If you’ve worked in the theater, you’re probably familiar with the term “tech week.” It’s that magical time when an entire production comes together in a matter of days. It’s a whirlwind week that culminates in a big opening night performance.
Before tech week, every piece of the production has been independently developed. Costumes are designed and fitted in dressing rooms, sets are worked on in garages, and music is rehearsed in studios. Sure, everyone knows their part, but it’s not until tech week that it all comes together into a cohesive whole. To an outsider, the week must seem absolutely unmanageable, but to a director, it’s highly organized chaos.
During tech week, those involved are prepared to spend their entire days on set—and that’s ok—because “it’s tech week,” or, more simply, “it’s tech.” NBC’s primetime show Smash even featured an entire episode about tech week. During the episode, Karen, a sweetheart from Iowa at her first Broadway tech, couldn’t even accept a wedding proposal from her boyfriend because, in her words, “it’s tech.” And it’s true, the week is all-consuming. With everyone focused on their little piece of the pie, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. Performers are adjusting to the new space while the lighting crew focuses on the lights. Last minute changes come in from the writers, having now seen the stage. All the while, the crew is trying to set the stage while costume designers make adjustments to match. Sure “Smash” probably overplayed the drama of it all, but only by a little.
Web Design doesn’t have a one-to-one experience with tech week even though we’re solving many of the same issues. During a recent Happy Cog project, the launch and run of the O Music Awards, I tried to emulate the orchestrated maelstrom of a tech week as much as possible. There are four aspects I looked to carry over:
Tech week works because everyone is working together towards a common goal. The initial lighting plot is only possible because the lighting designer is sitting physically beside the director during a run. They talk, in real time, about what will work and what won’t. It’s the collaborative back and forth that allows so much to happen in such a short span of time.
In the web world, we can do much better about facilitating this type of communication. Go to your client, sit across the table from them; or, set up daily check-ins. You’re going to need quick answers to fast questions, and there’s no better way to go about this than to simply lean across the table and ask. We were lucky enough to be in near constant contact with our client at MTV leading up to the event, which helped immensely. The day before launch, we were able to sit in the same room and iterate much more quickly than we would have been able to over the phone. Bottom line, don’t let launch week be just another week, treat it differently and plan ahead for increased communication.
Tech week is all about integration. Every aspect should be in near final form, allowing you a full week to piece everything together. In theater, that means orchestrating costume changes from one completed costume to another.
In the web world, it may be switching from a development payment system to a production payment system. Or moving from your staging server to a production server. The point is, don’t use that final week to create something new. That’s not the purpose of tech week and you’re risking quality or scope by adding something so late in the game. By the time you and the client sit down for the final push, everything should be created and you’re “simply” integrating.
Many times, a Broadway production will pay for hotel accommodations near the theater for the cast and crew, even if they already live in New York. The justification for this expense is that the cast isn’t worried about their home life during tech week; it’s a quasi staycation. For example, the cast isn’t rushing home to feed the dog, they’ve made arrangements for Fido as if they were out of town. This physical separation from home allows the team to focus on the show for a solid week.
Web designers all know the week before launch isn’t going to be a typical 9:00-5:00 job, so they make arrangements in advance. The unexpected is going to happen, it always does. An actor will get sick, a new requirement will pop up. Either way, you’ve got a launch coming up and you’re going to have to work around it.
If you can swing it, the best way I’ve found to manage expectations, both internally and externally, is to actually spend that final week of development someplace new. If this isn’t possible, sometimes just getting out of the office is all it takes. Head to a co-working space or get a conference room somewhere. Whatever you do, expect this week to be different and make whatever arrangements necessary for that to happen.
This may be the most important aspect, because it’s what drives you (or pulls you) through tech week. The payoff of a successful opening night, a standing ovation, is enough to get you through just about any week.
A successful website launch should evoke the same feelings. Don’t just pat each others’ backs and call it a day. Recently, Joe Rinaldi, our Business Development Director, started honoring our website launches with a bit more pomp and circumstance by getting champagne and orchestrating a toast. Yes, it’s still but a small celebratory act, but it means a lot to the team. And it’s those types of good times that get you through the difficult ones. So, whether it’s a 24-hour live stream of a Guinness World Record breaking event or a little champagne and a nice dinner, make sure there’s a light at the end of your tunnel.
I’ve drawn this correlation between theater and web design, but there are many more. What outside industries do you bring into your work life to improve your process? Where do you take process inspiration from?