Workload Management: Lessons Learned

As part of the process of assessing quality and success in our projects, we’re writing a series of blog posts exploring some of the key learnings from our 2021 development programme and showcase. This allows us to reflect on our experiences, our achievements, identify areas for growth, and (hopefully) be of use to other projects considering carrying out similar plans. This week we’re looking at workload management.

The Workload: CRIPtic 2021

CRIPtic 2021 was an enormous project. We supported 5 artists through an 8 month development programme, hosted 7 workshops (with 58 attendees), organised 6 months of mentoring, 6 one to one training sessions, one online work sharing, and welcomed an additional 10 artists to perform at the two night showcase at the Barbican, which sold out.

This was far more than we had initially planned – and is more than we had the capacity to take on.

From the outset, we felt a huge sense of responsibility to the hundred-plus people that applied to be a part of the project. It is so difficult to get a start in the arts as deaf or disabled artists. The number of opportunities is incredibly limited, and this was a great opportunity. Between the mentoring programme, workshops, and performances, we recognised that we had a lot that we owed to the people involved.

This meant that when we couldn’t decide on our final list for lead performers (the people who went through the development programme), we ended up creating extra places. We then commissioned a composition, a short film, and a new edit on an existing short film. We didn’t stop there, choosing several videos to share. You can see what happened. Overwhelmed by talent, we took more on than we perhaps should have.

Our workload management was not in a balanced place. The initial plan for the programme radically underestimated the workload. We should have identified this as soon as we had deadline slippage on projects, but we kept putting resources in. This took us to a point where nothing was feasible (and Jamie was working 8am-8pm 6 days a week, with more work on the 7th).

Planning Workload Management

Planning workload management is a lot harder than it sounds. The ACE funding grant application (our funding body) requires a project plan, and we worked out a detailed GANTT chart before applying – but this wasn’t enough. Partly due to personal life challenges, but mostly due to workload, it was easy to fall behind very quickly.

One learning is that a full project needs mapping out day to day, with mapping any areas of weakness (e.g. where workload could balloon because you want to interview 20 people instead of 8).

To give an example of this, see the project plan for handling CRIPtic applications below, followed by the process that was actually involved:

Project Plan

 – Write advert for programme

 – Advertise the programme

 – Look at applicants

 – Interview applicants

 – Offer places

Actual Workload Management:

 – Draft advert for development programme

 – Draft application form for development programme

 – Discuss content for both with an advisory group to ensure that our approach centres equity and fairness and doesn’t disadvantage anyone

 – Finalise text for the advert

 – Design advert, information pack, and application form

 – Have them all translated into British Sign Language

 – Put them on the website

 – Contact places like ArtsJobs and Disability Arts Online to place adverts for the programme

 – Queue up content for our social media for the project

 – Contact other relevant organisations and see if they’re willing to advertise the project

 – Answer emails from prospective applicants

 – Design a method of assessing and scoring the applications

 – When applications close, thoroughly read every application, including watching any content people sent with their application

 – Score each of the applications in a way that is congruent with the original metric

 – Select the top-scoring ones and invite to interview

 – Look through the rest, in case there are people with (for example) far less experience, but very prepared and ready to learn and do the work

 – Set interview date

 – Invite everyone to interview

 – Reschedule any interviews that are not convenient

 – Draft the interview questions everyone will need to answer

 – Assess whether there are specific questions for different applications or areas of concern to discuss with the applicant

 – Design scoring sheet for the answers to the planned interviews

 – Book interpreters for interviews

 – Interview candidates

 – Assess and score the interviews

 – Potentially organise a second round of interviews

 – Discuss all the candidates and what the best combination would be

 – Offer places

As you can see, the actual workload there is far longer and more thorough than the planned workload. If you multiply this throughout the development programme and showcasing period, you can see that the workload management is above and beyond what was anticipated.

Things we should have known:

Some of this can only be worked out in retrospect, but other things are things we could (or should) have known, like:

 – Booking a workshop isn’t just a quick email to a facilitator followed by a “yes” or “no” – it’s a long back-and-forth before you get to a final decision

 – Anything involving other people is always going to take longer than you expect, not least because part of every meeting goes on “social” contact

On top of that is the knowledge that once we were managing far more than we realistically could, we had no capacity for unexpected events. We didn’t always know what was whose responsibility, and we struggled to meet a lot of our internal deadlines.

What we’ve learned about workload management

The learning that came from this includes:

 – Map out your project in enormous detail. Be very clear about what your external dependencies are and who is responsible for managing them

 – Map out your capacity, and work out what you will do if exceed that. Know ahead of time what you will drop if you have to

 – Ensure that someone is responsible for the completion of every aspect of that plan

 – Keep very clear notes of what you’re doing and how you’re doing it. Then you won’t get overwhelmed if you need to figure out what work was done, and what is left to do

 – Be very aware of project creep. Something might seem like a great idea – but do you have the time and effort to sustain all the work that it involves? Will you-in-three-months be grateful for it?