What’s so special about working on-site?
Working in your office and working on-site for an interactive project are two different beasts. I find it interesting that they’re never really talked about separately. The environments are different, the schedules are rapidly evolving, and they each have unique challenges. After having just come back from finishing a project on-site, I thought I’d wrap up a few things I always remind myself to ensure a successful project execution. Some of these do’s and don’ts may seem obvious, but they are easy to miss and forego in the stressful on-site environment.
Communication is the key to success. It’s easy to become a silo when the stress is on and teams are dispersed around a venue. Some folks might be at front of house, some might be at back of house, some might be in a server room in the basement, and methods of communication can become difficult. You might need radios where only one person can talk at a time or you might need to rely on text messaging apps. Figuring out team communication and continuously checking in with each other is crucial to success.
On-site deliverables almost always require multiple people to reach milestones together to create functional and working systems. You’ll need person A to finish their system, person B to debug a new issue in their system, and person C to QA some new assets and ingest them before you can test the whole working interactive experience and prepare for a client. In these situations, team members should have a general sense of everyone else’s timelines as well as overall project schedule, which will change constantly on-site. This is where project managers shine and become heroes and heroines. Project managers can really help hand off information between teams and also help teams stay open and communicative in the face of stress and adversity.
Dont skip meals
This may seem obvious, but in the thick of things, ten stressful hours can fly by without you even looking at your watch. You’ll look up from the screen at some point, all bleary eyed and kind of out of it, and you’ll realize how hungry you are. Team dynamics can fluctuate greatly when people are not well fed and hydrated. Hanger is real, and even I’ve become more aggressive than I should be because of hunger.
I’ve never been on a project that wasn’t behind in some way, so it’s inevitable that you will have more work than available hours. Even so, it’s imperative that everyone stays hydrated and well fed. I recommend prying yourselves away from the work, even if it’s only for a half hour. The break can do wonders for your brain and keeping team spirits up in tough situations. If you absolutely cannot step away from the work, make sure food is periodically ordered and you can eat while working at your station. Clif Bars and snacks like nuts and fruit go a long way as well in a pinch.
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Think before you do
Things on-site move fast. Everything is due ASAP and the clients are always looming around the corner or imminently arriving for a review. The tendency on-site is to encounter a problem and immediately act on it. In some situations, this can be ok and you should immediately try to resolve any problems, such as during the show or event.
I prefer to take a moment and really think through any encountered problems and proposed solutions. I make notes and spreadsheets, consider possible edge case bugs that may arise, I imagine different solutions, I step through the system multiple times with different solutions, I talk through solutions with someone else, etc. What I’ve learned on-site is that you’re better off thinking before fixing a problem, even if it delays the fix by 30 minutes or 1 hour. That time I spend thinking, means that variations of the original problem won’t derail the solution and that new problems aren’t made by the solution. I can’t count on my hands the number of times I’ve implemented the fastest solution I could only to have to redo the fix multiple more times later on.
This thinking time may be annoying for some project managers or other people on-site, but usually a quick explanation and rationale win them over. No one wants to stay late on-site and most people realize what we’re doing is complex and can take a bit of thinking.
When you’re on-site, you often only have time to implement one solution. If you have to create other iterations, this generally takes away from your available sleep time! Because of this, I find it necessary to make sure the first solution I implement covers all the bases and is the right solution.
The most important thing on-site is to keep your cool and don’t get stressed. Project sites move fast and there are a lot of pitfalls. Some easy things you can do to keep your best performance are communicate, eat food regularly, and think things through. They sound simple and obvious but they’re harder than you think to keep up. Good luck!