Username Post: Software Solutions        (Topic#2441)
JLeeBly 
Newbie
Posts: 4

Loc: WV
Reg: 01-17-10

11-12-11 09:35 PM - Post#9791    

I've been affiliated with Tsubasacon (Huntington, WV) since 2006 and have headed up Convention Operations for going on my fifth year. We're always looking for ways to improve our workflow and the way we get things done, and I'm hoping to share some ideas with those who frequent these forums.

One thing that continuously drives me crazy is scheduling of events and rooms. This is probably a common problem, but I'm curious how larger conventions handle it. I've approached this issue several different ways; corkboard, excel, Google calendar... they all have their strengths, but I'm wondering if there isn't a more sophisticated and elegant way of automating the scheduling process in such a way that helps prevent double-booking of guests, panelists, staff members, and event themes (ie. not showing Gundam at the same time as a Mecha fan panel).

With three viewing rooms, two panel rooms, two event rooms, and the various and sundry staples every convention has (gaming room, artist alley, vendors), we're a fairly small convention; however, this never fails to be an enigma year after year (that is, thoughtful scheduling). I can only imagine how challenging it is for larger venues.

Is there any software, online app, methodology, etc. that anyone could recommend that might make the job a little easier (or perhaps give me some fresh perspective)? Do the larger conventions have custom software/database solutions, or can they afford to be a bit less methodical with their scheduling?

I'm interested in your thoughts and suggestions. Thank you ahead of time for your consideration.

 
PatrickD 
Executive Producer
Posts: 5078
PatrickD
Loc: California
Reg: 12-07-06

11-13-11 12:19 AM - Post#9792    
    In response to JLeeBly

I did scheduling in Anime Boston's early days and at Providence Anime Conference. I talked about my trademark Post-It method on AnimeCons TV back in March.
http://animecons.com/tv/episode.shtml?26
-PatrickD
AnimeCons.com Executive Producer
Co-Founder: Anime Boston and Providence Anime Conference
Host of The Chibi Project & Anime Unscripted™


 
Proz 
Con Addict
Posts: 141
Proz
Loc: Texas
Reg: 08-08-07

11-15-11 04:12 PM - Post#9795    
    In response to JLeeBly

Even with 8+ panel/events rooms and 3 video rooms, we still use the Excel method edited by two people. We are moving over to a 'slot method' where rooms will be designed to certain panel type (Fan Panels, Guest Panels, etc) to allow us to just designate a panel then put it in the appropriate panel rooms. Popular fan/guest panels would be put into another room.

A second method used, to ensure no double/triple bookings, is a guest schedule breakdown using a document editor like Word. It also lets us know if the guests have sufficient breaks & downtime between panels & autographs. The schedules are then printed on the back of the guest badges.

Also check out Guidebook if you haven't already. It has one of the best interfaces that allows you to create your schedule along with any necessary changes. For a smaller event like Tsubasacon, they offer a free version for up to 500 downloads.
San Japan - San Antonio, Texas - Convention Chairman


 
JLeeBly 
Newbie
Posts: 4

Loc: WV
Reg: 01-17-10

11-17-11 01:43 AM - Post#9797    
    In response to PatrickD

@PatrickD, I'll be sure to give that a view/listen when I get a chance.

@Proz, our current method is tag-teaming via Excel, Dropbox, and Google Calendars. I will say that Google Calendars does about 75-80% of what I'd like, though the devil is in the details. I can create a dedicated calendar for a guest and "invite" them to particular events on the master schedule. As I move those events around, their calendar is updated too. I can do this for every guest, every room, and for resources (I had a special calendar for our photography team, for example, to make sure we got ample coverage of all events and guests). The problem then becomes managing 20+ Google Calendars simultaneously (and that's with a small convention) and no hard-stops if you happen to double-book. Unless you're super-vigilant about checking, you find out the hard way three days before the convention when you're printing Patrick D.'s guest schedule and find he's supposed to be giving two panels at the same time.

I like the idea of pre-planning the timeslots (mecha panel here, shinobi panel there, etc.) and placing appropriate panels in as you see fit. I imagine that requires some uniformity with your panel lengths (we allow anywhere between 60-120 minutes, given you can provide a valid reason why your panel should, and would, last 2 hours). This would almost be essential if you wanted to do programming tracks (and it helps keep the viewing rooms and panel rooms on the same page to some degree).

Back to double-booking, I think I'm less concerned about double-booking a guest (considering they'll be doing one or two events per day) versus "the attendee" that wants to do their Sailor Moon panel and also perform in the cosplay masquerade, or "the staff member" with the wild schedule that wants to do their awesome Hellsing Q&A. However, if you can come up with a system that takes care of the latter, you might as well implement the former.

