They’ve Ruined Wikipedia

For quite a while I’ve felt like there were two types of people writing about history (or well anything).  The first type, wrote from passion.  They wanted to share with everyone something they enjoyed and what they had learned.  The second type were writing to prove they knew something.  The first type I considered a teacher.  The second type I considered an academic.  Well, the academics have invaded Wikipedia and ruined it.  In an attempt to look up something obscure this morning, I turned to wikipedia and found this at the head of my article:

wikipedia

Now, I don’t mind that someone finds the quality of information not quite up to snuff, but the alarmist box at the very top of the article is nearly longer than the article is.  What was great about Wikipedia was the idea that it was a community voice.  I can go ask my friend a question about something and he can share with me what he knows.  I don’t need citations, or protection from commercialism.  I just want to know about something and it seems to me there should be a little more appreciation for the people that take their time to share this information and a lot less shouting from the people looking for proof.

Can you imagine if we treated everyone we talked to like this?  Every scrap of information from your Doctor, to your best friend, to your government – come to think of that why can’t we get text books that are as accurate as Wikipedia?  Or is that too much to ask?  Probably is because then what we would have is books full of these types of screaming banners and we’d teach kids more about nit picking than life learning.  So in the mean time, why not tone down the alarmism Wikipedia and relegate these warnings to a few tags out of the way.  In other words, get out of the way and get back to what you were good at, allowing people to share information – even if it isn’t perfect. 

Time Travel

One of the amazing things that has happened since I started GameTruck is the amazing people that have joined me in this business.  Four years ago in my garage I had this crazy idea to create the ideal environment to play games with your friends.  We’d pull it up to your house.  I built a prototype in my garage, we research trailers, and trucks, and portable generators.  I didn’t know how I was going to do it, but I knew I needed to do it.  My brother Chris joined me on my crusade and my cause became his.

It was up and down.  I remember buying a copy of the secret in Florida while I was going there to open a Studio for the Walt Disney Company.  I didn’t know what was going to happen.  I didn’t know if GameTruck would survive, but after reading that book I realized I spent a lot of time focusing on things I didn’t want and not things I did.  So I spent more time focusing on the future I wanted.  I wanted orders.  I wanted bookings.  We wanted people to experience our parties.  And when I got home, they called.   Bookings went up.

I wrote an email to all our family and closest friends and I told them about my dream and I asked for prayers.  And they prayed.  And people called.  By the summer a miracle had happened.  Disney had a change in strategy and Florida was no longer in the cards.  But more miraculously GameTruck business had exploded.  Even more amazing a fantastic partner materialized out of thin air and David Wachtel joined me on my quest to build a brand new business, heck and industry.

It felt like yesterday but that was already three years ago.  And yesterday the most amazing thing happened.  I flew to Atlanta to meet a group of brand new Franchise Owners.  They had their GameTrucks pulled into a circle in a giant parking lot – a pack of bright green elephants glowing in the soft spring rain.  I was in awe.  Here was an idea, that had started in my garage, a dream I had not only of making kids happy, of bringing people together with the best of video gaming but also teaching them how to be great gamers.  Giving GTAtlantathem a role model.  But I also was helping people realize their own dreams of owning their own business, of establishing their own true asset, one that could generate more income than it could consume.  From California to Georgia, from Portland to New Jersey, all across the country people – great people, were joining me, joining us the GameTruck team on our mission to change the way people play.

I was in awe.  Richard Bach wrote that the law of the universe is Magnetism.  The Secret says the same thing.  The Bible tells us that we can do miracles if we can believe.  So many people have said it much better than I but I stand as a witness to the power of a dream.  Yet, the most motivational quote I read this past year came from Zig Ziglar, and it is this, “You can have everything you want in life.  Just as soon as you help enough other people get what they want.’”  I love that quote because it puts focus and vision on everything we do.

We help people play together.  We help people get into business.  We help people be successful in play, in business, and perhaps someday even in life.  I am amazed and honored to be part of such a great group of people.  I think I’m finally learning what it means to be living the dream.

