Day 4 of OWOT: Stay Gold, Ponyboy

All right. You know the drill. Let me just say that today’s been a long day. We’re so close that I think we’re all super excited, but we know there’s still quite a bit of work to get done. Which explains why it’s not just me who’s awake at this point.

As I start blogging, Mia, Rebecca, and Scott “West” are wrangling some badly merged commits on the GitHub server and I’m seeing messages roll in via Growl. I’ve just finished looking through the list of issues we have outstanding in the repo, on Mia’s request to see if everything lined up with Meghan and my perception of prioritization. About an hour ago, we were looking at some final glyph designs that Amy had cooked up for our onboarding experience. And before that, Ray and I were hitting the email contact list spreadsheets to make sure we have everyone lined up for our press release tomorrow.

Ray Palin hitting the email spreadsheets

You wouldn’t believe how difficult some schools have decided to make this. Before that, Jack (who travels with his own projector?!), Meghan, and I were putting the finishing touches on the plans for the Outreach team tomorrow, including the live broadcast of the tool announcement. It’d be pretty convenient if I could tell you when that would happen…but I don’t know anything about that. Prior to that, people were passing out high fives to Eli for cracking a really knotty OAuth issue which he had been hammering away on for much of the last two days. Not to mention congratulating him for being able to eat a burger roughly the size of his head.

A picture of Eli eating a ridiculous burger

Before that, well, we were looking at some of the other designs that Amy had. That gets us back to about 8pm this evening. Of course, we all started the day around 9am.

So what did we do the rest of the time? Well, I’ll be honest to say that it’s getting hazy at this point. We really started with a consideration of the logo and site design that Amy came up with the night before. (This is such the wrong way to tell this in a grok-able manner, but I’m at the point, I think, where I’m writing how it feels, man, rather than anything else. Consider this an ethnography.) Mass applause and enthusiasm ensued after which point we had some discussions about the larger information architecture for part of the tool. We were pleased to be joined by Jennifer Serventi, our intrepid and amazing program officer from the NEH. Jen carried on the NEH tradition of bringing love in the form of carbs and calories.

A box of muffins with a postit note that says,

But she also stuck around for about five hours, listening and generally taking in the vibe of what was happening. She took the time to meet individually with a number of different team members, the PIs, and each of us project managers. I often think that I have what it takes to be a program officer; and then I run into one of them and am blown away by their ability to listen.

OWOT Team presentation with NEH officer listening

These are the friendliest and most empathetic people that I think I’ve met in my entire professional career. I appreciated the fact that Jen wanted to hear not only about what I thought about the OWOT event so far but also what I thought it would allow me to take back to Emory. And it was great to have her sitting in with Jack and I as we worked on micro-copy for the website, struggling with the word counts and tone to make sure we hit the message as best we could.

Two other moments from the day are worth mentioning. First, on Tuesday Tom had told Meghan and I that we needed to be thinking about future vision for the project, about ways that it could live on beyond this particular week. I’ll be sharing our ideas in a coming blog post so as to avoid spoilers. But suffice it to say that after several days of feeling like we wouldn’t be able to deliver on this particular assignment, we’ve got the seed of something that all three of us are excited about. Happiness.

The second moment isn’t quite so happy but instead represents a learning moment for me as a project manager. After seeing the presentation on the website first thing in the morning, the Outreach team decided to get working on the micro-copy for the home page. In the mid-afternoon, when we brought them back together with the Dev and Design team, we discovered that the latter had iterated a few more times on the home page design in such a way that the work that eliminated the need for that text. What could have been a very testy situation was handled with grace by everyone that was involved, but it really came back on the project managers not communicating clearly with all of the teams. It’s an easy thing to do when we’re all running around trying to get something off the ground while not yet having a server or a logo and “ZOMG! what happened to our wifi connectivity?!” So I’m glad to catch the lumps for this one.

So. Lessons learned? First, visions aren’t just something that happen in the Old Testament. But like we see in scripture, they sometimes require waiting for. Such idling in the wilderness is okay—and should probably be expected. And if you happen to be a bit like Jonah and would rather be free of such visions, well, you might be in the wrong business. Second, well, don’t drop the ball. You’d have thought I learned this back in little league, but it turns out that I was a terrible right fielder. I probably should have copped to this in my OWOT application.

Finally—and not for the final time, I am sure—let me say publicly how thrilled I am to be working in an environment with such great and strong individuals. Everyone is pulling their weight and looking for places where they can help someone else at the same time.

List of assignments on a whiteboard

It really does feel more like a barn raising that I would have thought possible. And at the end of the day, what we’re building is not so much a tool as a posse. I’ve got their back, and they’ve got mine. Watch out, #owot rolls deep. Especially, y’know, around 3-5pm EDT tomorrow.

EDIT: Don’t miss Jack’s post on day 3. And day 4 posts by Amrys and Mia, both of whom also talk about camraderie. I especially love what Mia writes in her post about creation of “rapid trust” alongside rapid prototyping. Glad to discover I’m not the only one feeling the love.