Three kinds of updates: sexy, routine, and plumbing

The design of our universe is breathtaking. There are so many intelligent parts to the construction. If you take some time to think on it, it leaves you agog. One core element is order. Another is balance. Another is change. The seasonal shifts that happen every year are one of the most prominent and palpable changes. Fall, Spring, Summer, Winter. Each has its own personality and purpose. When you study it (or obsess about it as we do) scheduling work shares all of these same elements--order, balance, and change. It even has its own sort of seasonal cadence, and thankfully so, because without these shifts we'd all be in trouble.

For all schools, whether they schedule just a semester or a year at a time, January to April is peak season for scheduling. This is where the heaviest of the lifting takes place. From May to August is a lull in the scheduling routine. For schools who build their schedules one semester at a time, August-October is round two where the Spring schedule gets produced. In the November and December window schools are negotiating the courses to be taught the following year. And then in January we prep for the cycle to begin anew.

That this responsibility takes on this cyclical pattern matters far more than you may think it should. By it having seasons, the makers get moments to work, to reflect, to breathe, to regroup, to recover. All of these are vital to the process and to our ability to succeed at what we do. Otherwise, the endeavor would be ultimately unsustainable. Here at ofCourse, we rely on these seasons as well. For most schedule-makers when the fervor subsides, they turn their guns to other challenges, thankful to be able to step away from the high-impact build-cycle for a few months. We at ofCourse never leave the scheduling pitch, but we are working in different ways in the various times of the year. Our "other" work is still scheduling work. But it is not in just making schedules but finding ways to make schedules BETTER! We conduct debriefs, poll our admins finding out what went well, what might not have gone well, what do they wish had gone better. We're also reviewing our diagnostic information and looking for areas we can make our processes better, smarter.

From this collective research, we craft something we call our baker's dozen. The Baker's dozen is a list of improvements we are going to make before the next scheduling season begins in earnest. As for the updates, they tend to be a mixture of the following:

  • sexy updates.
  • routine updates
  • plumbing updates.

I imagine those terms reasonably define themselves, but in case they don't here's a breakdown.

Sexy updates are things people are excited to get and even more excited to put to use. Examples of such updates form the past include:

  • The Collision Management system.
  • Room Density Reports
  • Schedule Scoring
  • Enhanced public views

Routine updates are things that should have been in the system but for various reasons were not. Examples of routine updates from the past:

  • Historical Reporting
  • Footnotes
  • Room Amenities
  • ADA accessible schedules

And the plumbing updates are things that just have to get done, and no one will care that they are there but will care a lot if they are not there. Examples of plumbing fixes include:

  • Filters on the various views (limit by prof, room, section)
  • Supporting Variable Credit courses
  • Assigning Special Designations to courses (e.g., Online, Weekend)
  • Support for co-teachers

On the positive side, while not all of the updates are sexy, for us at ofCourse all of the updates are exciting. This is the seldom-talked-about benefits of having an obsessive personality--obsessions often carry negative connotations UNLESS they have a productive end.

One last thing about this process. A few years back we saw definitive proof of the effectiveness of our routines. The first year we sent out our end-of-season debrief questions, I received three pages of comments from one of our admins. A year later his feedback could fit on a single printed page. And the third year his response came with just two items and a closing remark that said, "The system must be getting better if I only have two things to say!". Being the one who has to work to address those incoming concerns every year, I take his shrinking two-item list of as a definite sign that the system is getting better, and via our baker's dozen, getting better still every year.

As always, see you on the scheduling pitch.


Troy Dearmitt

Troy is the CTO & Co-founder at ofCourse.

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