— Scott

And So It Begins…

It’s baseball season again and I’m so excited I can hardly stand it.  I love baseball, but specifically, I really love little league baseball.  Few things are as rewarding as getting out on the diamond and teaching a group of kids how to play baseball.  Probably what drives me to want to be a good coach was my own experience with baseball.  You hear famous people like Jeff Foxworthy talk about how his Dad left when he was really young and he didn’t want to be that Dad when he grew up.  When I was a kid my coaches were TERRIBLE.  They didn’t know the game, or how to teach it, and if you didn’t know  it you were out of luck. 
It wasn’t a lot of fun.  Years later, I would refer to baseball as the cow game, you were just cattle standing around in a field.  Where’s the sport in that?
Today I have a very different perspective.  I’ve been studying the game of baseball for nearly a decade now and a few things have been revealed to me that I just didn’t see when I was younger.  If I can “not be that coach”” – the one who just threw kids into games without teaching them anything – Maybe I can help a few of them learn the same love of the game that has enveloped me.
Basically, my philosophy is, if I can teach the players how to play baseball then baseball can teach them about life.  Okay, maybe it won’t be that profound but if I can teach them some skills, maybe they can have some fun, enjoy the game and make a few wry observations of their own.
Besides, learning can be fun.

Time to Think:
What I really like about baseball is that strange balance between inactivity and action.  Baseball gives the players time to think about what is going to happen. It gives them time to ask themselves, what am I going to do if they hit the ball to me?
Time in the Spot Light:
Another great thing in baseball, is that virtually everyone gets a turn in the spotlight.  Whether it happens when the players come to bat, or in the field, like it or not, everyone will get a chance to be the focus of attention.  Unlike football where only some players can handle the ball, the baseball can be hit to anyone on the diamond – and when that ball is hit to you, the spot light is on.  It’s your chance to perform.  And that’s maybe one of the best life lessons of baseball.  In my experience opportunity does come to everyone eventually, but not all the time, and not always when we expect it.  The question is are we prepared?  Are we paying attention?  Have we already thought about what we’re going to do when the opportunity reaches us?  Did we imagine the play through before hand?  Or are we sitting around kicking the dirt?

Opportunity Knocks:
Because that bouncing, unpredictable ball when it comes our way usually also brings with it attention (wanted or unwanted) and people will judge us on how well we respond to it. And how we respond to a baseball can be very symbolic of how we react to other opportunities in our lives:

  • Do we charge it?  Go out to meet it, scooping it up and turning it into something positive (a put out, or maybe even a double play?) 
  • Do we wait for it, hoping it comes right to where we are standing without deviating or causing us too much grief?
  • Or are we afraid of it, backing away or trying to protect ourselves from getting hurt because we don’t trust our glove or our skill?

Some balls are hit too hard to field.  Sometimes players make mistakes and they misplay a ball, or they try to get a ball meant for someone else.  None of those mistakes matter.  None of them are terribly important.  What really matters is that they try to make the most of the opportunities that come their way.  And I for one think that is a great life lesson. 
It’s what you make of it:
Because while things might go wrong, they can also go very very right.  And a player can not turn a ground ball into an out unless they make a play.  And when they do, when they put it all together, when they charge that ball, step up and throw a line drive to first to get the out, it is one of the most rewarding experiences in a young person (or any persons) life.  People cheer, your team mates give you the high five and then the most amazing thing happens, everyone expects you to do it again.  Your esteem in the world rises.
And that’s just one of the many reasons I love baseball so much.  Over the course of the season I’ll post some notes and links, and maybe even a few tools for how I run baseball teams.  There’s a zillion websites out there talking  baseball but what’s great about the internet is that there’s always room for one more.
Scott

Mr. Clutch

wpid-spider-man-logo.foo6EwPF5AwH.jpg

When you write a blog, it’s kind of hard to tell who you’re writing for.  I suppose the vast majority of blogs are written for family and friends.  I’m not a facebook or myspace kind of guy – and keeping a public diary is kind of strange, but last night my Mom asked me to write down the story of my oldest son’s amazing hit and I thought – hey perhaps it’s not too much to be a proud parent.
wpid-ryanat5.9ajtyByMz0tO.jpg

My oldest son goes by the baseball nickname of ‘Spider‘.  How did he get that nickname?  When he was six he was on a coach pitch team where everyone got a nick name.  There was Dizzy, Ox, Large, Gun and… Spider because he was the only kid who could catch a fly ball.  Spider’s catch flies.  The nicknames were fun as well because at times its easier for the parents and the kids to remember a nickname, especially when you have four Taylors, or three Marks on your team.  Besides, nicknames are part of baseball.  The Diamondbacks Training Centers hand out nicknames during their week long training sessions.  So the nickname Spider stuck.  And Spider stuck with baseball.

