By Fiona Anderson
I have been told that Ops Division at Intersection was very different from at other Worldcons, but as I have not yet seen any American Worldcons, and only been to 2 non-NA ones, both of which were different from each other as well as from Intersection, I can't yet say whether that's the case or not.
(Fiona: since I wrote this, I have been to LACon III, and it was undoubtedly quite unlike the Brit version of Ops, in virtually all respects. Indeed I would go so far as to say it more closely resembled the Brit version of Security, with no Ops as we know it here whatsoever. I have no idea if that is typical of US cons or not, but it certainly explains why the US fans had no idea what my intentions were when I took over Ops for Intersection.... In the UK, Ops is a really high-powered job, in the US - at least from what I saw at LA - it's nothing very special.)
My ambition was to run the Ops Room at a Worldcon - there were people with a whole variety of motives for running the various Divisions and Areas, but mine was the simple one of wanting to get the opportunity to do that particular job.
In the event., things didn't quite turn out as I had first naively imagined....from being an Area Head, I got catapulted to being Deputy Chair, a thing completely outside my experience, and there was an awful lot of making it up as I went along.
I would like to interject here how valuable I found Patty's help and advice, and how much I appreciated everything she did to help me, as I settled into what the job mutated into.
Well, inside Ops Division were a number of separate Areas, and nearer the convention more and more kept getting added. In retrospect this was a good thing, as I gained in confidence and experience as 1 went along - had I had the whole set right at the start I might have run off screaming into the distance :)
Qps Division contained:
a. at the start:
Ops Room, Security, Tech, Gopher Hole, Information Desk
b. at an intermediate stage:
as above plus Logistics, AtCon Office, Newsletter
c. shortly prior to the con
as above plus Staff Services, Membership Services, Registration, Global Items
Some Areas had people with plenty of experience running them. To each of these I gave my proposed kit list for their comments, but I kept their budget within my complete control. They organised how they would work, and they recruited their own staff.
Some Areas had people with no experience in charge - to those I either gave a job description, or asked them to write their own! Either way, we followed up together by working out what they needed and making up a kit list etc as above.
Some of these Areas I had no experience in either - so it was a learning experience for all of us :)
Having so many Areas in my control actually made things easier although I had more work to do, I also had a lot more potential to move budget around between Areas as they needed it or as they came in underspent.
When your house is (potentially) at risk, you get. quite obsessive about getting the budget right....
A prime example is AtCon Office and Newsletter. The original budgets for each were GBP 5000 and GBP 750, and not the sensible way round. r swapped them to Office 500 and Newsletter 5250, which made a great deal more sense and made for a much happier Newsletter Chief :)
Despite our collective inexperience at working at this level, everyone within the Division pulled together and went all out to make things work successfully.
All the Area Heads showed a strong commitment to their staff, and stood up for their people as necessary. They also worked with the other Area Heads within Ops Div in a co-operative way to make things easier for each other wherever possible.
I was extremely fortunate in having all those people as Area Heads and am very grateful for everything they and their teams did to make the con so successful and enjoyable.
As to the two other Divisions that migrated to under me, one did so because of Kurt's extremely serious medical problems, which unfortunately struck shortly before the con, and that was just one of the ways in which Real Life can screw up even the best laid plans.
The other Division that migrated under me did so due to the DH's pressure of work outside the con being too much for him just then.
By Fiona Anderson
This shows the overall picture for each Area within Ops Div. To find out the detail, you need to refer to the Area's budget which spe11s out what everything consists of.
Also this is only a snapshot budget - at one point the amount of money transferred into Ops Division and out again, as I negotiated with other Divisions, hit several thousands a day, every day for quite some weeks.
I would liken budget control to leaping off a cliff, when the tide is rapidly going in and out, hoping that you hit the water when the waves are cresting beneath you, and not when the rocks are exposed.
Depending on whether you rented a BT phone and therefore had to pay an installation charge as well as charges for the calls ( no alternative in main halls) or whether you used the mercury phones (free in office areas) decided how much or if you paid for these services.
Similarly in many office areas there were already power points, but in the main halls you had to pay for one to be connected up for your use.
(Radios etc eventually came out of the separated Tech budget, after a series of complicated budget transfers were agreed...)
Telephone Calls 500
3 mercury phones
taxis/late night: staff 100
power points in offices
Various of these figures were different on the day from my budget figures, and indeed during the run-up to the con, the variations in my budget were so wildly fluctuating as I created money for GRTs, for Tech, and for other Global items, through a series of deals with and between several other Divisions at once, that it would be hard to give an exact total at: any time. I would guess that the Ops Division budget fluctuated from GBP 15000 - 25000 overall throughout the run-up phase.
by Fiona Anderson
The idea is to deal with all incoming problems at the lowest possible level. Only difficult problems will get passed on up the chain, and only truly horrendous problems will get up as far as the Ops Manager.
