48. The 0–4 model for project work

I do a lot of project work. Big projects, small projects, simple projects, complex projects. This means that I work with a lot of different people. One thing I’ve learned from more than twenty years of project work is that it’s easy to end up in the wrong place in a project structure.

The 0–4 model is a simple mental model that I’ve been (unconsciously) using for years to map out where people are in projects I’m a part of. After talking it over with several people who found it useful, I realised that it would be smart to put it into writing. This simple infographic is the result.

The first thing that should be said is that people aren’t numbers. No one is always a 0, a 2 or a 4. In some projects I’m definitely the 4, but in others I’m a 0 or 1. Some projects are so small that the levels make little sense, and some are so big that more nuance is needed. Nonetheless, I’m going to supply two practical examples of how this works.

Example #1: College of Wizardry

College of Wizardry is a large beast with many people involved at different levels, and at different times. Trying to map out everyone who is involved isn’t easy, but here’s an attempt at giving SOME idea of who does what. It’s not an exhaustive list, but is meant to give some insight. ;-)

Level 4 — Overview

Generally, I’m the overall Project Coordinator (4). As much as possible, I try to let others do the hands-on work, and just take care of providing overall vision, dealing with conflicts and problems and making decisions where needed. Of course, it doesn’t work like this in reality, and I end up doing things like writing website text, talking with players, discussing food and so on.

In general, I manage to delegate most things, though, and one of my main concerns is not micromanaging and not trying to do everything myself. This is especially true when we’re on location, but also before the event itself.

Level 3 — Coordination

College of Wizardry is always changing, and that means that we move people around from time to time. This means that this “division” is not necessarily how things are now, but it’s an example of how they were.

Swistak

Our Volunteer Coordinator (3) is Agata Swistak. She recruits the ~20 volunteers we need for each event, and makes sure they’ll be at the event, have a place to sleep and do things before the event starts. Her task is to make sure that volunteers not only get their tasks done (which include both carrying boxes, setting up lights, decorating rooms, stocking the tavern, and much more) but that they also have a good time while doing so.

She will talk over some things with me as the Project Coordinator (4), but only if she’s in doubt or if I point out to her that I think we should change something.

For most of our projects, she has also been the Scenography Boss (3), which has made it easy for her to transition smoothly from her role as Volunteer Coordinator (before the event) to Scenography Boss (at the event), and coordinate people getting everything ready. These two functions could be done by different people, but mostly they’ve been done by one.

Edin

Edin Sumar is our Lead Writer (3). When the characters for CoW need to be changed, he assembles a team and makes it happen. He’ll talk over the rough plans with me, and then he’ll put them into effect. He also functions as our World Builder (3) and makes a lot of decisions about the fiction that CoW exists in. His writing teams consist of both freelancers and volunteers, and of both expert workers (2) and unskilled workers (1), and it is his task to juggle them and make sure the Writing Team produces good results.

Edin is also our Player Contact (2). More on that later!

Ole/Ida

For several of our events, we’ve had the dynamic duo of Ole Risgaard Hansen and Ida Pawlowicz as NPC Coordinators (3), running our Non Player Characters at the larp events. This means that after the setup phase of the larp is over, Ole and Ida have taken over all the volunteers, and put them to work as NPCs. The NPCs are then sent as everything from Castle Goblins, werewolves and witchard parents coming to visit the school.

As NPC Coordinators, Ole and Ida (or one of them, since they’re not always two) are responsible for keeping the large NPC team on its toes, and that they take NPC requests from players (which you can do at CoW) and make the NPCs turn them into reality. They seldom leave the NPC Room, and rarely go out as NPCs themselves.

Level 2 — Expert Work

At CoW, we have quite a few skilled people who function at this level. Generally, they work alone or in small teams, and they need only overall direction to produce great things. Here are a few of them, explained.

Boruta

Szymon Boruta is our Location Boss (2). He deals with everything related to the castle. This means that negotiations with the castle are done by him, and if we need anything from the castle staff, we go through Boruta. Sometimes he’ll run decisions by me (like whether we want to pay extra for using the fireplace), but in general he just makes things happen without oversight.