Again, I'll try to watch the video asap, Patrick, and I would still appreciate any additional input or feedback anyone has to offer.

 
Bryguy 
Con Regular
Posts: 75

Loc: Edmonton, Canada
Reg: 01-05-07

11-17-11 05:59 AM - Post#9798    
    In response to JLeeBly

Wow - you're very lucky you only have that many rooms to worry about.

Animethon (the con I'm affiliated with) has LOTS of small programming rooms so we have to be very careful when scheduling. Luckily (?) we don't have the budget to worry about too many guests.

For your specific case I would recommend doing an intensive inspection for every time slot of your schedule. Make sure to check the individual schedule for every guest as well as every staff member who runs or helps out with a specific event.
Next is the second most important thing I can suggest: ask someone who doesn't have a clue about the details of the schedule and find out if they see something you overlooked. A second (and third) pair of eyes is crucial.

For the most part I typically schedule videos at the very end, wherever they will slot in reasonably.
For some programming, for example, it's not so much the genre you have to be worried about but the type of appeal it has for certain attendees. Try and figure out what kinds of programming tend to be well/poorly attended against well attended events (like guests or cosplay).
It can be rather disappointing if one attends an anime convention and when they look at the schedule they have to chose between two or three different options - or worse - there is absolutely nothing that slightly interests them going on in the near future.

 
JLeeBly 
Newbie
Posts: 4

Loc: WV
Reg: 01-17-10

11-17-11 10:00 AM - Post#9801    
    In response to Bryguy

@Bryguy, those are some good thoughts. I know that we're still fairly small by comparison, which was kind of why I was curious how some of "the big kids" handle the problem.

I agree with the additional sets of eyes... I think we find at least one issue every year once we pre-release our schedule to the staff for review. Our Google Calendar setup will catch guest issues pretty quickly, but our Department Heads are good to spot any problems that may crop up in their domain (overlapping cosplay events and panels, for example).

For tracking staff members, I used Excel (which I am actually fairly proficient in). I experimented with giving everyone (about 35 people, give or take) a hard schedule since break times in the past have been a bit of an issue. However, if I had to change the time of an event or panel, I would have to backtrack to see if any of my staff were involved with it (since there is no clear connection between GCal and Excel), and if moving said event causes and staff coverage gap, then you have to rearrange the working schedule of 1-5 people to make it work (depending on department). I think the extra effort was of some benefit, though. But I digress (kind of).

I always find it amazing at the events/panels that get good attendance that you originally thought were doomed to fail, versus the ones that appear to have a lot of time and effort poured into them only to have a shoddy attendance. I feel like we're getting a better handle on it now, and you make a good point (why make a genre track if you feel like it won't be well-attended?). I know we run the risk of plugging stuff into time slots for the sake of doing so just because it's a convenient place to put a 90-minute panel, for example... hopefully we can improve upon our formula for 2012.

Again, I appreciate the feedback and look forward to more.

(Patrick, I'm watching your video *now*)

 
meauho 
Con Addict
Posts: 117
meauho
Loc: Houston(ish), Tx
Reg: 04-24-08

03-04-12 08:58 PM - Post#10420    
    In response to JLeeBly

I typically use an excel/ google docs approach. It isn't my preferred method, but it is the one that most people can work with.

My preferred method is to lay out the schedule (like on excel) on a giant board. I back each block with velcro.

As panels are approved, I make a cutout for each panel - color coded based on type - and place the panels on the board.

1. Events that are restricted to certain times get a red sticker. These are at set times.

2. Events that can move within an hour or two are yellow stickered, with the base time written on them.

3. Events that can move where ever are unstickered.

From there, you just make sure that the same person isn't in 2 places at once, that you limit panels with the same audience (2 cosplay panels at the same time is a bad idea), and that people actually have a break so they aren't in panels 10 hours a day.
Joshua Andrade

Bad Wolf Trading




 
PatrickD 
Executive Producer
Posts: 5078
PatrickD
Loc: California
Reg: 12-07-06

03-05-12 11:33 AM - Post#10422    
    In response to meauho

That sounds very similar to what I would do with Post-Its. I demonstrated this in last March's episode of AnimeCons TV.
http://animecons.com/tv/episode.shtml?26
-PatrickD
AnimeCons.com Executive Producer
Co-Founder: Anime Boston and Providence Anime Conference
Host of The Chibi Project & Anime Unscripted™


 
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