but very efficient.
At the moment, I designed the Geography subject and I also had to check the work of three other teachers that were designing lessons about computer class (referred to as technology subjects)
There were 5 people in charge of each area: science, math, technology, social studies and spanish. They named us ‘supervisors’. I was one of them. And Helen was in charge of us. And Larry in charge of Helen.
Well, when we were figuring out how to record, Larry suggested that-while the recording sessions were taking place-ALL of the supervisors be here ALL day, to be available if any teacher needed help recording. He wanted us to arrive at 8 a.m., leave at 12 o’clock and come back at 4 p.m. and leave at 8 p.m. There were going to be teachers recording all day, so we needed someone available for technical help and to check that teachers got in on time and in the right set.
But this made no sense to us. Who would be available from 12 pm to 4pm? We even had a meeting to discuss this. A very long meeting- which was the protocol for the meetings: long hours, little or no decisions made. But Larry insisted that it was mandatory for ALL of us to be here.
So, when the meeting ended, the supervisors got together and -in 5 minutes- determined that we should take turns. There were five of us, so each had to come back in the afternoon only ONE day per week. In short, it was more organized and it made more sense. Most teachers had trouble recording on the first day. But after that, they got the hang of it and recorded practically by themselves. So, five people standing outside of the sets, all day, was not necessary. We simply matched our schedule with the teachers that would be recording, so each supervisor would be available for their teachers.
The result: junior-high got recorded in a record time of between three and four weeks. As expected, Larry wasn’t pleased and couldn’t understand why we disobeyed him. And, to this day, he refers to the incident as ‘the day when you ignored my decision’.
Something else that is important to mention is that the teachers recorded relaxed, with a better attitude, looked better in front of the camera and produced a quality product. How was this possible?
We managed to do it with this lesson: organization is very, very important. Analyze the resources that are available. Write down stuff, make diagramas, have productive meetings and determine more than one way to get something done. Then evaluate pros and cons to take the best decision.
In this case, Larry didn’t agree with the way we did the recordings. But he didn’t suggest any other way to do it better. His attitude is and always has been “my way or the highway.”
Oh, as an added bonus, here is what Helen got in exchange for her outstanding work: a swift kick in the groin, so to speak.
Let me explain.
Several days later, after junior high was finished, Mr.Gestures came over. He wasn’t here everyday. But he came over and asked about who was responsible for junior high, because they needed to attend a meeting at the government offices where the school’s permit was being processed.
Larry, obviously didn’t give any credit to Helen. He only stated that ‘we managed to get junior high recorded in record time’. Mr. Gestures didn’t ask any more questions.
When they were leaving for the meeting, we found out that Helen was never really in charge of junior high. It was just for ‘production’ purposes. Because the ‘real’ principal, was Mathew. Apparently, Mr. Gestures didn’t want any women in his meetings because ‘he wouldn’t be able to speak with his fowl language’ i,e. swearing.
For your information, Mr. Gestures was not offensive, but he did swear. A LOT. He didn’t exactly use the vocabulary of a professional engineer, which is his professional training.
Anyway, Helen was very upset about this. However, she simply said quietly and modestly to herself ‘oh well, I know that I am in part responsible for this success, no matter what they say'”. And everybody else knew that without her guidance, we couldn’t have done it so effectively.
I think that the title for this one is rather confusing. But I assure you that it will make perfect sense by the time you are finished reading.
I live in a country where the general idea of work is: If you work long hours in the office, it means that you are hard-working. The law allows up to 48 working hours per week. So that’s pretty much the standard in most working environments. Strange is the person who thinks that the law’s limit doesn’t have to be the established working schedule.
To me, personally, working long hours is just a sign of incompetence or disorganization. Companies specifically ask for people who can ‘work under pressure’. And this is a fact. They ask for this. This means ‘we are not into organizing stuff, and we need you to do the same‘. I think that, if you are organized, you will rarely need to rush to meet a deadline.