Now fast forward a few  years.  Ryan developed a heck of a swing.  He really cared about getting the mechanics of his swing just right.  He also is a smart kid and he learned early one of the laws of physics:

F= M * V2

 

Force equals, mass times velocity squared.  In other words, if your bat moves faster it will hit a ball harder than a heavier bat moving slower.  Lots of kids go for heavy bats when they start out.  The pro’s did too.  The theory being that a big heavy bat will send that tiny ball real far.  Unfortunately for most kids – those heavy bats can teach really bad swing mechanics.  Ryan learned early that a lighter bat he could swing faster, and control better would produce just as big a hit (if not bigger) then the heavy bats his friends use.  Translated into action, at an early age Ryan could hit those flies that earned him his nickname, and he could pretty much hit them over outfielders heads.

wpid-IMG_0190.JPG.1RW63hbTs1Kb.jpg

In farm / machine pitch, Ryan could really tee off on the consistent pitching of the machine.  He earned quite a reputation as a big hitter.  But he also worked his defensive fundamentals too.  By the time he reached minors, he developed a kind of situational awareness that is uncommon in many 9 year olds.  One catch in particular stood out.  In a game against the Cubs, their best player came up to bat.  With runners on the corners, Christian Broadus hit a tremendous shot.  A real blast out to right center field.  Spider happened to be playing center and he just got a great jump off the ball.   Ranging to his left he turned into a full sprint and laid out for the catch.  He snow-coned the ball just above the grass.  That in itself was spectacular, he rolled and popped up glove high to show it was a clean play and if he had stopped right there it would have been awesome.  But the kid had the presence of mind to realize that the runner at third had not tagged up.  I mean who expected anyone to catch that hit?

So from Right center field Ryan fired a strike to the third baseman.  Unfortunately the third baseman couldn’t handle the long  throw and he missed it.  So the runner got back and tagged.  However the kid did stick with the play, and scooped the ball up and fired it home where the catcher didn’t miss it. They tagged the runner out at the plate.  Ah, yeah… the old 8-5-2 inning ending double play.

That whole season I didn’t want Ryan to pitch because I didn’t want him to tire his arm out.  I’d heard all these horror stories of kids hurting their arms at a young age.  Never the less, Ryan could throw and I trusted his coach.  Coach Treese is a great guy who is wonderful with the kids and really tries to teach them how to play baseball the right way.  I’ve never seen him lose his temper or get frustrated with the kids.  He is what is good in youth baseball, patient, firm and steadfast.  It’s not that he doesn’t challenge the kids, but he always does it in a way that leaves them whole and believing in themselves.

wpid-ryanatbat.VFlNboxDu2Kb.jpg
It was playing for Coach Treese that Ryan first started to earn his reputation as Mr. Clutch.  He played for the Cardinals, and when he came up to bat, people learned to expect big hits.  Ryan batted .587 with a slugging percentage of .980.  In the final game against the Diamondbacks, he lead off with a ground rule double to center field.  The ball travelled 180 feet and it bounced over the fence.  He eventually came in to score, and the lowly Cardinals who crawled up through the losers bracket won the first game of a double header.

Heading back into the second game, Spider again came up big with hits and runs scored but it was his role as a closer that really cemented him as mister clutch.  Clinging to a 1 run lead (6-5) going into the bottom of the sixth inning, Ryan took the mound again after throwing 55 pitches through the first two games.  With a day limit of 75 pitches, he had just 20 to close the game out and hold onto the lead.  The first batter he faced hit a long fly ball to left field.  The left fielder made an aggressive move to catch the ball but missed it.   The ball rolled to the fence the batter flew around the base paths stopping at third with a stand up triple.