Ops Manager ________ Ops Troubleshooter
Ops Deputies (1 each for Radio / Front Desk + Telephone)
Ops Crew (1 to assist each Ops Deputy)
As the problem arrives, the Ops Crew person attempts to solve it, or passes it on up to the Ops Deputy.
If the Ops Crew are busy, they give the person a Problem Sheet to fill in (listing name, type of problem, etc) Then if the person can't wait the crew will still be able to pick up on that problem when the busy time slacks off
(Fiona: this never worked properly. The Ops staff were continuously busy, and they never had time to prioritise people with problems - hence my agreement with Eamonn's remarks in his article on Ops).
The Deputy then solves the problem, or passes it up to the Ops Manager. The Ops Manager sits at their desk in the background, letting everyone else get on with their jobs, drinking coffee and hoping to remain undisturbed :). The Ops Manager may decide what to do about a problem, or to send out the Ops Troubleshooter to take a look at the problem. The Ops Troubleshooter has equivalent authority to an Ops Manager, and can give high-level on the spot decisions as to what to do about a problem.
If the problem is truly vile and urgent, the Ops Manager passes it to the Ops Chiefs (Fiona or Patty). Whichever of them is officially on duty will have a radio, but both will be on bleep and mobile phone all the time.
(Fiona: Intersection implemented a different DCM system from the norm, and only decided definitively on this rather late on - which meant that by the time the final version of the Ops Manual was issued it was already out of date :
Instead of the normal practise of having one person at a time designated as DCM (Duty Convention Manager), we changed over to having 5 on shift concurrently throughout the con:
A Co-Chair (either Martin or Vince in turn)
Exec (Claire B)
DCMs could make decisions on behalf of the Chair, and were listed with the SECC as authorised to spend up to a certain amount without further consultation with anyone - though everyone of us was quite well aware of the need for financial restraint.
Since all of us were on mobile phones at all times, it meant that whoever received a really top-level disaster either dealt with it themself if appropriate or could discuss it with the relevant other DCM before turning it over to them, very quickly and without everyone else being aware of what was going down.
This sort of destroyed the nice diagram I had previously drawn :) but worked very well in practise at the DCM level. I think it would have worked even better, had we had time and opportunity to explain it to our staff generally...
When not on duty, people should not be in the Ops Room. This allows the radio operators to hear properly, and helps promote a calm quiet atmosphere for dealing with the problems as they occur.
The Ops Room will mostly run on shifts of 3 hours duration. Every 3 hours one complete crew is replaced by another completely different crew. Thus a typical 0830-0100 day will have 6 shifts. Late shifts will have less people on duty.
Should people discover atcon that their assigned shifts clash with things they really want to see, then they can arrange to swap with someone else, and they must make a note of this on the master schedule in the Ops Room.
(Fiona: up til that time it had been common to just assign people to whatever shifts, and tell them what they had. But for Intersection, I sent out a questionnaire to determine people's preferences, from which I drew up a tentative shift schedule, which had 2 changes prior to the con as people confirmed (or not) that they could manage their shift times)
1. When you arrive at con, sign up against your name on the master schedule in the Ops Room that your assigned shifts are OK.
2. If your shifts are not OK try to find someone to swap with, and mark the swap on the master schedule.
3. Arrive 15 minutes before your shift is due to start to be briefed on any ongoing or upcoming problems.
4. Keep a note of problems in the log books.
1. Answer the telephone, radio, or personal callers. If their problem is easy, deal with it yourself otherwise give it to the Ops Deputy.
2. If you are on the radio, familiarise yourself with the radio procedure document.
3. If anyone is giving you grief give them to the Ops Deputy to deal with.
1. Familiarise yourself with the Ops Manual.
2. Familiarise yourself with ongoing and upcoming problems from the previous shift.
3. Try to train your crew assistant, giving them easy problems to deal with at first, and more complex ones as they gain confidence. The more you give your assistant to do, the less you have to do, and they won't get bored.
4. If the problem is straightforward, deal with it yourself, otherwise give it to the Ops manager or to the Ops Trouble-shooter.
5. If anyone is giving you grief give them to the Ops Manager to deal with.
1. Arrive 20 minutes before your shift is due to start.
2. You are responsible for running the Ops Room during your shift.
3. Familiarise yourself with the Ops Manual.
4. Familiarise yourself with the ongoing and upcoming problems from the previous shift.
5. Let your staff get on with their jobs - this is the hardest thing to learn - and don' t interfere until they call you in for a major problem.
