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Sunday, December 10, 2006

The "Workflow Plan"

This is something Petrick and I have wanted to do for years, but Leanna refused to be the "task mistress" (enforcer of the schedule) since she thought we should grow up and work without being forced to work using self-discipline. She should know better. We're guys. We have no self-discipline.

Anyway, Vanessa came to me a while ago and said she had watched us work 16-hour days to finish CL34 and what a physical and mental toll it took on us (Steve Petrick and Steve Cole) and wanted no more of it. I told her about the workflow idea we had wanted to do, but that it would only work if some really mean female enforced it and made sure there would be no failures.

The basic concept is multi-faceted, but let me try to explain it.

1. Nothing goes on the formal published release schedule until we have almost everything from outside the office, have done a substantial amount of work, and are really confident that an excellent product can be done by the selected release date.

2. The release date will be set somewhere between 30 and 150 days in advance, based on when production slots are available (e.g, no releasing a 144-page RPG book on the same day as a 120-page Captain's log as the printers will melt) and based on a logical orderly flow of products for that particular product line (e.g., four RPG books ready now would be released over four separate release dates 2-4 weeks apart). Generally speaking, we now consider it more important to get the release dates right, than to follow arbitrary release delays required by the comic book industry.

3. Petrick and I always wanted to work on projects (particularly Captain's Log) over a period of time instead of in a crisis-managed burst at the end. We never could because the time when we could be "working ahead" on Captain's Log was the time we were trying to finish Module This or maybe That Operations. To avoid this, Vanessa and I scheduled only three products (FC Tholian Attack, FC Battleships, and CL35) between now and next summer. Of course, there are a bunch of boosters and miniatures boxes which push the total much higher, but those are not really work for the design office. Further products will be added to that schedule (for that period of time and for later periods) as we get them ready.

4. A "workflow schedule" has been set to get FCTA and CL35 done. CL35 will get five pages a week for 20 weeks, then we'll do the last 20 pages (the commnications pages which have to be done at the last minute). So far so good, 5 pages last week and this week. Tholian Attack has a more complex schedule, but I've already done this week, next week, and part of the week after next. When FCTA is done, I'll start doing a few ships/rules a week for FCB. After we get a chance to do a planning document, I'll add "so many pages for PD FED" and Petrick will add "so many pages for the next SFB product" to each week's work. As we go along, we'll adjust things. If somebody wants to add a product to the schedule, we'll see if we are or are not meeting quotas. If not, no new product goes on the schedule. If yes, maybe one does.

5. Projects are scheduled in a priority basis. If we get the pages done for the scheduled products and not for the non-scheduled products, the non-scheduled products won't become scheduled products for a while longer. But the point is that if we do some work on non-scheduled products, they will have a vastly improved chance to become scheduled products. For example, let's say that over a period of a month or two, I do my required pages for CapLog35, PDFed, and TA and do a few pages for Master Starship Book, but not enough to make it's "release at origins quota". We'll know this months ahead, and can either reprioritize to get it caught up, or scale it back and do another project instead, or just keep doing whatever we can and then, after some other projects are finished, move it up in priority.

6. Some effort will be made (now that Vanessa and Jolene and Mike have taken over many tasks done by SVC and SPP) to clear some backlog. Last Saturday, we cleared half of the "tactical papers with rules problems" and the rest yesterday. After that, time will be set aside to do "submissions" each week.

All of this only works if Vanessa "motivates" us to work on stuff (by threats of physical violence, or just a hurt look). That means she doesn't just drop in on Friday afternoon and say "How many pages have you done?" but she asks Monday morning "What SPECIFIC pages are you going to do?" and then asks every day how many of those are done so far.