Sunday, July 22, 2018

Management by walking around

My title for this blog is an old management saying (and not just in industry; a friend who was a petty officer in the Navy said they used it too). But in this post, I’m not addressing that kind of management. Instead, I am going to explain how I use the idea around my layout.
     I always have a short (usually mental) list of layout work that needs to be done. And mostly that’s fine, because as I slowly work through such lists, things do get done. But there is a risk of focusing on a couple of things that happened to have occurred to you, without being systematic about needs. Those “couple of things” may absolutely be needed, but what else are you missing that is lurking out there?
     That’s where the “walking around” part come in. A couple of times a year, I grab a pad of paper or a clipboard, and literally walk around the layout (slowly). Anything needed or desirable or missing or fun that occurs to me gets written down. This is a process just like the classic “brainstorming” directions: any and all ideas that occur to you are to be written down. No ranking of importance, no thinking about how hard or complicated a task might be, just write down all the ideas that pop into your head.
     This of course ought to be a leisurely process, allowing lots of time to look at different features and get ideas about what could be improved or completed, and beyond that, of course, as I said, what’s missing. I make every effort to enjoy one of these walk-arounds. Here I’m “on patrol” with a clipboard at Shumala.

     I often fill a couple of 8.5 x 11 sheets of paper with these ideas. Sometimes I go back around to each one with a clean sheet of paper, and write down more ideas about how a task might get done, or exactly what the desired outcome would be, or whether the task interacts with or has to follow other tasks, and so forth and so on. This fleshes out that first spontaneous list of ideas.
     Often I will take photos (cell phones make this so easy) to make sure I will remember the issue in any particular area. For example, I recently noticed that Cienega Creek in my town of Ballard has had the water surface (made with Gloss Medium) get so dull that the creek looks dry (see below).

This will be easy to fix with another coat of Gloss Medium. As it happens, I have noticed on any number of layout visits that older modeled waterways have become dull and flat on the surface, which certainly changes the look for the worse. I will fix mine.
     Another example is the end of Nipomo Street in Ballard, which has long needed to have one of those “end of street” signs or barriers. I once imagined using the formed sheet steel barriers familiar as guard rails on highways, but realized for my modeling year of 1953, that a plain wooden barrier was more likely, or, in this case where there is an embankment at the end of the street, maybe just a sign. But to illustrate, here is the area I mean, with the street in the center foreground, and you can readily see that something is needed.

     One more example, one that is probably familiar to everyone with a layout more than a couple of years old. It is inescapable that operators’ hands, along with tools, throttles, and paperwork contact the layout in various places, especially at the edges. This is essentially a kind of “wear,” and though one may try to ignore it, looking with a fresh eye shows it immediately. Here’s just one example from my layout, next to the Chamisal Road crossing in Shumala. This was once lush vegetation! (well, kind of). But it needs renewal.

     Usually my next step after writing a list, and (perhaps) taking photos, is to put this material aside, because I know from experience that the ideas will kind of “marinate” in my subconscious, and will gain solidity and detail by the time I come back to them in a few days. I may or may not write down the expanded or “marinated” versions, and in fact the marinating process usually will identify some of the tasks as unnecessary or too complex or not compatible with other tasks. That’s fine, they are easy to cross off the list.
     But most of the ideas usually are indeed worth pursuing, and so I would now try to rank them in terms of importance and urgency. I may also make a list of the various steps that would need to be done to accomplish the tasks of greatest importance. This can lead to a shopping list for the next hobby shop visit, or, failing that, perhaps going on-line to buy what I need — I always try to support hobby shops when I can. (Or someday that hobby shop won’t be there.)
     My final result is usually a three-part list: short-term projects, many of which can be done in an hour or so; medium-term projects, where there may be several hours needed  or some preliminary work has to be done first; and a long-term list, mostly fairly big projects or ones which I am not sure yet how to do. Of course, figuring out how to do one of the latter may move it higher in the list.
     I will confess that one of these “walking around” exercises tends to happen when a layout-oriented event is upcoming, such as a regional NMRA convention where there will be open houses and sign-up operating sessions, and I want the layout to be at its best for that. But I have noticed that if the layout feels a little stale, motivation to work on it is low, other things seem to intervene, then a walking-around exercise often gets me interested again in making more progress.  And inspiration, of course, is how you get from benchwork to trackwork to scenery to operating.
     It works for me. If you ever feel “out of sync” with your layout, you might give it a try. I’d bet you will find a pretty good list of things large and small that would repay some work sessions.
Tony Thompson

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