Bath Get Creative

Flat OutAt last month’s IWMW in Aberdeen, Alison Wildish announced Get Creative Week – an idea inspired by Carsonified to spend a week doing something different to their normal day to day jobs, and work in different ways on different types of project.

Bath Web Services set aside 18th – 22nd August to run the week so now that it’s all over, how did it go, what can we learn from them?

I’m sure work has been going on in the background for some time, but from the outsiders view, the process began a few weeks ago when the team delivered pitches for their ideas.

The winning pitch brought up wider issues involving institutional systems so Alison picked another project to work on.

The result was Flat Out, a Facebook-only application designed to allow students to find a flat to live in. You can read a whole load of information about the project on their blog and wiki, but here’s some of the things that caught my eye:

  • A project manager was picked at the start of the first day. Notably it wasn’t Alison or the Web Applications Team Leader – they both took their place as part of the team.
  • Regular standup meetings were held to keep track of progress and set half day targets.
  • Regular hours were kept – everyone worked on Get Creative between 9am and 4pm. A rota was set to ensure that essential support was still provided for web services.
  • Enforced downtime through Fika (a Swedish verb meaning to coffee and cake – sounds like my kind of thing!)
  • Communicate progress through Twitter, blog posts and video.

The final application itself is quite basic, but benefits from being so, and shows exactly what’s possible in such a short amount of time. It takes data from the University noticeboard and external sources and aggregates them into a browsable view within Facebook. The interesting part which shows the potential power of Facebook is the social aspects of the application – how it spreads amongst friends. The use of Facebook also allowed development to focus on the useful functionality because FB takes care of the core requirements:

Finding that writing a Facebook app means you don’t have to be concerned with user management and connecting people, it sounds obvious but it’s amazing how much time we spend on this in our other apps

Alison and the rest of the team have shown quite clearly through their blog the benefits Get Creative Week has brought to the team. Some have questioned how they are able to dedicate everyone’s time for a full week to “non-University work” but this is missing the point. All departments support their staff through professional development, away days and in learning new skills. Get Creative Week has all these benefits, in a more condensed form, plus develops the team as a whole as well as individuals.

There has already been interest from web teams across the country, and I’ll be grilling Alison further about her experiences this week while we’re at the CASE conference. Could it work at Edge Hill? Yes, I’m certain it would, but we shouldn’t just copy Bath, we need to be clear what we wish to get out of the project and that will determine the form it could take.

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