With no outs, the tying run stood on third.  I remember keeping score.  I remember being sick to my stomach.  I thought, “Why does it have to be my kid on the mound?”  Looking down at the score card I realized he was facing the heart of their lineup.  If we lost – I couldn’t imagine the summer of misery that lay ahead.  Spider faced the next batter.  He popped out to first base.  One down.  The next batter.  Strike out.  The other coach asked for a pitch count.  68.  Ryan could face the last batter.  With two down and the tying run 60 feet away, Spider induced the Diamondbacks slugger to hit a tapper back to the mound.  He calmly scooped it up and flipped it to first base.  Just like that.  Hats flew in the air, parents cried, Coaches jumped around like little kids.  Ice cream sandwiches – a token prize in case the Cardinals lost the first game – had turned to milk in a bath of now melted ice.  And no one cared.  That memory lasted us all summer.  After the game I asked Ryan what it felt like to have to pitch that final inning.  He said, “Thank God I had the ball.  I was the only one who could have won that game.”  The confidence was shocking and reassuring.
wpid-cards.002.F1R1qP4EeGAR.jpg

In high school I played football.  I was very good.  I even played on two teams that one league championships and one that won the Class A state title.  But I never experienced what Ryan had experienced, being the go to guy on a championship team.   It never occurred to me that he might get that chance again.

Fast forward one year.  It’s true the Cardinals did not win the Minor League Team Championship, but this year Ryan was eligible for the Minor League All Star Team.  It was the first time we’d ever played baseball 5 nights a week.  It was also a lot of fun to play with other really great players.  Suddenly everyone had confidence in everyone else.  The kids could make plays without worrying whether the other guy was going to catch the ball or not.  Everyone could hit.  Everyone could throw, everyone could pitch.  We were having fun.  We were optimistic.  We ran right into back to back buzz saws called Ahwahtukee and Chandler North.

To put it in perspective, over the last several years, not just the state champion, but the region (best in the West) has come out of District 13.  Chandler National and Ahwahtukee have both sent teams to Williamsport.  Their kids are big, strong, athletic and they have a lot of them.  The upside of their systems is that they consistently put together great teams that can compete with California teams.  The downside to their system is that a lot of great players never get to play All Stars.  There’s just too many.

District tournaments (I think all the tournaments) run on a pattern of pool play followed by a tournament ladder.  In our district in the 9-10 year level, 7 teams play 6 games and the best 4 teams advance to a single elimination tournament.  The winners of the semifinals go to the finals, the winners of the finals advance to state.  We needed to finish in the top four.  Our first two games were against the District powerhouses.  Needless to say we started pool play with an unimpressive 0-2 record.  6 runs scored, 48 runs given up.  That’s right.  48.  You see, in tournament play you can steal home.  And you can steal when the pitcher isn’t looking.  In fact, you can steal pretty much any time you want.  That was kind of new to the boys in Tempe.  In Tempe South, we view minors as more of an instructional league.  But if you want to get to Williamsport, you have to be much, much more aggressive.

Starting from there, we needed to get to something like 3-3 to have any prayer of making the tournament.  Unlike any other team in the district our 9-10’s also drew the unlucky straw of having to play 4 games in a row.  That’s right:  Back To Back To Back To Back.   The last three games were played at 5:30 in 110 degree heat.  For reasons unknown the City of Tempe decided to make its excellent baseball fields available for the tournament this year.  Apparently they couldn’t wait 3 days to mow the lawns or something.  So instead of playing on 7 lighted beautiful baseball diamonds at the Tempe Sports Complex, three cities tried to play 72 games in 8 days on two lighted fields and two softball fields.  Thanks Tempe.  I’m guessing someone’s kid didn’t get picked for All Stars.

The boys from Tempe South battled through both of the next two games and finished their four game stretch 2-2.  They got nearly a week off and returned to play again, a much closer game that left them 3-2.  Good, but not good enough to get in if they lost to Chandler National South.  The sixth game was the do or die game.  Win and they got into the tournament.  Lose, and it was the end of the season.

Spider took the mound and pitched a beautiful game.  He pitched 5 and 1/3 innings giving up only two runs.  The game went back and forth between TSLL and CNSLL.  By the 6th, Temp had scored 4.  With a 4-2 lead, Spider hit his pitch count, and was sent to center field.  The reliever had great velocity but struggled a bit with location.  This was the break CNS was waiting for.  In a tense top of the 6th inning they scored 3 runs to take the lead.   Tempe was down 5-4, but not out.  Austin Treese, Eric’s son scored the run that tied the score in the bottom of the 6th to send the game into extra innings.  In the top of the 7th again Chandler National South scratched out a run.  It was 6-5.  They brought in their closer.