With this in mind, we had a work-week made up of six days. Monday through Friday was from 8am to 4pm and Saturday they claimed that it was a ‘half day’ of 5 hours, from 9am to 2pm. A regular shift is 8 hours long, so a half-shift should be 4 hours.
To this day I can’t seem to make them understand this: If they plan on keeping it a 5 hour shift, they should stop calling it a ‘half day’. Anyway, I must focus.
They claimed that working on Saturday was necessary to ‘correct mistakes’.
From Monday to Friday, you were supposed to design the lessons to be recorded. And then, on Saturday you would use the day to ‘improve’ or ‘correct’ the mistakes that you had had. I might read a little strange here, but, why would I need time to correct something that I have already finished? I mean, yes, nobody is perfect. Anyone can definitely improve their own work. But the idea was not to improve, it was to fix up stuff.
Larry stated that ‘during the week, you might not get time to do things right, so that is what Saturday is for’.
This never made any sense to me. And, frankly, almost everyone, I mean…well…9 out of 10 people didn’t actually DO any work on Saturday because they were too tired from the week. Or they simply didn’t want to be there. They felt it was a waste of time. They could easily do the work in a 5 day-period, with good quality.
On Saturdays we came in at 9 o’clock. Most people had breakfast delivered and took an hour to eat-including Larry. We could have easily left work at 1 pm if we avoided that eating-period or had breakfast at home. Or, we could have arrived at 8 o´clock and leave at 12 o’clock. THEN it would be a half-day.
But why do I concern myself with this? Because I feel that a company is a living, breathing organism. If people are happy and well rested, they produce more and tend to have a more positive attitude. And this was producing the exact opposite.
On Saturday, people married and with children (about half of the employees at the time) got home at around 3 o’clock, had lunch and it was already dark. The only day that we really had available to rest, do house-work, visit relatives and have some family time, was Sunday.
And by the time you were done with laundry or washing the car or whatever, and wanted a break, it was already Monday again. So a lot of teachers showed up on Monday exhausted. Might I add that some studies show that mental distress consumes your energy much more that physical stress. And it has always been about intelectual work here.
At one time I approached Mr.Gestures and told him flat-out, that Saturdays was a wasted day. Nobody did actual work that day or they simply weren’t fans of using up an extra day that was practically unnecessary. I even told him that he would save the electricity of 3 large offices (6 to 12 people) and their respective air-conditioners. For your information, we worked inside a remodeled large factory building made of block and steel, which got considerably hot during the summer months (40 to 48 degrees Celsius). So the electricity bill during the summer was quite high.
The extra day off would help employees to arrive well-rested on Monday and, in consequence, they would be more productive. Not to mention the reduction of the electricity bill.
He simply said that people were way too lazy and we shouldn’t give them extra time to slack-off. And that the difference in the electricity bill wasn’t something he was worried about. He claimed that he had worked his entire life, from dusk to dawn and it was how we should get used to work, so why should we do it differently?
As a result, Saturdays remained as part of the work schedule.
So, everyone kept taking their breakfast to work and they took their hour eating. Sometimes even more. Most of the time, they barely did any work and all of the employees just sat, surfed the internet and stared at the watch every couple of hours. There wasn’t much to do. Some people used Saturday to recuperate the time they slacked off during the week. It wasn’t indispensable, that was for sure.
In short, here is the lesson:
Put yourself in the shoes of your employees. If you have worked your entire life in a certain way and you enjoy it, don’t think that everyone else thinks the same or is willing to live life just as you have. Just because you like vanilla ice cream, doesn’t mean that everyone is going to like it. And you shouldn’t try to force them to like it either.
Also, change is inevitable. Years ago we had telephones, then pagers, then cell phones, now it’s smart phones and tablets. Every moment that passes by technology is getting closer to those science-fiction realities that we once saw in the movies. And things that took us months or weeks, can now get done in days or hours.
