Day 3 of OWOT: Of Names and Stories and Gophers

Two hours ago, I had to ask someone what day it was. But now that it’s almost midnight, I’m finding myself drawn once again to the blank page of the blog post. Or rather, I appear to be treating the idea of blogging every day of One Week | One Tool as some sort of dare with myself. What follows is an account that is perhaps more trees than forest; if you want to get to the larger arboretum of what I’ve learned today, skip to the end.

As I promised at the end of yesterday’s post, today found the OWOT team putting their heads down and getting earnestly to work on a lot of the different parts of the project. And at this point, it’s hard to believe that we didn’t know what we were building 36 hours ago. The dev / design team continued forging ahead on the path that they had identified for themselves yesterday, working pretty solidly from the morning until the end of the day when they showed the whole team a working demo to thunderous applause.

Mia prepping us for the demo

The Outreach team decided to start producing text: press release materials, lists of people that we will be peppering with the announcement come Friday. Perhaps even more important—and much more difficult—they worked to come up with the name for our tool. But wait…I’m not necessarily on either of those teams. So what did I do all day?

Largely, my day of project management has consisted in moving back and forth between teams, working on different tasks. The Outreach team yesterday came up with a couple of user scenarios to help us all make better sense of how the tool would be used. I volunteered to translate the scenarios and the different conversations that I had heard in conversations with the dev/design team. After managing Networking Belfast, Views of Rome, and other DiSC projects, I’ve found that I kind of enjoy writing user stories, making sure that I’m making something that is testable as well as covering all of the aspects of the tool development that we’re going to need to have to produce the experience that all of the team has imagined. Mia, the lead of dev/design team and I then sat down and talked through the different stories, prioritizing and ruling some of them as likely out of scope.

After this, Meghan and I sat down to talk with Tom Scheinfeldt, Patrick Murray-John, and Sean Takats about software licenses. CHNM tends to use the Affero General Public License (AGPL). At Emory we’ve tended towards Apache, so it was good to learn about other options that exist. Meghan and I got to work sussing out the different software libraries that are being used by our development team. I also took on a task from Mia to begin stubs for the documentation we’ll need to add to our GitHub repo.

Somewhere in here, we got some amazing Bolivian salteñas for lunch.

A salteña

…although come to think of it, Sean brought in the food, so we clearly couldn’t talk about licenses until after lunch. Hmm. Let’s move on, shall we?

Before lunch the Outreach team had provided an overview of both the names that they were considering for the tool as well as metaphors that they were trying to use to understand the whole experience and that were guiding selection of the name. After lunch, they turned their attention to trying to finish off one of the press releases. They had decided that in addition to the press release for the product launch that OWOT’s emphasis on process over product might be of interest to certain media outlets. In his role as head of Outreach, Jack Dougherty had drafted this text, and that team and Meghan and I workshopped it down to hone the message. Simultaneously, we were talking about what press outlets might be interested in this particular angle. It turns out that thanks to my work with ProfHacker I knew a lot of the people that Ray Palin had identified as worth reaching out to. After finalizing the press release and getting it posted in one version to the CHNM website, I started pounding out emails, both formal and informal. There may have been some curse words thrown when my I couldn’t connect to my email server and when my keyboard suddenly refused to type. But eventually they got moving.

While we were working on all of this, the Outreach team had returned to working on names. Although the team had spent a lot of time so far, Amrys Williams was up for the challenge.

An exasperated Amrys

More metaphors, more stories, and more throwing hippos at walls to see if they would stick. And you know what, we finally got it. It took 121 name ideas—including, somehow, “Croxalizer” [sic]—but we’ve got a name! We bought some domains, we registered some email addresses and got a Twitter account. We’re getting ready. That said, while the name was being centered on was the moment of my maximal email frustration. So the moment didn’t feel as victorious as I would have liked.

We then broke for dinner at a great Thai place where we found some amazing objects that are far more connected to our tool than we could have ever guessed.

Mia and *The Teddy Bear Book*

We then repaired to the Mason Inn, where we broke into teams and planned our schedules for tomorrow. Meghan and I acted as go-betweens on both teams, seeing who they would need from the others in order to get their work done in a timely fashion. I wrapped up the evening sitting down with Mia and half of her team, looking again at the user stories to see what was done and what was now out of scope, as well as reviewing other lists of still to be accomplished tasks. In there, I did what I could to take tasks off of Mia’s plate, to make sure everyone had water and power, and to ping Rebecca Sutton Koeser every 15 minutes about going to bed rather than continuing to code.

So that’s a lot of detail about what I’ve done today. What does it all add up to? First, I think it’s safe to say that a big part of tool development ends up being about stories. Coming up with a name requires thinking about the story that that name ties into, about the experience as a whole. The press release is also about a story. Jack did a great job coming up with a rhetorical angle for pitching the process as something that is just as interesting to report on as the final product. And of course there were those user stories. These are different from the other stories and are exercises in precise descriptive prose. In some ways, I think I am drawn to these activities given my training in literature. I like thinking about what words can do and how they convey meaning, and then I like trying to pin those words down in such a way so that my meaning is clear to those with whom I’m communicating.

I also think that building a tool depends in some parts on gophers. In our role of project managers,  Meghan and I are doing what we can to take care of the needs of the different teams. One of those needs is of course managing the to-do list. But it also meant hunting down a new computer for a team member or doing that aforementioned “it’s bedtime” pinging. What this experience is helping me realize is how deeply satisfying I find it to be helpful to other people in these ways. It’s more than simply feeling useful (when I’m not a coder and when I’m clearly not the most experience project manager when compare to others on the team); it’s about building a team through considerate interaction. Making a project, it turns out, is just as much about building a team as it is about anything else. 

That might not be a profound insight; it is, after all, 1:10 am as I finish drafting this. But it’s a new one to me, and I will say that it alone makes this whole experience worth it. We’ve got a lot more work to do tomorrow. See you in 24.

(By now I’m guessing, dear reader, that you’re canny enough to know not to click on that link above to our GitHub repo. Still, I couldn’t resist.)

EDIT: Just to be sure you’re not missing anything, there are other OWOT members blogging on a daily basis. Check out posts on day one from Jack, Mia, Amanda, and Amrys; day two from Jack, Mia, and Amrys; and day three from Mia and Amrys (more to come, I’m sure).