Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Getting stuff done.

Sometimes my to-do list seems like it only gets longer.  Everything I check off the list is replaced by two more things.  That seems to be a common feeling among tech leaders in the church.  There are always new systems to design, gear to repair, volunteers to work with, and meetings to attend.  So how do you get ahead, or at least keep up?

Most projects, while they seem like daunting jobs, are really just a whole bunch of smaller tasks.  And usually the individual tasks don't take all that long.  If you break down projects into smaller tasks and then calendar your day to accomplish those things in the most efficient manner, its amazing how much you can get done.  Intentionality matters.

It also helps to keep Twitter and Facebook closed while trying to push through your to-do list.  And keep email closed too unless you're actually using it.  Trying to multitask wastes a lot of time.  Studies have shown that bouncing from task to task actually lowers effectiveness.  Focusing on one thing at a time not only helps get it done well, but also faster.  I find that I fly though tasks on my computer when I close all other programs (and browser tabs) except the ones I'm using specifically for the project.

Distilling jobs down into smaller tasks allows you to easily gauge your progress on a job.  It helps provide a clearer time frame for completion because its easier to estimate the time it will take to do the individual steps.  And it also is way more satisfying to check several things off your list at the end of the day, rather than checking off...nothing.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Taking the long view.

You've got a vision.  You've got a goal.  Leadership has bought in.  And it involves making a significant production system upgrade!  So far this sounds like a really good situation, right?  But often the reality is that it will take time to get there.  Sometimes years.  At Willow Creek North Shore, we're in that exact position.

Right now we share space with a Christian school but we hope to be in our own building in two years.  That's a long time from a technological stand point.  So while we're brainstorming all the great systems we'll have eventually, how do we balance the needs of today with the needs of the future?  Gear will still need to be replaced during the next two years but after those two years, we'll be in a completely difference production environment.  Will the gear we bought be relevant? The tension is keeping both the present and future in mind.  Sometimes this tension means you buy big, and sometimes this tension means you buy small.

Our IMAG camera tripods are old, worn out, and they're starting to show it.  They are starting to affect our production quality.  Now tripods could be a relatively easy and (compared to other gear) inexpensive to replace.  But remember, we're thinking about now and later.  We now use Camera X, which weighs about 8 lbs.  But in the future we will be using Camera Y, which weighs about 20 lbs.  Since our tripods will last for more than two years, getting higher quality, heavier, and more expensive tripods now will not only serve us well in our current space but also in our new space with new equipment.

On the flip side of that, sometimes you have to think small because you really don't have a clear picture of what the production environment will be in the future.  Technology changes fast and the product that is perfect for your situation may not be available yet.  That shouldn't paralyze us but rather keep our purchases in perspective.  We currently use Pro Video Sync from Renewed Vision to play back our weekend messages about 75% of the time.  The software and the Mac it's running on are 6 years old and starting to glitch.  This system is crucial to our services and we need to replace it, but with what?  What we'll most likely install in our new facility is a broadcast-grade, multi-channel, time-slip capable, networkable, dedicated hardware solution.  But should we get that now?  Instead, we've opted for the much less expensive upgrade to our current system, Renewed Vision's new Pro Video Server software on a newer Mac.  This solution will still be useful to us in the future, it saves us money now, and it keeps our options open to adopting a new playback technology in the future.

Taking the long view on a project often involves getting other peoples input.  Talk to other tech leaders about your ideas.  Talk with your leadership and present pros and cons of various options.  Riding that tension between the present and future will help guide your decision-making process and help you steward resources well.  That equates to serving your organization well, both today and down the road.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Taking your time.

A leader I greatly respect recently reminded me of the reality that, when it comes to people, slow is fast.  You've probably heard that before, but it sure is easy to forget.  I'm an activator.  My number one Strengths Finder result was Achiever.  I'm always ready to get it done and get it done now.  But that attitude can actually make it harder to get things done, especially when other people are involved.  All of the expertise and energy in the world can't compare to the power of relationship.  And relationships take time to develop.

So maybe the best way to move your next big idea forward is to put it on hold for a while.  Go help someone else with their big idea.  Start by serving where you're at before trying to lead people to some where new. It will give you some new perspective and it will definitely develop a relationship.  Take your time rolling out your plan.  Get input from those it will impact.  It never hurts to get buy-in from people up front.  It may take more time but it makes for better plans.  Going slow in the beginning and arriving at your destination is way faster then going fast in the beginning and not getting there at all.  So take your time.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Giving your job away.

After you've spent months or years pouring into a system, process, or team, it can be really hard to pass that responsibility on to someone else.   For technical leaders, it's easy to invest so much of our passion and efforts into our craft that it becomes very personal.  But we miss the opportunity to raise up other leaders if we are always trying to hold on to all of the things that are currently "our job". 

Organizations change and grow, and as a result our roles will change and grow.   And I'm sure that you don't want to be an obstacle to that growth.  I know I don't.  The truth is, we have to push responsibility down, because that is the best thing for our organizations. Delegating to others accomplishes two key things.  First, it grows and develops other people and prepares them to step into new roles with new responsibilities.  Secondly, it frees you up to spend time on other important projects and even take on new responsibilities yourself.   It makes you even more available to the organization when something changes and you're needed somewhere new. 

