Advice for Leading a Project

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Advice for Leading a Project

Postby Onion » Tue May 15, 2012 5:01 pm

I've been working with the Colorado CORE project for the last two months, and have become an integral member of the team. I have been helping with design, construction, fundraising, volunteer coordination and just about everything else to make the Dragon Lotus a reality. This is my first time working on a project of this complexity and magnitude, as well as my first burn, so I would appreciate any advice you seasoned veterans may care to offer.

If there's anything you wish somebody had told you when you first started out, what would that be?

Are there any common pitfalls to watch out for that would be obvious to someone more experienced?

If you want to keep tabs on the project as it comes together, check out the link in my signature

Thanks
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Re: Advice for Leading a Project

Postby lemur » Tue May 15, 2012 5:15 pm

dont burn yerself out, dood.

take breaks and have fun ;-) (let other people help/delegate!)
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Re: Advice for Leading a Project

Postby Onion » Tue May 15, 2012 5:28 pm

It is fun! Getting together with a group of like-minded individuals to make art is the way I prefer to spend my free time. I came very close to burnout right before our last fundraiser, but I think that had more to do with 12 hour days at my real job, and prepping for the party every night. Our build will be done by the end of July, so we'll have a bit of time before the burn to relax.
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Re: Advice for Leading a Project

Postby fbcota » Wed May 16, 2012 11:51 am

Hi Onion, I am trying to be as concise as I can with what I have learned over the last 3.5 playa builds (the half is the ship we are currently building).

1. Delegate. Do your best to delegate as much as you can. Get people to take responsibility for implementing their ideas, and give them the opportunity to make it amazing.

2. Don't micro manage. Give people tasks and good guidelines and leave them to do it. If it doesn't get done right, encourage them and help them do it better the next time.

3. Praise your volunteers and try to encourage the whole team to accept that everyone will offer something different. Some volunteers will work one hour and hang out, others every day for the entire build full time. Find ways to encourage both people as they are still offering something they didn't need to give to the project.

4. Expect about 40% of what people promise. Everyone is a volunteer again. Expect less and you will be ready to be surprised by what they deliver.

5. Have fun, and don't take it too seriously. At the end of the day, its a structure for a festival in the desert. So remember to have fun.

6. Get used to politics and rumors. This is a funny one, especially the rumors. In my experience on all the projects I have been on there have always been funny rumors, don't worry about them. I haven't found a way to control any of them. Politics is a tricky one, just try your best not to take sides. I have done that and it was a huge mistake.

7. This really should be number 1. BUILDING ON PLAYA IS HARD. Like, no matter who you are you need to pace yourself. Don't let your crew come out on day one and work 16 hours (unless of course you only want 1 day of work from them). Try to take a break in the afternoon and plan to work mornings and nights. Have plenty of water, encourage people to drink more then they think they need and bring snacks (dried fruits like cherries are amazing, nuts are good too).

8. Clean-up is even harder. Crew will mysteriously bail, suddenly needing to be off playa a day or 2 early. Just be ready for it and accept it. Save some comfort food, supplies that you can look forward to eating/using toward the end of the event.

9. Find your happy place. Last year was my first year camping in a hexayurt, and it saved my ass. When you are tired, and broken from a build, clean-up, that gnarly dust storm it really sucks if you can't escape it. I seriously suggest something a bit more elegant then a tent on the ground for extended stays on playa.

Ok, thats all I can thin of now :)
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Re: Advice for Leading a Project

Postby Onion » Wed May 16, 2012 2:16 pm

fbcota, Thank you for the wisdom!

A lot of these are things that we are already doing, such as the delegating, trying not to micro manage, and the praise. We try hard to make our volunteers feel welcome and appreciated, and many of them keep coming back. I love our crew! :D

Our crew is going through some upheaval at the moment, so the politics thing has reared its ugly head. And the rumor mill has started in earnest as well. It will require some thoughtfulness and tact to keep things going smoothly.

Numbers 7-9 is great advice, and some things I may not have considered. I am actually going to print this off and bring it to the meeting tonight.

Thank you again, and I'm looking forward to seeing the Pier 2!
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Re: Advice for Leading a Project

Postby veleda » Wed May 16, 2012 4:21 pm

that was a really good list already.

