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Wednesday, July 16, 2014


Steve Cole's thoughts on ADB and the future of the SFU.
1. When we announced the new pricing structure for the Starline 2500 minis it was after a whole lot of work and deep thinking over just what things cost. Someone noted that a very small ship cost half of the price of a bigger ship that was five times as big and heavy. That's because the weight of the metal is only one factor in determining the cost. We start with the cost of the CGI and plastic prototype, which is fixed no matter what size it is. Then there is the cost of molds, which varies somewhat with the size of the ship (a mold makes fewer copies of bigger ships). There is the metal cost of course, but there is also the casting costs. Sometimes two molds that hold the same number of pieces require very different amounts of work or do not produce the same number of usable pieces. The cost of shipping from the factor to Amarillo is more or less proportionate to size. The royalties we pay to Mongoose and Paramount are proportionate to the final price. There is a certain minor administrative cost to process each order, where one line item costs the same effort as any other regardless of cost. The biggest factor is hand labor by ADB. We have to inspect every ship (which is not much harder for a big ship compared to a small one), put them in a bag and store the bags in a bin that wasn't free (same cost regardless of the size of the ship), pull them out of the bin and match them to an order and put them in a box (same effort no matter what it is). If we were doing retail packaging, the cost of the clamshell box and a person to put the ship in it is not cheap and is pretty much fixed to the number of pieces. The metal cost for most average ships can be anywhere from 20%-40% of the total cost, so a really small ship might end up costing 80% as much as a much bigger ship. That's why big ships cost more but not in proportion to their overall weight.
2. On 15 May we attended the annual Company Picnic, otherwise known as the Amarillo Business Connection. This is a huge business-to-business trade show at the civic center. Hundreds of booths offer no end of services and products, from landscaping to banking, from web development to personnel staffing, from restaurants to hotels. These booths hand out lots of free stuff (pens, scratch pads, sticky notes, chocolate, candy, etc.). Fourteen years ago Leanna saw it in the newspaper and she and I went. A couple of years later we took Steven Petrick along, then we added Mike, then Jean last year, and Simone this year. Everybody has instructions to bring back shopping bags full of loot. (We haven't had to buy office supplies in 10 years.) We operate as a team. Since I go faster than others in the show, when I get to the end of each showroom (there are three) I find a chair and rest. Everybody then comes to me at the end of each row to drop off full bags and pick up empties. Mike takes the full bags out to the car on the parking lot. (This year, I went to the show an hour earlier to park the car in a closer spot.) This year, Simone used the show to find clients for her new freelance graphics business. The last act of the Company Picnic is to put all of the candy in a big pile and take turns selecting three pieces of it. This is a chance for social interaction and to find out what everybody likes.
3. Something that the Chamber of Commerce did for the Business Connection show this year was to have a food court from 11-2 so everyone could have lunch. For $10, you were in a room full of tables surrounded by trade show booths where local restaurants were passing out free food. This allowed us to try several restaurants and find a few new ones. It kept all of the messy food in one area, and allowed people to eat sitting down. (There had always been restaurants passing out free food, but you had to eat it while walking to the trash can at the end of the aisle.) This was, all in all, a genius idea. The $10 paid for the fourth exhibit hall, the booths were already there anyway, and everybody got to eat in comfort.
4. Something that has always been a problem at ADB (since there are not enough people to do everything that should be done, let alone everything that could be done) is the balance between "primary projects" and "small projects that would actually make a few dollars if we just got them done." I have often called this the Hitler-Guderian argument. Hitler wanted to send a few divisions here and there while Guderian wanted to send everything to Russia. Both were wrong, but Hitler usually got what he wanted and, well, the Russian front collapsed. (If I let myself get sidetracked with too many "small projects" and the big projects don't get done, we'll run out of money.) Big projects are things like the Federation Commander Tactics Manual, A Call to Arms Star Fleet Book 1.2, Captain's Log #49, and Federation & Empire Minor Empires. Small projects are things like several people who wrote apps we might sell for money, sorting out the prizes for the tournament, those government forms I need to fill out, reviewing a proposed change to a significant rule in one of our games, and marketing books done on Kindle.
5. What we did for that problem was to create the SmapRo list (SMAll pROjects), anything worth doing that will take an hour or more of my time. I sit down every Saturday with the partners and staff, and we discuss any new SmapRos that appeared on the list, then study the priorities, and finally select five of them (one per day as the sixth day's SmapRow is to evaluate the list again). Priority evaluation depends on many factors. Just how much time will it take? Just how many people will benefit? What promises were made (and broken) and now need to be kept? Who is complaining about any given item? We try to pick one personal item, one broken promise, one profitable item, and two wild cards. JagdPanther got onto the list when enough people complained to Jean and Leanna that they begged me to get it done so they wouldn't be bombarded with requests.
6. The problem is always too much work and too few hours/people and too many interruptions, emergencies, crises, and explosions. It's physically impossible to get done everything that should be done. And when you suggest that I "Just do the highest priority" it means that only one thing will get done, and because of the broad product range that one thing is not something that some significant number of customers want. So the theory is to, every day:
A. get a major chunk of a major project done (say, a chapter of FCTM)
B. get some "other" work done that is time-critical (say, a star fleet alert)
C. get one thing done for the Starline 2500s (say, post the latest Slaver revision)
And D. spend an hour and get one "SmapRo" (SMAll pROject) done (such as getting my driver's license renewed or fixing the mess I made of the Platinum Hat prizes). Some SmapRos can't be done in one hour so they are at the end of the list when (given no other SmapRos on the list that take less time) I can devote an hour a day for a week.
Right now the SmapRo list has 20 or so things on it, but hey, that doesn't include the 20 things I forgot to put on the list (such as one which was forgotten until someone reminded me). The list includes both personal items (like my annual checkup) and business items (like four different computer apps that need contracts) and projects (like figuring out what Daniel Kast needs to do the next Starmada project and sending it to him).