Hunter Olsen was our first batter.  He took a massive cut at a fastball and ripped it!  Right at the short stop.  The Chandler shortstop was a terrific fielder, he scooped up the hot ball and threw a frozen rope to first getting Hunter by a step.  The next batter was Conner Woods, an extremely talented 9 year old who can do everything.  Conner struggled to make contact, but had the presence of mind and the eye to lay off the outside pitches.  He worked the count full and ultimately walked.  The tying run was aboard.  Up walked Spider.  The second baseman said loud enough for everyone to hear, “This game is over!”

Spider took a couple of practice swings and stepped into the box.

Now, one thing I want to point out, is that this year Ryan did not hit like last year.  It was somewhat of a mystery for him all season.  In the end we believe it was a combination of three things.  Firstly, everyone knew he was good so they tried to pitch around him.  Second, we use 13 year old umpires in the regular minor league season and it took them 3 (or 8 or 9) games to learn the strike zone.  Third, Ryan really, really, really wanted to hit one over the fence.  So when you combine a swing for the fences stroke, with wild pitching and a strike zone that runs from your shoe tops to 3 inches over your hat – it’s a little hard to get in the groove.  (The blur in the picture at the left is the ball flying by Ryan’s head.  The umpire called that a strike.) By the end of the season however Spider was getting his form back.   In practice, his hits went far, fast, and they hurt to catch.  The night before the Chandler South Game at practice Ryan finally hit one over.  I was standing two feet outside the fence line and caught the ball at my neck.  I couldn’t believe it.  Later, I asked him, “Why don’t you think you’re hitting in the games like you hit in practice?”  He didn’t hesitate to answer, “Because they’re not pitching me in the middle.”  “What about that hit you had the other night?  It was a beautiful shot, right over the shortstop’s head,” I said.  “It was middle in but low.  Everything they throw me is low and away.”  I wondered what would happen if they gave him one right down the pipe.

As it turns out, I got to see.

Ryan dug in and entered his stance.  The assistant coach for the other team was overhead telling the head coach that maybe they should walk Ryan.  After all, he’d hit the ball pretty well all night.  “We’ll see,” said the CNSLL Manager.  Bat waggling, crouched but loose, Ryan was ready.  The pitcher reared back and tried to blow one by him.  One right down the middle of the plate.  Belt high.  It was the first really decent pitch Ryan had seen in a month.  He didn’t miss it.  The ball flew off his bat like a laser, it split the gap in right center field and hit the fence two feet below the line.  Conner was gone in a flash from first and Spider was right on his heels.  It seemed like the ball was at the fence before the outfielders even had a chance to turn around.  Conner rounded third.  There was a strong throw from the outfield to the plate, Conner got down and slid – the ball popped loose.  Game tied.  Everyone in Tempe South went wild.  Ryan just stood on third and smiled.

One pitch later, he took home on a tapper to third.  It was a gutsy play that happened on instinct, sheer determination and flawless execution.  Ryan’s big toe slid over the plate while the catcher was receiving the throw.  The umpire called him safe as the Catcher tried to lay down the tag.  Tempe South 7.  Chandler National South 6.

It might not be the greatest hit ever in the history of All Star Little League, but it was the greatest hit in the history of our family.  That Ryan knew the game was on the line, that everyone was looking to him to do something and that he delivered was simply incredible.    It may sound corny to take inspiration from one’s children, and every day in their own way my kids inspire me, but his toughness when it matters most, his competitive spirit is awesome to be a part of.

Tempe South is now in the tournament.  Their game tonight was rained out and they will play tomorrow.  Win or lose, I will be eternally proud of all of them, but I will cherish that memory of my son, walking from the dugout, bat in hand and seeing the confidence in his eyes and knowing that if anyone can make it happen, Spider can.  And he did.

– Proud Dad, Scott

Epilogue:  Tempe South lost to Chandler National North, the team that ultimately won the district.  Our boys did not play their best game and Chandler National is an excellent team.  We wish them the best of luck in the rest of the tournament and hope they win State.  While it was a disappointing end to a fun All Star tournament, I am still very proud of the boys in blue, white, and red.  Especially #38.  Go Spider!