6. If the problem is straightforward deal with it yourself. Otherwise you can send out the Ops Trouble-shooter to take a look, who will give an on-the- spot decision what to do. If it is not straightforward pass it to Fiona or Patty to deal with.
7. If staff do not turn up for a shift call the Gopher Hole for extra people to take the crew jobs, call the Ops Trouble-shooter to find extra people for the deputy jobs. If the Ops Manager or Trouble- shooter don't turn up, Fiona or Patty will immediately step into that job.
8. Consult Fiona or Patty if :
a) you have doubts about what committee policy is, and it's not yet urgent
b) you are getting persistent problems that seem to be built into the system
c) You are getting persistent problems with the way another department is interacting with Ops
1. Familiarise yourself with the Ops Manual
2. Sign out a radio from Tech (in the Hebrides room in the Moathouse) at the beginning of your shift and sign it in again at the end.
3. You will be called on to go and look at serious problems, and to make on-the-spot decisions. You are the Ops Manager equivalent in authority. If the problem is truly dire and urgent . get the Ops Room to call in Fiona or Patty to deal with it.
4. Consult Fiona or Patty if you are getting any of the problems under (7) in the Ops Manager' s brief
5. Tour round the departments once a shift to discover if there are any predictable problems upcoming that Ops should know about.
(Fiona Anderson/Patty Wells)
Will both be on bleep and mobile phone at all times. Whichever is officially on duty will have a radio as well.
Both will deal with problems that are systemic, or involve detailed knowledge of committee policy, or involve difficulties with other departments ways of working, or involve personality clashes within Ops itself. There will be occasions when Fiona and Patty are in possession of information not in the Ops Manual so questions that are not urgent, but seem potentially large trouble should be referred to them. Should an Ops Manager/Ops Trouble-shooter fail to turn up for their duty, either Fiona or Patty will immediately step into that job. Fiona and Patty will represent Ops at any divisional meetings/briefings that may take place, and keep Ops informed of any decisions taken at such meetings, and they will pass along the persistent problems we're encountering
(Fiona: this lovely theory fell down, as most of us slept through the 0830 meetings, which were then rescheduled to lunch times, which also didn't work, then there was one evening one tried too - basically the idea of meetings was a non-starter for most DH's and above during the con.)
By Fiona Anderson
3 internal/external mercury phones
radio base station 5 channels
mobile phones 2
convention phone list
BT telephone directory
power points in offices
maps - local area
maps - SECC - marked for con layout
maps - SECC - marked for firelanes
maps - hotels - marked for con use of' function space
Program day by day - marked for gopher requests, tech requests, stewarding requests
Run Through documents day by day
stationery A4 copier paper, notebooks, logbooks, pens/pencils, blue tack, sundries
taxi - late night staff to be ferried back to where they' re staying.
GRT system to be finalised.
The next couple of articles are the Ops Room as seen from my point of view (being responsible for it) and from Eamonn's point of view (having to run it on the day). Where Eamonn has made criticisms I mostly agree with him, and I would hope that people take our systems as starting points only, not as being set in stone. With the benefit of hindsight there are many things con-wide that I would have done differently...
by Fiona Anderson
In The Beginning...
I started as only i/c of the Ops Room on its own, but due to a combination of circumstances I moved up to become Deputy Chair of the convention. While this was a good thing for the convention as a whole, the Ops Room suffered because of it. As I had more stuff to do elsewhere, I had less time to concentrate on the Ops Room itself.
Fortunately I had used the early part of my time thinking about how the Ops Room should work in detail, and recruited a sufficient number of talented people, so that it ran fairly well without me on the day.
I had envisaged keeping some sort of overview of the Ops Room during the convention, but this never happened. During the SetUp phase through to Thursday, I was accosted by so many people (from other Areas outside Ops Division) asking for my help with getting stuff from the SECC (that had been pre-ordered), or looking for answers to queries, or needing a decision of some sort, that I simply had no time to physically walk as far as the Ops Room. It: was not until Friday that things calmed down, and by then the Ops Room had shaken down of itself anyway.
I had decided to put everyone into shifts of 2 or 3 hours each day, and sent out a questionnaire to find out people's preferences. It would have been better to keep entire teams together on each individual shift, but this was not possible due to the variety of preferences listed, by the 50-60 Ops staff. The tentative shift schedule got amended 3 times prior to the con, as people commented on the shifts they'd been assigned. This is in contrast to the then normal Brit method of just assigning shifts arbitrarily and giving no choice as to times etc.
