Best/worst demo I never gave: ‘Our Rundown,’ a CMS drama

I’ve  been cleaning my home computer and just run across notes for a demo idea I had for work that never came together. The timestamp and rambling style of the notes suggest a battle against insomnia and crazy.

At the time, our team was working to launch a massive overhaul of our “rundown” tools, which publish digitally the important rundowns — list of segments — and, even more critically, the audio of every NPR show.

Rundown tools bring together real-time work from many corners of NPR operations: story summaries from lots of radio staffers, edits and updates for those summaries from rundown editors as the day’s show evolves live, “build-outs” of select summaries into fully produced stories by different digital editors and bloggers, cutting and creation of free-standing digital segments by  audio engineers,  music snippets and their segments from the show directors, and actions from maybe a dozen smaller processes.

This beast piece of our CMS was years past its prime. We were rebuilding it and overhauling lots of thus-liberated related production aspects.

So, too late one night before launch, it seemed like a great idea to me to give our last biweekly demo for stakeholders in play form. What we were coding plus Thorton Wilder’s Our Town obviously equaled… Our Rundown.

I’ve cleaned up the notes for clarity… and deleted the last names of my talented colleagues/prospective players to semi-protect the innocent.

(Semi-anonymous cast: Lauren and I were product owners; McCaul was project manager/scrum master. Jason, David and Mike were devs. Dell was UX and had left a little before this point in the project. Sugi and Paul were QA. Serri and Andrew were our editorial subject-matter experts, or SMEs, and running our newsroom training. Chris B was the audio SME.)

The narrator would have been dev David, who acts in community theater and sometimes comments on this blog. I hope he and all who could have been involved are amused/relieved this almost happened/didn’t happen.

Act I: Daily Life

“This play is called ‘Our Rundown.’ It was written, sort of, by Thorton Wilder; produced by McCaul B; and directed by Lauren B and Patrick C….

“The name of the town is Seamus Corners, North Capitol, just across the Massachusetts Line. The First Act shows a day in our rundown. The day is December 9, 2013. The time is just before dawn. The sky is beginning to show some streaks of light over in the East there, behind our Red Line.

“The Morning Edition Star always gets wonderful bright the minute before it has to go live — doesn’t it?” Need conference room w/ dimmer.

Narrator points out the rundown landmarks. Serri and Andrew exchange pleasantries. “Here comes Chris B, delivering the audio….” Chris and Serri exchange pleasantries. Serri wakes up all the stories… or something.

“Thank you, Serri and Andrew. Thank you very much. Now we’re going to skip some time. But first, we want a little more information about the rundown, kind of a scientific account, you might say. I’ve asked Developer G of our Digital Media team to sketch in a few details of our past history here. A few brief notes, thank you, Developer G — our time is limited….”

Jason gives details about latest code tweaks.

David introduces Mike as the newspaper editor. Questions come from audience. Andrew and Serri do George and Emily conversation. David uses cornerstone speech to talk about migration, putting the old episodes in a box. Some equivalent of “You can hear the choir practice.” More Andrew-Serri conversation. Everyone says goodnight. Moment of exclamation (?).

Act II: Love and Marriage

“Three days have gone by…. All that can happen in three days…..”

Players demo production of Ask Me Another episode. Chris delivers the audio. Andrew and Serri talk and upload the audio. Open question: How do we do the wedding? Is it like training, with all the players looking on?

Act III: Death and Eternity

The death of bugs! Narrator describes passage of time, beautiful scene of graveyard. First the old bugs and then newer ones, frustrations now gone.

Jumping a bit away from literal death, Sugi S and Paul S talk about where the people we’ve met have gone. Lauren, she left to have a baby. Andrew, he left for Facebook. Serri, she became a booker. Dell, she went first. David and Mike went back to Siteworx. Patrick, he’s trapped in responsive hell.

Serri comes to bury frustration. All of our players, who with the project launch have passed into new lives, talk to each other. “Can’t I go back and relive the old days?” “No.” They imagine the old days. Then some kind of dramatic close… at least as dramatic as a sprint-review play about a CMS can be. Our players explain how the users active in these tools still don’t understand how good life can be. Call for continued iteration! The end.

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