If your employees are well rested, if they have time to spend with their families, if you let them have a personal life or a social life, they will show up on Mondays-and every day-with a better attitude, more tranquil, healthier, happier and more focused on their daily tasks. In return, you will get better production results and a better working environment.
After three days, the promotion department realized that they didn’t make a good decision and told us to stop going out.
In a way, we were relieved. There were all sort of comments about being out those days, in the sun, waiting for clients that just didn’t show up or that couldn’t afford to pay for our virtual school.
It wasn’t all lost, really. We found out something important: the true product that we should have been selling.
Most of the people that went out those days, received the same comment from several people. Or the same question, rather.
Do you have any professional training? Can I study to become an accountant on-line? Can I become a business administrator studying online? Can I study a second career in your virtual school?
And you know what? These were people that were willing to PAY to study in the manner that we were advertising. ‘Wherever you want, whenever you want.’A person who wants to study college could easily get a job to pay for our services. For them, it wasn’t exactly cheap, but it wasn’t expensive either. It was quite attractive to be able to study at their own pace and on their own schedule.
This was our target market. It was revealed to us on those days.
So everyone had the idea that, if we had virtual courses to obtain a degree, like a college level degree, we would probably find more students (a.k.a., clients). We told Larry, we told Sam, Todd and even Mr. Gestures.
During that time, Mr. Gestures was negotiating scholarships with the government. He wanted the government to offer a system where it would pay for half of the tuition of people who wanted to study high school and we (the school we were working in) would finance the other half. This was attractive for the government because it would say that it was investing on education.
And Mr. Gestures would have gotten a load of students, hence income to keep the project going.
But the governor told him ‘you know what? I think that junior high is a better bet. You design and make junior high courses and you have a deal.
And so we did. Mr. Gestures got everyone working on junior high lessons and completely ignored the fact that college degree apparently had more demand. More teachers were hired and we got back to designing classes.
People kept asking us for college level courses (relatives, acquaintances, friends and so on), but we couldn’t give them a date because we weren’t even working on that. Everybody said that everyone they knew told them ‘why the heck aren’t you doing college level courses?’ The conventional/ traditional schools have no capacity to hold for this demand of students.
It seemed like everyone was aware of that, except our own leaders, Todd and Mr. Gestures.
Junior high got designed, recorded, edited and uploaded. And we have yet to receive our first generation of students. I believe we have two or three students studying junior high. But I can’t be sure because they never let us know the real quantity of students that we have. Nobody knows why. Or if someone knows, they don’t tell us.
The decision to make junior high and ignore what we had found out, would prove to be not such a good one, further on.
So, the lesson is: Listen to your employees. Pay close attention to what they say. Consider their opinion. Analyze their proposals, evaluate what they are suggesting. Don’t discard their ideas just because they might not know as much as you do.
If Mr.Gestures had been a little smarter, he would have asigned a team to work on junior high, and another one to design college level courses. In case junior high wasn’t a success, or the governor changed his mind, he would have still be able to promote a new product. In other words, have a plan B.
Keep in mind that Mexico has corrupt politicians and they tend to move finances to the best of their knowledge (or conveninence), so if a public person tells you he or she will do something for you, you shouldn’t keep your hopes up. Most of them don’t deliver unless they receive a benefit. At least, most of them do this. So, more the reason for Mr. Gestures to think about this and keep a plan B up his sleeve. At least in this case.
At that moment, Mr.Gestures had money to invest. So he could have done both things with a hand tied behind his back. But this didn’t occur. When junior high was finished, guess what happened? The government simply stated: ‘there is no money to fund your proposal, sorry.’ And that was the end of that.
To this day, they are still searching for partners. They are looking for big companies to finance scholarships so that their employees are able to finish high-school in our virtual environment. But companies here don’t want to educate their employees because they wouldn’t have any people left to work for them. That’s the general idea here, but that’s a story for another time.
In the mean time, I think I’ll take a seat and wait for students to enroll, because if I wait on my feet, I’ll get really, really tired.