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September 6, 2012

deltatre Operational Commandments

by Chris Catling

The following “commandments” are pieces of advice, on-site observations and examples of good practice that we have learnt in the last 25 years in Turin and London in the operational domain.

All operations staff working for deltatre are required to apply these commandments whenever possible on-site and all supervisors actively encourage their use.

1 Preparation is 90% of success

Preparation is the key to any successful operation.  In fact, 90% of the success can be attributed to how well we prepare for the operation.  In most cases, a very similar operation has already been undertaken by the company at some point in our history, so we know exactly what to expect.  At least we know what to expect if we spend the right amount of time in preparation and planning for an event.  Talk to those that have been there before, think through everything you might need, think through everything that might go wrong, think through what you will do in every situation that might arise.  Make sure you have the right resources for the operation and that anything that can be written down in advance has been documented.


2 Document everything

One of the key factors for our success over the years has been our written communications.  Call sheets, checklists, practices and procedures, manuals, debriefs all help to capture the collective experience of everyone on the projects and provide clear communication to all stakeholders in a project.  When you write it down, you discover what you really know and what you don’t.  You are sharing your knowledge with others, so they can learn from your wisdom.


3 Define roles and responsibilities

It is essential that everybody working on an operational team has a clear understanding of their role and the roles of those around them.  Communication lines must be clear and escalation points must be defined.  If you are not clear of your role, you cannot know if you have been successful with your responsibilities.


4 Test and test again

Testing and rehearsals are essential prior to any event operation. If several issues occur at event time, then it is clear that the testing has not been thorough enough. We must always try to simulate an event as close as possible, testing all software, hardware, backup procedures, any external or sub-contractor factors, as well as checking the output in detail. Any anomaly or error should be investigated in order to avoid a recurrence of this issue when the event is for real.  Keep testing until it works 100%.

Even the smallest software tweak could have huge implications, for this reason we have release dates so that all software changes are thoroughly tested for any kind of bugs.  Unless you have sufficient time to test all parts of the system, software development should be frozen on an agreed date and not touched unless completely necessary.


5 There must be a backup for every point of failure

For every point of failure we should have a very clear backup procedure in place that has been tested and documented by the team responsible for that project. These solutions should be documented in crisis management documents and if necessary, project circulars. Backups apply for hardware, software and people!


6 Stay focused on the big picture

If an issue does occur, the focus must remain on the expected deliverables – priorities and timing.  Whilst it is important that we document the issue for future investigation, the priority should always be to deliver the service that is expected.  Be clear on what the most important elements of our service is and don’t compromise the big picture trying to fix peripheral issues.


7 Check your final output

Normally our end-product and key deliverable is an output (TV graphics, streaming, printouts, video, audio, etc.). It is not good enough just to check that the output is being produced, but we must also thoroughly check that the output is correct.  The client sees the final output and this is what our service will be judged on, so let’s make sure it is correct and we see any problems before anyone else does.


8 Lightning doesn’t strike twice

“Bad luck” is often given as an excuse when the cause of the problem is really poor preparation and planning.  An application that functions incorrectly once is likely to malfunction again. This is not a coincidence, we must test thoroughly in advance until we reproduce the issue again and we have a clear explanation and action plan. All issues should be reported and investigated.

Always be diligent when a problem occurs, any issue that is carefully managed, investigated and acted upon should not occur a second time.


9 Learn from your mistakes

Operational staff are human, we make mistakes; but these mistakes should always be used as a valuable lesson to avoid it happening a second time. Recurring mistakes can be avoided through regular written and verbal feedback and staff monitoring. In addition to this, it is important to make sure that the system and operational procedures are ‘operator-friendly’ enough to avoid the most critical issues and also designed to avoid common mistakes. We must be proactive to make sure that we are constantly improving the procedures to avoid any operational errors.


10 The client is always the client

The client’s needs are at the heart of everything we do and when we are on operations, client satisfaction is the key driver to guide our actions. It is important that we are clear internally on the client’s expectations and pursue client’s feedback in order to gain a fair view of the service quality.

External reporting to the client is an important part of this, as it provides to clients an objective view of the service, to analyse it during a certain timeframe to review any issues and progress within the project and also to identify and act on any issues.

Know what the client wants and keep them satisfied.  Remember, the client is not always right, but they are always the client.

About the author

Chris Catling

Chris is Operations Director of deltatre media, the London office of the deltatre group. Chris is responsible for all delivery and projects run from London. Having been with the company since joining for the IRB Rugby World Cup project in 2007, Chris has run projects in all areas of the company – online, onstage and backstage – before taking on his current role. Passionate about making watching sport better for the armchair fan, of which he excels (when not working!); certainly achieving better results from the armchair than he did from his own rugby playing days.

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