He reports directly to me as the Project Coordinator (4), but if we were running a larp with multiple locations (like Skull & Crossbones, which features three pirate ships, each with its own Ship Boss), we might have a Location Coordinator as well. Probably not, though, since Boruta is a whirlwind, but at least in theory.

He is also our Bus Boss (2). The work here consists of coordinating busses, talking to players about transport needs and making sure our participants get from the airports they land at, to Czocha castle. And back again, when the larp is over on Sunday! This requires quite a bit of mailing back and forth, talking to bus companies and assigning a Bus Hero (2), who does field coordination and is actually ON one of the busses from Berlin.

Another thing Boruta does is that he is the Room Boss (2). He gets in wishes from participants about what kind of room they want to stay in (ingame/offgame) and with who. He then puts together the Master Room List and communicates it to the players, helped by Edin, who is the Player Contact (2). It’s a big puzzle, and demands a lot of moving people around to make everybody (more or less!) happy.

Nadina/Maciek

Nadina Wiórkiewicz and Maciek Nitka are our full-time Documentation Crew (2). They are in charge of creating beautiful photography and video documentation of our events. Sometimes they do everything themselves; from doing the photos and videos, editing and sorting them, putting them online and communicating to players (and the world) where they can be found online in their finished form. Sometimes they bring in help.

Their tasks consists of everything related to photo/video documentation, and they work directly with me (4). If they have opinions about game design, logistics or scenography, they mostly keep them to themselves (except when it impacts their area of work), and concentrate on making the events live on after they’re done. And they’re very good it it!

For most things, I’ll let them do work without interference, but the one place where I sometimes put on my Film Director (1, going on 2) hat and get down and dirty, is with video editing. Here, Maciek, who is our main Film Editor (2) and I will have skype sessions where we go through videos frame by frame and decide on what’s to be kept and what’s to be changed. Mostly, I just provide ideas and vision and they make it happen.

Wicher

Mikolaj Wicher is a bit of a jack-of-all-trades in CoW, but he is also the Tech Boss (2). This means that he’ll take a small team of helpers — on loan from Swistak, the Volunteer Coordinator (3) — and set up all the lights we have. And there are many! During the events, he’s also our main Problem Solver (2), which means that when something hits my desk, Wicher is usually my go-to-person for actually solving it. It can be anything from fixing a printer to building a huge, flammable hydra, and everything in between. Every project should have a Wicher.

Linka

Agnieszka Linka Hawryluk-Boruta is our Costume Boss (2). This is a bit of a misleading term, since we also rent out costumes to players for other projects, and call the person responsible for that (Wicher) the Costume Boss. Nonetheless, for CoW, Linka is the person who will take an idea — either one she comes up with or one she gets from someone on the team — and make it happen. Fireball uniforms, ghost costumes, etc. She’s a one-woman-army, and from time to time pulls in other specialists.

Her task is to take a loose idea (“Wouldn’t it be cool to have Fireball Dragon uniforms for the Houses?”) and make it into physical reality. This means creating designs, buying fabric, organising workspace and a few helpers, and often sewing the actual costumes as well. She also does her best to keep costs down, quality up and not to get too mad when it turns out that reality has changed and we now need six uniforms for each House instead of five.

The life of a Costume Boss is not an easy one!

Ania

Anna Gęborska (Ania) is not a part of our core team, but at CoW she is the Tavern Boss (2). She takes care of more or less everything related to the tavern; making sure there are things to drink, getting it decorated with help from volunteers, running it during the events and counting the moneyz afterwards, so we have an idea if it makes sense to have it.

She’s a paid freelancer with a very specific area of responsibility, and since the tavern isn’t huge, she can get by without having to be a Coordinator (3). She uses a small team of volunteers (either 1’s or 2’s, depending on the person) to help her during the events.

Ania also runs the bar at the afterparty, and helps out with other small tasks during the larps, but her overall responsibility is to ensure that the tavern/bar works and that people are happy, get to drink (responsibly) and get thrown out when it’s time for bed. The last is the hardest!