 

Projects – Development vs Production

It’s kind of strange, but everytime I’ve been through the development cycle of any game I always here someone complain that “we should have planned better”.  Or perhaps we should have “designed better”.   They are tough accusations to defend against.  After all, what can’t be done better?  But those comments always seemed to me to be off the mark, missing something important about the development process.  In a similar vein defensive comments like, “It’s hard to schedule innovation.” also seemed to miss the point.

So what is it with project management, process, and project planning? 

This morning I had a soup to nuts project management experience with my six year old son that put some stuff in a clear light.

First, let me explain the difference I see between development and production.  Production is something you’ve done before… many times.  “Flipping” burgers, assembling cars, are tasks that I largely view as production tasks.  Things that are well understood, processes that have been tried and proven many times, and optimizations (along with cost reductions) are a key focus of creative thinking and engineering effort.

Key questions asked for mature productions are:

  • “Can I do it faster?”
  • “Can I do it cheaper?”
  • “Can I improve quality?”
  • and “Can I improve consistency?”

Development is also concerned with these questions, but typically these questions get relegated to the back burner.  One single burning question typically dominates the development project.  Namely:
“How Am I going to do this?… at all.”

Development is of course almost never completely new, but it often attacks problems, or projects that the team has little or no direct experience solving.  It leverages the teams strengths, builds upon what they know, but almost always involves fundamental changes in process, production, or understanding.

Put another way, Mature Productions are applications of “what is known.”  Development, in my exerience is most often about “learning how”.

So, let me give a specific example and see if this helps.

My son wanted a skate board ramp.  Have I ever built a skate board ramp before?  Nope.  Not one.  But I’ve built lots of stuff.  I have tools.  I’m pretty sure I know how to use them.  But I dont have a tried and true process for building skate ramps.

So I took the opportunity to teach my son about project management.  I told him, here’s the steps to managing any project.

First, we start by knowing what we want. – Skate Board Ramp.

Then, I told him, here are the steps to managing any project.

  1. Design it.
  2. Plan it.
  3. Build it.
  4. Test it.
  5. Clean up afterward.

There were two important things, I said that were missing from my short list, between 3 & 4.  LEARN, and ADAPT.  To me they are integral parts of steps 3 & 4.

So, step 1 – design it, was done using Google Sketchup.

I sat down and quickly “sketched” out a ramp using the materials I knew we had on hand.  I’d had some experience with this in the recent past and really liked Sketchup as a design tool.  It made it super easy to figure out what angle I needed to cut the support legs (10 degrees), so there was little or no guessing when it came time to cut the wood.

I talked to my son once I’d finished the first draft of the design and in that process two more things popped up.

  1. Always check with the customer during the design phase.  Once they get an idea of what you are trying to do, requirements almost always change as THEY learn more about what they want.  Basically, you should test your design.
  2. Present information to your customer in a way that makes sense to THEM.

As you can see from my image, the ramp is show upside down so it shows what I (the developer) cared about most – the underside of the ramp and the structure I had to build.  It wasn’t easy for my son however to see how he could jump off the skinny little posts.  So I re-rendered the drawing with the dimensions removed and the ramp placed right side up.  He was much happier.  He also wanted it taller – 9 inches high instead of 6.  So I quickly made those changes, printed the drawing and we were ready for the next part.  The plan.

Together we wrote out the plan.  It looked something like:

  1. Put on our safety gear (goggles and gloves)
  2. Gather our materials. (get the wood)
  3. Measure the cuts.
  4. Cut the wood.
  5. Assemble the ramp.
  6. Test the ramp.
  7. Fix anything that needs fixing.
  8. Clean up.

With that plan in front of us, we set about making our ramp.  Now one thing conspicuously absent was the lack of time information.  I didn’t really know how long it would take us to do all of this, but I suspected it would be about an hour project.  An hour should be plenty of time.  Of course it wasn’t, but we’ll see why in a minute.

Stuff changes:

We put on our safety gear with no problem, then quickly moved to step 2.  Gathering the materials.  Right away the design started to change.  First of all, once I started handling the materials I realized that using 2×4’s for the legs might not be as stable as I wanted.  I had a pile of 4×4’s which I decided to use instead.  So almost out of the gate the design was changing.  And this is extremely common in development.

Designs must adapted to the resources available.

I personally have never seen a development project that had EVERY resource it ideally needed available to it.  There is always some constraint, or new information that comes along to cause change.  Our ramp was no different.

