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The #Nerdvent calendar and how we got there

Screenshot from the nerdvent calendar
Screenshot from the nerdvent calendar(photo: Gideon Lehmann)

A large part of what Sourcefabric does involve implementing solutions with independent media organisations across the world. As such, project management plays a big role in our work - it’s quite a challenging job to coordinate software developers, designers, system administrators and clients. We frequently encounter language barriers, different cultural backgrounds, remote work and clients with different demands. Currently we are running projects in Germany, Switzerland, Belgium, Brazil, Sudan, Yemen, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Armenia and as you might have heard we are also active in Australia.

Thus, meeting once a year and discussing the best approach to the implementation process under all these different circumstances is a must. This years workshop included a challenge, to see if the group of participants could realise a real life product in just one day. It turned out that we could - we produced a nerds advent calendar.

The Sourcefabric project management team (Photo: Eva Dangendorf)

The Sourcefabric project management team (Photo: Eva Dangendorf)

Here is the setup: Two days, five project managers including me as the team lead, one designer and one implementor, two whiteboards, a flipchart, white paper and some Post-its. Also a pound of coffee, some cookies, a few cigarette breaks, juggling balls and an ayurvedic cantina for the lunch breaks (thanks to Cosmoveda on Adalbertstrasse in Kreuzberg for the brilliant food!).

First day - streamlining the implementations process

On the first day we dealt with a central task: Describing the lifecycle of an implementation project and focusing on the most important phases. Our main goal was to streamline the process by shaping templates and getting checklists in order to make sure a proper guideline was in place to ship all implementations to their defined destinations.

We also looked at problems we often encounter and how to approach them best (team dynamics, language barriers, clients missing technical knowledge). We learned to identify the project goals and use them as a compass to lead the project in the right direction.

Whiteboard with the project lifecycle

Mapping out the implementation project lifecycle (Photo: Gideon Lehmann)

The second day - from briefing to product in 1 day

On the second day we aimed to put theory into practice. The idea was to go from briefing to product in one day. Our task was therefore to realise an Advent calendar that could work within defined parameters.

The countdown for our one day project started by reading the prepared briefing. The Advent calendar should work on any website, be adapted for our own Sourcefabric website, be able to work with different types of content and be responsive. Additionally, all content should refer to the work of Sourcefabric.

As a result we started discussing and researching approaches from other companies which also realised Advent calendars - none of them seemed to fit well for our own purposes. We pretty soon found out that the briefing was missing the most important part: The goal of the project! Well, we needed a model project to bring the theory into practice, but that would not be enough to build an Advent calendar fitting our requirements. Thus we first needed to discuss if an Advent calendar with it’s strong association with Christian tradition could fit the needs of a company that operates worldwide.

We came up with a list of goals we hoped to accomplish with this project:

  • increase brand awareness of Sourcefabric

  • increase the number of returning visitors to the website

  • increase the number of social media followers

  • feature the hidden treasures of our website

With these goals in mind we could now start a proper brainstorming session to see if we could get these goals aligned with the original idea of an Advent calendar that could be reusable for other newsrooms in the future. The decisive question then was: What type of content and presentation would fit our needs?

Early prototype of the Nerdvent calendar

Early prototype of the Nerdvent calendar

Recently we were introduced to and began practicing the design thinking approach, but in this case we decided to utilise a different brainstorming technique: Each participant would write down on paper (yes, actual pen and paper) his/her immediate thoughts on the chosen subject - nothing was considered wrong, no thoughts were too stupid or too big. We allowed 5 minutes of time for the exercise, measured with the old fashioned egg clock I brought from home. At this point, the papers were handed over to a neighbour, in order to iterate the ideas of our colleagues. Another five minutes on the clock and once again we passed the papers to a neighbour. This person then presented the result and conveyed his or her own thoughts on the existing ideas. What we got out of this exercise surprised and satisfied all of us. The original idea from one participant to make a nerds gift calendar with links to respective shops was combined with the idea of presenting the products of Sourcefabric and providing technical tips and tricks. When we combined the words Advent and nerd, Nerdvent was born!

So we took the original task of creating an Advent calendar and turned it into something that better fit our target groups from all over the world. This would at the same time strengthen our brand by showing and presenting our skills in a funny way.

At this point, we were ready to start the next task which was to specify the ideas so that our designer and templator could immediately start working. One of the most important things we took into account, when implementing our idea, was that the tool should work on top of pretty much every site structure and design. Because of this, we decided to realise it as an independent item on top of the existing website. We achieved this through an omnipresent counter that would float on the sidebar. Additionally, we decided to produce mainly video content for the calendar. Since we usually meet in Google hangouts, the idea was to do screencasts starting in a hangout - using the Google hangout effects to make it really nerdy!

Here is a sneak peek at early wireframes we showed to our designers to demonstrate what we wanted:

Wireframes of the Nerdvent calendar

Wireframes of the Nerdvent calendar

By the lunchtime, we were ready to see if we could take these ideas from concept to reality. At this point, our tasks were clear: to get our designer to turn the wireframes into html css right away. Simultaneously, we needed our Newscoop templator to set up the structure of the tool in the developer instance of our website. She decided to use featured article lists as a basis for the content. This would make it extremely flexible for the editors to use. Changing position of the content items would be as easy as dragging and dropping. This also would make it possible to reuse the content for any other countdown calendar.

The biggest challenge was the content production. Some of us were in charge of writing scripts for the videos, while others researched necessary screencast software and got the technical specifications in place. At 6PM, the first video was produced and uploaded to our YouTube channel. The html css was realised and hooked up with the Newscoop templates.

Yesterday we spent the whole day polishing the Nerdvent calendar and successfully implemented it on our website.

If you liked what you saw, please share with your friends. Anybody who shares the calendar with #Nerdvent will receive a special holiday gift from Sourcefabric. Enjoy!