I would say - make sure you take care of yourself on playa by adequately preparing for your personal comfort on playa during the pre-playa times. Many people spend so much time working on their projects that they forgo costumes, figuring out their tent situation, snacks, etc.. don't let that be you! and don't let it be your friends either.

take time to get that all squared away before hand.. even if it means the project is less perfect.. cause in the end what is important as that you all want to return and do it again.
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Re: Advice for Leading a Project

Postby fbcota » Fri May 18, 2012 12:14 am

I second Veleda. I have regularly sacrificed my comfort on builds and it was NEVER worth it. It just made me grumpy and I passed that on to the crew. On playa is really a special animal, and just as you will be telling your crew to pace themselves and take care of themselves, you need to be doing the same. Assign a support person to keep a small eye on you, someone to check on you the same way you may be watching your crew for fatigue.

Sorry to hear about the politics. I try to be very careful in picking a crew, but most of the personality conflicts that you try so hard to avoid are pretty hard to prevent. People are going to sleep with each other, their will be old enemies who both want to be on the project and at some point someone is going to drop something heavy on someone elses toes.

Sorry to hear about the upheaval. But, this is about the best time they can happen. If you can, try to be a neutral party or the delegator. In the end, I think my focus when those problems have arisen is to try to keep the core crew, the people who are doing to majority of the work happy, but its never easy. My mistakes in the past have been picking sides or letting my personal feelings play too much in the decision making process. Ohh, I seriously don't think there is a single thing you can do about the rumor mill. Burners really seem to love rumors and conspiracy theories.
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Re: Advice for Leading a Project

Postby trilobyte » Fri May 18, 2012 2:07 am

I agree wholeheartedly with what they all said.

My advice, pad your schedule. Set hard dates a few days ahead of your drop-dead dates, and do your damnedest to manage the project to those dates. That way there's a little wiggle room in case of last minute emergency, and if you're able to stay on track you (and your team) are rewarded with a little break when you finish with a little time to spare.

Depending on the size of your team, you may want to look into recruiting one or two people to be in charge of wrangling kitchen. Not just to make sure that part's taken care of, but to make sure someone's on top of team members and making sure they're hydrated and eating. An army marches on its stomach (or something like that), and I think the same is true on a build project.

This one could probably fall under delegation, but make sure you're as redundant as possible. Share plans with others, write stuff down (in a way others can understand). That way when questions or problems arise, there's somebody else who can help. It doesn't make you any less essential or integral to the project, but it does make it possible for you to get sleep, go for meals, or take the occasional break.
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Re: Advice for Leading a Project

Postby lemur » Fri May 18, 2012 2:40 am

trilobyte wrote:This one could probably fall under delegation, but make sure you're as redundant as possible. Share plans with others, write stuff down (in a way others can understand). That way when questions or problems arise, there's somebody else who can help. It doesn't make you any less essential or integral to the project, but it does make it possible for you to get sleep, go for meals, or take the occasional break.


this is one of the things i do on the playa project i manage.. i try to make sure that theres a way for someone to do what i do

I make notes of the things id normally be doing each day.. without going too crazy I write down the basic list of tasks to be done... ...these notes are usually just for me, but made with the expectation that others may use them..... everyone on the crew should be able to do the things without being micromanaged.. thats why they got picked... so theres really no methods for achieving the tasks/goals

I make sure to keep a folder/binder with all of the paperwork I needed to do my job ..even if i already "know" the stuff i bring it....this includes legalstuff/notes/rosters of crew/safety info/prmits/etc.. this allows someone else to take my place if as said.. i need a break.. i break my leg..or need to have around if theres any sort of legal/safety/permit/paperworkguy issue

i use a big whiteboard for the big build/cleanup days and while its mainly for my use in terms of keeping track of what needs to be done at the end of the day i fill it out with the tasks that need to be done for the next day so that everyone knows what to expect the night/morning before... surprisingly the early risers have had things crossed off the list before ive showed up to work quite a few times....


s0 yeah,.. bring paperwork, make sure people can step in to your role with all of the resources you had.. let it be known what is expected of everyone for each day that way folks arent standing around thinking "oh great now what" if you have to step away..
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Re: Advice for Leading a Project

Postby theCryptofishist » Fri May 18, 2012 9:13 am

fbcota wrote:...and at some point someone is going to drop something heavy on someone elses toes.

Ooooh! I gots some extra qualifications!

fbcota wrote:Burners really seem to love rumors and conspiracy theories.

Robin Dunbar might have something to say about that.
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Re: Advice for Leading a Project

Postby Onion » Sat May 19, 2012 11:17 am

Have I told you guys how much I appreciate this? (((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((this much)))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))!
Actually more than that, but that would just look silly.

