Handing out 2,000 t-shirts through iterating

Yesterday we distributed 2,000 t-shirts to Mozillians in 90 minutes. I’ve helped give out t-shirts before but never at scale. It turns out that distributing lots of t-shirts is similar to updating software or websites — it works best when you make a series of incremental changes rather than redoing everything. Start with something simple and build from there.

So, how did we do it? We started out with a simple system and then rapidly iterated to become more efficient. Our team of 8 helpers was very quick to adapt to changes, and we found ourselves having more fun as we found new ways to optimize our process.

Changing our distribution process allowed us to give out t-shirts faster

Each person had one task, which allowed us to focus and keep things moving along. If we found a certain task was slowing us down, someone else could help out with that role to speed things up. Two people helped folks at the check in station, two people retrieved individual shirts, two people retrieved groups of shirts for individuals to bring back to their local communities, and two people acted as floaters, helping out where needed.

Iterate, iterate, iterate

While our initial workflow was okay, we found there were several ways we could optimize it to reduce how long people were waiting in line. For example, the two of us retrieving t-shirts started tossing the shirts instead of walking them over to the check in station. We also found that calling out last names to the runners was causing us to repeat and spell names almost every time — a huge bottleneck. So instead of calling out names to our runners, we set up an IM chat between two computers — one at the check in station and one where the groups of shirts were organized. This way there were no communication challenges between the teams.

We were able to quickly adjust our process because we only made one change at a time and quickly communicated changes to everyone on the team. It also became a game as we thought of ways to get people their shirts even faster. Some ideas didn’t work and were quickly discarded. But we did find several ways to improve the process compared to when we started.

Just like releasing software, at first we started with something basic that just worked. We knew it probably wasn’t the fastest or most efficient process, but it gave us a starting point for improving on it. Our team was extremely receptive to trying new ideas and modifying the flow. As I work on future programs and websites, I’ll remember how much it can improve through quick iterations. It’s not about having the perfect solution at the beginning — I’d rather start with something decent and then build on it and adjust it over time.

How do you iterate on your projects? Whether it’s a seemingly simple task like giving out t-shirts or as complex as pushing an update out to millions of users, how do you iterate on your projects?

Recognizing Awesome

Today we’ve updated the Army of Awesome page with some changes to better recognize our awesome contributors. We’ve made it easier for you to choose which tweets to respond to and also added a stats section that features our top tweeters. Check out the biggest changes below and then take a few moments to help some Firefox users.

This week's update focuses on usability and recognizing top tweeters

Replies

Each tweet on the page now shows how many replies it has received. This has by far been our top request, since contributors want to responded to tweets that don’t have replies yet. We’ve also used this text area to recognize contributors for being first to respond. Once a tweet receives a reply, the username of the first person to reply is shown on the right side.

You can now see which tweets you've responded to and what you said

As you respond to several tweets at once, you want to keep track of which tweets you’ve replied to and the page now shows you that too. Once you reply to a tweet, the tweet will say “You replied” underneath the timestamp. You can also view replies by clicking on the reply text on the right. [Small caveat: You won’t be able to view your own replies until you click on the Refresh button above the list of tweets. This extra step will be removed in a future update.]

Stats + leaders

You can now see how the Army of Awesome is doing and who the top tweeters are

We’re now displaying some high-level statistics about how many tweets we’re responding to as a group. You can see how we’re doing for various time periods — Yesterday, Last Week, Last Month, and Overall (since October).

The page also shows who the top tweeters for each time period are. You’ll see the top 16 contributors and if you hover your cursor over their profile image, you’ll see how many tweets they’ve responded to during that time period.

What’s next

We’re just starting to plan the next release for Army of Awesome, and we’d love your input. Integration with SUMO accounts and localizing the page and signpost messages seem like natural steps. What else would you like to see? Leave a comment with your ideas or add them to the ideas section of the Roadmap.

Finally, I want to give a huge thanks to our SUMO and WebDev teams for making this update happen!

Blogging for the Web

At a recent Cantina night at Mozilla HQ, a group of us were talking about how we don’t blog much. It’s not for a lack of ideas – there’s plenty of Web projects we can talk about. And we do talk about them all the time but it’s usually offline. We quickly realized that just as we read dozens of blogs each week, others are probably interested in what we’re doing and would like to talk with us about it. We all agreed we’d like to blog more.

Since none of us are active bloggers right now, we decided we’d encourage each other to blog, even offering to screen ideas for interest and review drafts.

So we made a pact – we’d each write a blog post in the next month. A few days later, half of us already had a blog post up. And I’m confident the rest of us will have our posts online soon. And yes, this post counts as mine.

As a result we’re moving our offline conversations online, expanding our conversations to a much larger audience. And we’re helping each other to become better bloggers. That’s the kind of peer pressure I like. Everyone wins.

Like us, do you want to blog more? Join our pact and then add a link to your next blog post in the comments. I’d love to read it.