08.29.11

Overnight Success

During the 24 hours from 9 a.m. August 20th to 9 a.m. August 21st, I was fortunate enough to participate in The Nerdery’s Overnight Website Challenge as a member of The A+ Team. The event paired teams of web creators with nonprofits in need of a site overhaul. Our nonprofit was Southwest Chicago PADS, an organization that provides basic services and case management to help people pull themselves out of homelessness.

One full day, six broken bottles, several live games of Angry Birds, and unknown quantities of sponsored refreshments later, our team emerged as the event’s victors. Yesterday, we did a recap of the lessons we’d learned in the process. Here are our top ten.

1. Have a decision maker for each area and trust them unconditionally. This includes the client. (Extreme) case in point: Sally Berkhia, our client liaison, stopped us from implementing some branding that, while visually clever, incorporated a shape that’s also used by a certain South Side gang. The shape was a six-pointed Chicago star. That star is pretty ubiquitous here, so the tie-in was news to us, but it could’ve meant property damage for the nonprofit and even physical assault for Berkhia. Again, listen to your teammates.

2. Search for ways to apply your strengths. The more familiar you are with something, the better you’ll be able to work with it. The site we were planning for Southwest Chicago PADS was close enough to the educational websites a lot of us had worked with that we were able to employ some of the same tactics. We gave PADS’s “Donate” button the same visual emphasis we’d give a school’s “Apply” button, Impact stories were treated like Alumni stories, both institutions incorporate social media in similar ways…the list goes on.

3. Prioritize, then tackle the big things early. Use your first wind to take care of the large, foundational tasks. Saving finishes and nice-to-haves for last will help hold your attention and energy longer.

4. Make decisions as though you have a giant clock hanging over your head.

It’s often more important to make a decision than it is to make the decision. Our very real time crunch forced us to quickly evaluate options then pick the one that felt right, knowing we could always adjust if we needed to. That also means…

5. You don’t have time to pick “darlings,” much less deliberate over whether or not to kill them, so don’t be afraid to say “no” to a request from either a teammate or yourself. And don’t be afraid to hand off your work to someone else for review, revision or rejection (cf. Lesson 1).

6. Deploy your existing arsenal of resources effectively. Doing something from scratch unnecessarily pulls time and effort away from other tasks. During the Challenge, we used Keynote Kung-fu, a few HTML5 boilerplates, and Weightshifter Scott Robbin’s backstretch.js among other tools to support our work and maintain momentum.

7. Keep things simple and you’ll be able to execute them better and faster. A little flair goes a long way.

8. Showcase impact. After making sure the main website’s needs were sorted, we designed and built a small interactive pop-up that demonstrated how specific dollar amounts could directly affect Southwest Chicago PADS’s guests. According to the judges, this was one of the elements that got us the winning vote, but more importantly, that feature helps Southwest Chicago PADS communicate the effect it has on people’s lives in an immediate and engaging way.

9. Review everything three times. In our case, the QA process was asking whichever team member was free to review the site’s content and functionality. We did this in loose stages: first as things were posted, then right before judging and again just before launch.

10. Have fun with it. You’ll find it easier to stay motivated if you’re enjoying your work. While the 20th turned into the 21st, we called each other out on the event’s projected Twitter feed, DJ’d a Turntable.fm room, stopped looking at our computers occasionally, took photo booth photos and generally made sure everyone on the team was still alive. (On a related note, always choose the moon. Also, this.)

Special thanks to my cohorts on The A+ Team for creating this list with me:
Sally Berkhia, client liaison
Matt Brosseau
Jay Crocker
Jarett DeAngelis
Patrick DiMichele
Craig Newkirk
Tim O’Connor
Jay Rizzi
Christopher Wilkinson, team captain

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