As I had recruited people of 6 nationalities to work in the Ops Room, the shift schedule allowed me to ensure there was a mix of nationalities on each team, and a mix of people of different levels of experience. This ensured that people got to know each other fairly quickly, and thought of themselves as "Ops" people, rather than any particular national groupings.
I wrote an Ops Manual which defined how the Ops Room would work, and the types of situations that might arise with examples of policy for various areas. This underwent 3 versions, as new information came in, or as Areas or Divisions changed the way they intended to do things. This was sent out to all the Managers, Trouble-shooters, and Deputies, but not to the Crew, as too much information might well have frightened them off!
The Deputies formed the backbone of the Ops Room. I picked people who were steady and reliable, and who had mostly worked Eastercons before With them in place, each Manager could be sure of getting the majority of normal problems dealt with effectively, and know that the Deputies had sufficient good judgement to recognise when a problem needed passing upwards.
With those people who were on email, I set up a short-lived Email bounce in the 2 weeks prior to the con, cal1ed interops. this bounce was intended as a forum for discussing likely problem scenarios and possible solutions, in relation to people's previous experience, and in relation to the Ops Manua1. 1 provided sets of problems to trigger these discussions, The bounce was also usefu1 for people to get to know each other a bit before the con, even though they were so widely spread.
While there were a lot of similarities in the solutions, there were also a surprising number of differences - on issues of nudity, violence, and water.
The major thing I got wrong was not starting official shifts until the Thursday, combined with not having our radios until the Wednesday. The first meant that some people who turned up early (mainly Americans and Germans) did *entire* days in the Ops Room, helping with SetUp. More people signed up from the Monday prior would have made life a lot easier. Not getting the radios earlier was a major mistake on my part - we had no feeling of contact out there. The Areas outside Ops got on with setting themselves up quite independently _ it all happened, but there was no overall co-ordination, Next: time we need radios -From Tuesday morning latest, and Monday would be helpful.
In conclusion, I was very fortunate in recruiting a good team, and they done good!
By Eamonn Patton
Eamonn wrote me a whole long slew of comments on various parts of Intersection, most of which I agree with. The ones here have only had minor editing as they are abstracted from the larger whole.
Well, he can speak for himself now:
Operations. Well, life would have been much simpler if we had banned all Americans, Europeans (inc. UK), children, parents, the sick, the well, and small furry toys! Given that we didn't take this elementary precaution, I thought that things went fairly well. For which, congratulations and thanks. My first rule when in doubt is "RTFM" and this I did. Generally I found what I needed in the Ops Manual. That made life much easier, and Ops more responsive and consistent. This was because, once a situation became complicated (I'm talking here
about things where instant common sense didn't apply - I didn't keep reading the manual for the obvious problems), rather than waste time trying to formulate a consistent policy on the hoof, one could refer to the cases already given in the manual, or readily apply what was there to the case at hand.
The one area in which I felt the Ops manual to be weak was the handling of the multi-site nature of the con, Events in the site hotel or at any of the remote hotels were not covered. This became more important in the evening, for example, when the Central Hotel became awkward about corkage at some of the parties.
(Fiona: this is the point at which the Ops Manager should scream upwards at myself to deal with it. Ops Managers do need to kick the concom occasionally! Note for Next Time - point out to my staff you are not expected to be heroic *all* the time, 99% will do!)
I think that it- was probably a mistake not to schedule Ops for the pre-con period (Fiona: he's right, he's right most of the time, if I can buy his soul for Next Time I will...). A lot: of the running around that I did for Registration was Ops-like in nature. Also Ops probably would have been a good basis around which to organise such gopher power as was available. Pre-con Ops would also have allowed the Qps teams to gain some experience at a point where not too much damage would be done in the process of learning from our mistakes.
Every effort should be made to keep shift teams together. I was very lucky, both in that I had more or less the same team throughout (Fiona: that wasn't luck, that was the way I tried to do it for every team, but it just isn't possible to succeed when these blasted volunteers do actually express their preferences rather than just giving their bodies and souls to me wholesale! !!), and in the particular individuals involved. I was going to single out a couple of individuals, but, on second thoughts, everyone contributed greatly, so I'll leave it at that. I definitely think we gained from being kept together as a team.