Level 1 — Unskilled Work

All of us have a ton of things we can do at the Unskilled Work (1) level. I can carry boxes as a Box Mover (1), but calling me a Master Box Carrier (2) is a mistake. My Croatian friend, Pavle, who is 2 m tall and strong as an ox — he is a Master Box Carrier. He’s also a great dancer (2), another area where I’m more at the 1 level, but that’s neither here nor there.

The important thing is that we do a lot of tasks, both huge and tiny, and this means a lot of work at Level 1 level during an event. Here are two examples of people who do work at this level, and how that functions.

Nissen

Frederik Nissen has been a volunteer helper at several CoWs, and is a fantastic guy with many skills. He can drive a car, but doesn’t have twenty years of experience or a past as a rally driver, so we’ll call him a Driver (1). He can do makeup at a basic level, without being an expert, which makes him a Makeup Artist (1) when needed. He can also decorate Common Rooms, and while he can get the job done, he’s not exactly an interior designer. Another 1 for Nissen’s skillset. Add to that a string of other Level 1 skills and Nissen is an awesome guy to have around.

He’s a 2 in some respects. When it comes to playing a House Goblin, Nissen is a 2+, and while he’s not super-experienced at leading teams, he can definitely be put in a Coordinator-style role (3) if needed. And when it comes to reaching tall places, he’s a 2++. The man is tall. ;-)

Claus

That’s me. But wasn’t I a Level 4 in College of Wizardry terms? Well, yes, but I can also do things at Level 1. I can carry trash, fix printers, film video and do webpages. I can take charge of the Libussa Common Room and I can sew a costume, and if I have to I can also clean toilets and move beds. I’ve done all of these things and more at CoW events, but usually only when things have been relaxed and quiet (so I wasn’t needed for my Level 4 work) or when things were chaotic and crazy (so every hand on deck was needed for something).

People aren’t numbers, and it’s a classical mistake to look at them like static beings in a spreadsheet. Reality is much more complex. Even with me.

Final thoughts

So what should you think of when you put together your project group?

I don’t have all the answers, but I do have some tips.

  • Without a Level 4 person the project has a problem, until someone steps up and takes over. Even if the “new 4” is also doing 3 or 2 stuff as well.
  • Any task of more than a certain size requires a Level 3 to handle it, or it will eat up the Project Coordinator’s time like there’s no tomorrow.
  • Level 2’s are an absolute dream to work with. Unless, of course, they are human and not only have skills, but also opinions and demands. ;-)
  • Level 1’s are fantastic, and should be cherished. Especially in numbers.
  • Level 0’s are not a failure. Never treat them like that. Even if tempted.
  • Make sure that people work at the level they’re comfortable with.
  • A Level 2 person is more skilled at the task than a Level 1. They will often want more autonomy and will question decisions, though, so it’s not always a good idea to have a Level 2 in a position, if a Level 1 will do.
  • Detail-minded perfectionists usually make bad 3’s and horrible 4’s.
  • People who don’t care about details that much (like me!) should not be at the 2 level if possible.
  • Accept that fact that some people are (more or less) 0’s in some things that you find super-easy. It probably goes the other way as well.
  • Each level of work has its own reward. When we did the College of Extraordinary Experiences, one of our Founders — the film producer Mark Ordesky, who worked at a high level on the LOTR movie trilogy — was extremely happy to use an hour just carrying tables (1).
  • While it’s great being able to step in at any level, it’s not necessary to have Level 1 or Level 2 skills to be at Level 3 or 4. I still don’t know a lot about Vampire the Masquerade, and I’m still the Project Coordinator for a crazily ambitious VtM larp; Convention of Thorns. If I became a character writer for the project, I’d be dead in the water. And not just undead.
  • You don’t have to map out every small detail of your project, but it’s good knowing who your central 2’s and 3’s are. And pretty critical to know who is the 4! ;-)
  • Here’s the PDF, if you want it!
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