Sunday, September 9, 2012

Tidying Down

DANIEL:  Things are sure to calm down a little soon!

TEAL'C:  Things will not calm down, Daniel Jackson.  They will in fact calm up.

It is dark time at the theater (aka the stretch between seasons when nothing is in performance or in rehearsal on the main stage), so we are cleaning.  There is a new push from above to put things away properly this time.

I've been there before.  And I know how it is going to unfold over the next few months.  A lot of people have this fond hope of being able to actually put everything away.  The idea of everything -- all the mess of ongoing tools and projects -- being neatly hidden behind cabinet doors or, grudgingly, racked up on hooks with painted outlines and labels holds a fierce attraction for some people.  Myself included.  I've been the force behind that drive to organize and put away more than once.

But this is what actually happens.  There isn't enough time to do it right, and people get bored with the process too early.  So stuff starts getting crammed into boxes just so it can get on that shelf or in that closet.  Working, not working, belonging to the theater or to someone else, matching or not really the same thing -- as the process wears on these distinctions are held to less and less.  What looked like a generous allotment of shelving, and boxes, and labor, is not enough, and by the end of the job it is all cram it in somehow.

And down the road, the first tech that hits, people won't be able to find the hardware or tools they need.  They'll have to go into the stuffed-impatiently boxes -- which will inevitably be the ones that ended up stacked on the bottom or crammed into some other storage spot with limited access.  In the crunch of time, some of the boxes will in fact be emptied out onto any  available surface just so the essential bit can be located and rushed to the stage.

This might go on for one or two shows, but, inevitably, stuff is not going back in those boxes, and the boxes are not going back into their crammed-tight shelves.  And that's when someone upstairs starts getting angry about how "the whole place was just straightened up" and "why can't people just put stuff away properly?"

In short, they blame the people who are trying to work around the disorganized "organization" that was imposed by an ill-thought out cleaning process.

There's a little something called the 30-70 rule; 30 percent of the tools are used 70 percent of the time.  My experience is that the ratio is actually rather higher.  The point of the rule is; you need to find out what that n-percent of "need them all the time" things are, and put those where they are easy to find, easy to take down, and as well easy to put back.

And that is work.  That takes a lot of time, and analysis.  But when a mass cleaning is imposed from above, there is little onus on the workers/volunteers to impose this kind of higher-level structure.  If they have experience with the gear they are cleaning up (which isn't always the case) they will make an effort, but ultimately the deadline -- imposed externally -- prevents them from going too far away from what they are being hired to do.  Although they may know that they are making things harder in the long run, they don't have sufficient choice in the short run to fight the process.

There is an argument to doing this kind of cleaning as a first pass.  When things are a true mess, you can't work around them, you can't organize them; because you don't even know what you have.  A first pass puts everything in a rough sort and makes a clear space so you can start the following process of really identifying what is what and where it needs to be.

The trouble is, the following process follows less than half the time.  Most often, the budget of time and labor is spent just stuffing everything into boxes and into a closet.  The time and budget to pull it out and clean and test and brainstorm a storage process that gives the right degrees of access to the right parts -- that rarely happens.

So what mass cleaning usually achieves is a temporary respite to the mess, at the cost of not having all the tools and gear and parts the next time you need them.

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