Secondly, when I designed the ramp, I used the information I had available (namely dimensions), but the actual wood available varied somewhat from my initial estimates.  This brought up another thing I’ve seen in projects.

Designs adapt to integrate new information.

In construction there’s a term called, “as built” and it refers to the way the contractor ACTUALLY BUILT the design.  Not the way the architects drew it.  In the HBO series project Greenlight, I remember after the end of principle shooting, someone saying, “Okay, now lets find out what movie we’re going to make.”  Their point was just this, the movie they intended to make when they filmed, and the movie they ultimately ended up making were not necessarily the same.  The realities of filming, caused changes that could not necessarily be undone later.  Once the filming was done, the director (and editors) had to make the best possible movie out of the materials that had at hand.  Regardless of what they wanted to do originally, they would adapt the design to the resources available.

Our little project was demonstrating these adaptions.

After measuring and cutting the wood, we started to put the thing together.  Again more assumptions were tested, more changes were made and more problems ensued and were quickly solved.  For example, the screws that were supposed to hold the wood in place were too short.  We needed longer ones – but not so long that they would go through the 2×4’s.  We scrounged up a suitable substitute.

Tuning 

After assembling the ramp, we tested it slightly by walking on it and realized that there was too much flexing of the plywood.  It needed just a wee bit more support.  All in all the design was great, but we were all worried the wood would crack after a few jumps.  So back in we went – to add 10 degree angle blocks in front of the 2×4 supports to keep the front of the ramp from flexing.  In game development we often call this “tuning” making small changes to the design to improve it’s performance and the users’ all around satisfaction.

In programming, there are “optimizations”.  The thing runs, but not fast enough, or with too many system resources, or just not well enough.  So we “optimize”.  Make small (but significant) changes that improve the overall quality of the project.  That is the heart of development.

Development is about iteration – making small changes to improve the quality of the project. 

We also noticed that even with our thick legs, they wobbled too much.  They needed braces.  Angle braces (left over from another project) were quickly called into service and the screws that were too short before worked out perfectly in their new application.  It is very important to note here that we did not scrap the whole thing and start over when we ran into problems.  The plans changed as we adapted to our resources, and learned new stuff, and the changes were relatively small.  Development seems to be about progressively circling in on your goal.  Development is not taking wild stab after wild stab.

Final Review

After we finished, we cleaned up, put our tools and materials away, then played with the ramp.  It was fun.  Then we put the ramp way.  Later, we made one last change.  Putting the ramp way, revealed that it was HEAVY.  Watching my 6 year old son struggle to put his new toy away, I realized he needed some help.  Finding a set of left over casters, we attached them to the side of the ramp so all he had to do was wheel it in and out of the garage.

The final ramp, looked as follows:

 

 

A few things I did learn during the project. 

A few things I did learn during the project. 

A few things I did learn during the project. 

A few things I did learn during the project. 

  1. With no time estimates, it was easy to lose track of time.  The project actually took an hour and 45 minutes.  But fortunately time wasn’t the critical factor.  That is not always the case.
  2. While my son was involved and feels that the project was “his”, without a detailed task list to keep him engaged, he would often wander away.  The same thing happens with adults.  Without a clear list of actions to keep team members engaged to work toward a goal, they will at best do nothing of value, and worst, do things that are counter productive.
  3. Finally and most importantly, building a skate ramp with your son is a blast.

 

 

My point in all of this, is that not on the second time, but probably the third I would start to build ramps pretty much the same way.  I would work out the kinks, and the mystery of “how” I would build the ramp would receed.  The questions at the beginning of my essay would move to the fore front of my thinking and I would start to have a “mature production”.

So after all of this, I think the key to managing a successful development is not to whine about better planning or design, but to ask, “how can we learn faster?”  Because that more than anything seems to be the central theme of development.

– Scott

Fall Line Studio

As recently reported I am now running Fall Line Studio in Salt Lake City for Buena Vista Games, a part of the Walt Disney Company.  Fall Line – a snow boarding term which means, “the most direct path down the mountain” – will be a Nintendo Center of Excellence for the BVG.  For the many of you who have contacted me looking for positions with the new studio, we are hiring, but competition is fierce for every position.

 I want to thank everyone who has contacted me for their kind words of encouragement in starting this new studio, and I wish everyone who has applied the best of luck in their careers either with (or without) the Walt Disney Company.

 

Scott