I never had any real sense of' Ops controlling the distribution of gophers and 1 think next time we should allow the Gopher Hole much more freedom of action, whilst reserving some sort of ultimate authority for situations deemed by Ops to be emergencies, (Fiona: I have included that suggestion into the Gopher Hole part of this write up. I think having direct control works at an Eastercon but is not sensible at a Worldcon, because of the difference in nature as well as in size)
The Ops crew people by and large led very boring lives. At times I was forced to invent work for them. I felt it to be important that they were given some sense that they were contributing (they all did, it was just they could be forgiven for thinking that they weren't). Having said that, I think it important that Ops does have a gopher available, and I certainly did use them, just not that much.
Despite that, I think it's possible that. Ops might have been understaffed. It was noticeable that a lot of the senior (for want of a better word) Ops people were in Ops for far 1onger than might have been expected from an examination of their shift rota. More importantly, on occasions when I was supernumerary (ie I shouldn't have been there) I was frequently busy! likewise, on my shift the supernumerary people were often busy. This wasn't just a question of not using/trusting the gopher - the people involved were handling front desk overload, and taking significant decisions (ie decisions that a gopher could not reasonably be expected to make but that experienced front desk people could).
(Fiona: having read this, and from the experience of the last Eastercon, I think perhaps we should avoid the traditional pyramid structure in Ops, and instead go for the pear-shape model, with more Deputies in the middle, and less gophers/crew at the bottom).
The habit of senior convention personnel of holding impromptu meetings in Ops was a definite irritant, especially for the radio operators.
(Fiona: be glad 1 didn't read this until after the con - and I have carefully *not* asked Eamonn who he means. This is one of the things that sends me ballistic. The number of times I have thrown people out the Ops Room at various cons is not merely irritating, it is absolutely infuriating - especially as it is usually people who should know better Note for next few Eastercons: DON'T HAVE MEETINGS IN OPS, and preferably the committee should keep out of the way altogether, but I know that's probably asking too much;..)
As an aside, FULL names in radio messages next time, "Steve in division XYZ" is no use - particularly early on it was the case that Ops didn't know the person concerned and would then discover there were two Steves (or whatever the name was). Sometimes we weren't even given the division.
by Fiona Anderson
At the time of Intersection, it was the practice in the UK for Ops people to be assigned their shifts without any choice about when. Naturally a bit of swapping might take place between individuals after that, but generally the shifts were rigidly fixed.
I had been told that the US system was to allow people to turn up on the day and sign up for whatever shifts they liked then, on a first come first served basis.
I decided to adopt mainly the former practice, but to introduce flexibility, assigning shifts on the basis of people's answers to the questionnaire (below), but allowing them to come back to me with objections, and going through a swapping process leading to 3 versions of the shift schedule being sent out pre-con.
By assigning shifts, I hoped to do several. things:
1. Ensure everyone was contacted in advance of' the con, and that the people at Deputy level and above were familiar with the requirements of our Ops Room, as laid out in the Ops Manual, so that people weren't just turning up and doing things to be helpful that were the correct thing to do according to their experience but inapplicable or completely unhelpful in our particular situation.
2. Ensure there was a mix of people with different levels of experience on each shirt team. The most vital thing for me to get right was ensuring we had the right people as Deputies, since they formed the backbone of' the Ops Room. As I intended to run Brit-style Ops, I put mostly Brits as Deputies, who were utterly invaluable at dealing with all the usual problems, and at knowing when to pass problems up the chain. Choosing Managers and Trouble-shooters was more difficult in some ways - as we had very few people who had survived the cauldron of Conspiracy, and those who had experienced ConFiction were mostly doing other things now. I chose people who seemed good to me, and I took a leap of faith on a number of people who I'd never met or heard of before, who sounded good from their resume. In all but one case these people worked out extremely competently indeed.
3. Mix the nationalities. I had no intention to allow the all-UK, all-Dutch, all-Norwegian teams to be possible to form. I wanted there to be a mix of nationalities so people would get to know each other and to regard themselves primarily as "Ops" people, whatever their background elsewhere
4. Create a team spirit. The reason UK cons had always assigned shifts before was to have the same team work together on every shift they were on duty for. The bond this creates, and the good atmosphere it promotes is worth going to a lot of trouble for.
Anyway, on to the questionnaire:
5. Position preferred
6. times you prefer e.g. I prefer to work after 10.00am/ I prefer to work before 10.00pm
7. Are you prepared to work after 10.00pm/up to 0100am/ up to 0300am (e.g. Hugos/Masquerade)
8. Do you want to see a particular program item
9. Do you want a particular day off Thurs / Fri / Sat / Sun / Mon
10. Do you want to work 1 / 2 / 3 / 4 / 5 days
11. Will you be available pre-con to help with set up - if so, which days
12. Will you be available post-con to help with tear down - if so , which days?
13. Anything else you think I should know?
Thanks for volunteering!