My pastor shared something very inspiring today.  He said, "One of my greatest joys is giving my job away."  Think about that.  He's not worried about up and coming leaders stealing his time in the spotlight.  Instead, he's encouraging it!  Its probably because he knows the secret that a leader who raises up other leaders will always have a job.  

You may wonder what you'll do all day if you delegate more.  That thought has crossed my mind as well.  Right now I'm in the process of giving some things away to a member of my team.  Does it feel weird?  Totally.  Is it the best thing for the church?  Absolutely.  What am I going to do with my spare time?  I'll spend time and energy planning the future, building into volunteers, trying my hand at something new and who knows what else!  Tech leaders in the church always seem to have a never ending to-do list anyway, so maybe you can just make a dent in that!  

So what is one thing you can give away this week?  Could you give away one thing every week?  Wow, that's a tough one.  It might be difficult to let go of some things, but it's the best way to empower and equip the volunteers and/or staff that you lead.  It communicates to your team that you believe in them and that you trust them, and those are life giving feelings.  

Monday, September 9, 2013

Back in the saddle.

It has been forever since I wrote anything for this blog.  Its been 6 months to be exact. What in the world have I been doing you may ask? Well, moving across the country for one thing.  And starting a new job.  And catching up with all the relatives I haven't seen for years.  (Living in Topeka will do that to you.)  So yeah, I've been a bit busy.  But its time to start writing again!

In February of 2013, my wife and I moved to Chicago and I joined the staff at Willow Creek Community Church's North Shore campus as the Technical Arts Director.  It has been an exciting and challenging journey, but I'm blessed to work with some wonderful and talented people and God is doing great things on the North Shore!

So while I work up some content for this blog, I thought it might be fun to revisit a post from October of 2011.  Time flies but the content is still good and it's a good reminder to all of us who do services every week of the importance of planning and preparation.

It might not be said out loud very much, but sometimes it seems a lot of churches have the mentality that church shouldn't require a lot of preparation.  I've seen pastors choosing songs with the pianist five minutes before the service.  I've seen tech guys run frantically to the stage to change a battery nobody checked on.  But for some reason, these situations don't seem to encourage people to act differently in the future.  Hopefully this is not an attitude that you find yourself or those on your team struggling with. But if it is, let me encourage you to readjust your thinking on the issue. I would argue that, contrary to "making it up as we go", the work we do in the church deserves our very best preparation and planning. This is especially true for those of us working in the technical arts. As the complexity and detail of our service production increases, the more time must be spent preparing and documenting things in advance. Here are some things that I do weekly to streamline our rehearsals and services:

#1. Input Lists.

These are indispensable. Even if your stage doesn't change that much from week to week, having all stage inputs, console inputs, console outputs, and monitor assignments in one place is a lifesaver when trouble shooting. Taking the time to create this sheet ahead of time also ensures that you know how many console channels you'll need, if you're running low on mics, or, if you're like me, if you're running low on outputs! Better to discover and deal with these issues the day before a show than while the band is on stage. That is just unacceptable.

#2 Stage Plots.

These don't have to be perfectly to scale CAD drawing of your stage. (It helps if they're close though.) These are helpful for two reasons. Its always good to pre-visualize how the band, choir, drama, teaching pastor, or whatever else you have going on will interact within the confines of your stage. There have to be paths of entrance and exit. Musicians should not feel or appear cramped on stage. There has to be space for the pastor to preach from. That may sound silly, but the pastor shouldn't be nestled in the string section. Drawing it out helps you think through those issues. The second reason for stage plots is figuring out all your stage inputs. Should the bass be plugged into input 49 or 11? Well if I have a plot, I can easily see which will be best, based on the bass players location and what is happening around him or her.

#3. Aviom Labels (or Hearback or M-48 or MyMix or aux sends).

No matter what system you use, there has to be a way for the musicians to hear themselves and the other musicians. We happen to use the Aviom system but this applies to any form of monitor mixing. Musicians get frustrated (and rightly so) when they can't figure out where stuff is on the Aviom. There is really no excuse for that. Clearly labeling the unit is very important. You may have a set up that changes very little and so you can make one label that stays the same. More likely there is enough change week to week to warrant new labels. Using the band's names will really add a personal touch. And lets face it, it lets the band know that you thought about them in advance. A spreadsheet and a tabletop paper cutter will go a long way.

#4. Laying Out the Console.

Whether you use a digital desk or an analog desk, you should take the time before hand to label, assign, route, patch, insert, and whatever else you need to do to be ready for the rehearsal. This is really beneficial because it gives you a chance as the engineer to think through your set up, your routing, your effects, and really optimize your work space. Because it is your workspace. And it should be optimized.  Enough said.

#5. Line Check.

This may be the most important step. This step of the "documentation" process is to document that stuff works! Its the culmination of all the previous steps. (By the way, while the band is going through their first song is NOT the time to line check.) Just go through and make sure that all the mics, DIs, video feeds, and monitor sends are correctly set up. The band shouldn't have to wait while you try to figure out where the acoustic is patched and why there is no signal.

All of this basically comes down to professionalism and courtesy. Do the work before hand, and the day of will be much smoother. It shows that you value the work that you do and that you value the time and commitment of the other musicians and techs involved. It eliminates distraction and frustration and allows the end product to be that much better and more effective. And since the end product is worshiping our great God and leading others to Him, I'd say its pretty important.