FG Vancouver Production Report
The main focus of this report is to outline strategies for streamlining and optimizing production areas at Free Geek Vancouver. This will help Free Geek Vancouver be not only be financially independent but also to expand in both staff and space in the future. As far as mission related topics I feel that there is little that I need to say because from what I experienced, FG-Vancouver embodies the spirit of what I have seen make FG-Portland such a special place. The stream of materials coming into FG-Vancouver is strong, the volunteers are excited and engaged and the the staff are skilled and dedicated. With some fine tuning to the engine of production, I am very confident that FG-Vancouver will not only grow, but flourish. The following are suggestions only. I hope that FG-Vancouver will use them as a basis for change that will lead to continued growth and success.
The layout of FG-Vancouver's build workshop allows for about as many build stations as FG-Portland. With space not being a restraining factor with a few adjustments FG-Vancouver should be able to increase its production output considerably.
It would be beneficial to clear out the shelves in the center of the room by moving storage of finished and in progress machines into the warehouse. This will allow a more open class- like feel to the area which will allow the build instructor to see all the build students at once and also allow more interchange between build volunteers. A more open and welcoming space will have a positive effect on the volunteer experience.
I recommend that the day long build workshops be formalized into two shifts a day that are restricted in both time and space. Two three and a half hour shifts would create a more focused build experience for volunteers and would lower the commitment for volunteer build instructors. It is much easier to ask a volunteer to make a 3 and a half hour commitment per week than it is a seven hour commitment. Build instructors should be asked to make an ongoing commitment to a specific class during the week and build students should be asked to show up on time at the beginning of each class so that the instructor can get everyone oriented and working together at once.
Build and QC checklists
Having instruction sets with checklists for both build and QC can be very helpful for build students to find out what to do and how to do it in a orderly and consistent manner. These checklists will also decrease the load of questions from students to a the build instructor, allowing the instructor to supervise a larger number of students more effectively. Examples of the build and QC checklists that FG-Portland uses can be found here: http://wiki.freegeek.org/index.php/Build_Checklists
The need for Staff QC seems to have arisen from problems in production in the past. A high rate of failure of volunteer QC'd machines had been an ongoing problem. With a more focused and formalized build area I feel that the overall quality of built machines and QC'd machines will rise to the level that Staff QC will no longer be needed. I recommend that the build instructor of each shift personally signs off on each computer that is completed, thus increasing their ownership of the process which will result in a decrease of problem systems. The staff members doing Staff QC will have a pretty good idea when their time is no longer needed as they see the quality of the systems that they are QCing improve.
I feel that the in-build memtest step could either be greatly reduced or eliminated. If the memory going into the build boxes has already been tested in the memory testing station, a second test is usually redundant. When good memory fails in a good machine it is usually due to some sort of incompatibility issue, which will lead to kernel-panics on boot or crashing applications on the desktop. This can usually be verified by a quick memtest that will usually show hundreds of errors in the first 60 seconds of running the program. For this reason I recommend that memtest be used as a diagnostic tool in build and not as a primary step. This should shorten the amount of time that it takes for a volunteer to build a system with very little downside.
The Mac area
I recommend that this area be scaled back substantially for the near term. Macintosh computers are very proprietary and thus very difficult to get Free and Open Source software to running well on them. Their value is also greatly diminished in Thrift Store sales because when Mac people buy Macs they usually want Mac software as well. There are high-end Macs that will come in that will be worth the extra effort to gain maximum value, but for the most part Macs that can post and have had their hard drives removed may be able to be sold in the thrift store “As-Is” for close to the same price as Macs that are fully built, but for a small fraction of time invested. In the long term it would be great to have a Mac area where volunteers would be able to get more involved, but with FG-Vancouver's current space limitations I feel that the space that the Mac area takes up could be better allocated to strengthen core areas such as PC Build.
The laptop area is currently run for the most part by one dedicated volunteer. At the current time this is a very fortunate situation to have so that the Build Coordinator can focus his energies on build proper in order to strengthen and streamline desktop build. In the future, however, it is imperative that more volunteers get involved with laptops. The real power of Free Geek production can only be harnessed with strong volunteer involvement. While current space is limited such that there is not a separate area that laptops could be worked on, it would definitely add value to the organization in both mission through education and grants and monetary value through store sales to commit a build shift or two a week to focus on laptops once build proper is running efficiently.
Cash Donations in Receiving
I was a little surprised that FG-Vancouver does not ask its Donors for cash donations when they drop off computers. There may be some fear that Donors would bring their computers elsewhere if they feel that they will be asked for cash. It is important to remember that people who are donating to Free Geek are already going out of their way to support an organization that really is the best solution for end-of-life computer equipment. This usually means that they are already supportive of the cause and might just want to support it further with a cash donation. As long as “the ask” is not too strong, it could provide another stream of revenue that FG-Vancouver could depend on.
Thrift Store organization
As production begins to pick up, and more items are available for the thrift store, the burden will be on the thrift store staff to be able to present items for sale in a neat and orderly manner. When customers are able to quickly locate useful items for sale they will have a better experience and FG-Vancouver will bring in substantially more revenue.
In closing, I am very optimistic about FG-Vancouver's future. They have already overcome many obstacles and constraints that were real hurdles during FG-Portland's startup years. All the components necessary for a strong and lasting success are present: good incoming material flow, enthusiastic and engaged volunteers and a highly competent staff. The biggest hurdle to success is now production, and with some fine tuning I think that FG-Vancouver will overcome this hurdle.