One thing that keeps being stressed is "make yourself comfortable", and I am taking that advice to heart. Our semi official official regional, Apogaea, is coming up soon, and I plan to have my shade squared away by then. I have already purchased materials to build a monkey hut style double dome, it just has to be set up, and the kinks worked out. In addition to that, I may build a Figjam style swamp cooler for my sleeping tent for added comfort. I also have an air mattress, which is quite comfy, and sleeping pads for backup.

Our team is lucky enough to have a designated "well being keeper" whom we will be able to get a ticket for. Her role will be to provide water and refreshments, as well as reminding us to take breaks and giving the occasional backrub or footbath.

One thing I will need to work on is the plans/notes aspect of the project. There is always the possibility of a core member being unable to be there due to injury, illness or anything else, and there needs to be a way for somebody else to step up and get things done. At the moment, much of the construction plans exist only in mine and our project leads' heads. Construction plans will be made for this purpose. Our on playa build schedule allows a full day for us to set up camp, two days for building, and being done by Sunday pre event. The effigy will be constructed so that its sections will be bolted together, already having been pre-assembled and tested.

The leadership rearrangement was bound to happen, and it is for the best. Like fbcota said, it's probably the best time for it to happen. The rumors and drama are to be accepted as part of what happens when a bunch of guys and girls get together for any amount of time.

Thank you all again :D
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Re: Advice for Leading a Project

Postby Bob » Sat May 19, 2012 1:26 pm

Good conversation. Don't have anything to add except be prepared to be very alone at times, and if well-meaning but obviously useless people want to help, either have a paint brush or shovel on hand, non-critical errands to run, or suggest donations of beer and soda pop. The DPW term for "well being keeper" is "fluffer" -- I usually wanted to punch them, but some people think they're the bee's knees. Oh, and promises solely via email are useless, but it's up to you to figure out how trustworthy they are.
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Re: Advice for Leading a Project

Postby chiefdanfox » Thu May 24, 2012 1:39 pm

Check egos at the door/gate/perimeter of the build site. We had some early ego "entitlement" issues, and largely those people did little or no work. Just because somebody says or might have actually built this project or that project, or built the "man" for umpteen years doesn't mean they did more than stand around spitting sunflower seeds during those projects.

Double your LNT / demoop team. No,triple it. HUGE flake factor, particularly on clean up. Make sure that the LNT leads (plural) understand what is expected, and assembles the team on playa as early as possible (as in on the first day), and briefs everyone on daily moop patrol and clean up. If you have any Nazis (real, soup or other), I suggest you hand them that job.
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Re: Advice for Leading a Project

Postby fbcota » Thu May 24, 2012 9:44 pm

I second all of that. MOOP is going to kill you, or me, or something like that. Just be ready to sit in the dirt picking up hundreds if not thousands or oragami stars,... ohhh wait, that is what did last year.
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Re: Advice for Leading a Project

Postby Bob » Thu May 24, 2012 10:56 pm

I'd try to contact whoever was involved in other CORE projects, because the dicier issues might be unique to regional groups. Ask the org for help.
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Re: Advice for Leading a Project

Postby Onion » Fri May 25, 2012 5:15 pm

We had our conference call with the BORG this week. We are on track with all of our leads, working out some ticket issues, planning our camp and working out early arrivals. We have an early crew of 8; 2 fluffers, and 6 builders. The sculpture will be built modularly, bolting together pieces that are being made in our workshop. I conservatively estimate we can build it in 2 days. We will be showing up on Wednesday before the event, with one day to set up camp, and another full day for shit to go wrong, and our build has to be done by Sunday.

We are also padding our fire perimeter crew, we currently have 30 signed up to fill an 18 member crew and we're still looking for more. Several of them are BRC and/or Apogaea rangers. From what I'm hearing here, we really need to pad our LNT crew. We will be responsible for the MOOP from the area around the burn, as well as the debris from the burn itself. They said the burn debris from the average CORE effigy last year could be hauled off in one or two 5 gallon buckets.

We are currently working three days a week building the effigy, and will have a lot more help once people are done being busy with Apo. We worked out a trade to get some technical drawings made and have plenty of fundraising activities planned. Our crew is in good spirits, we are taking a relaxing retreat into the mountains this weekend.

So much thanks for contributing to this thread, lots of experienced builders and doers here. I'm looking forward to seeing you and your work on the playa!
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