Jun 12, 2017

EVE CEOing: Corp Programs Continuity

I hear there's a brouhaha happening over on r/eve and the EVE Online forums. I spent five minutes the other day skimming one of the bigger threads and closed it; haven't looked at reddit since. I am in a place with EVE where I am content to not worry overmuch about what CCP does or doesn't do. I log in, I play the game in front of me, and adapt as necessary when they change stuff. Should the time come where I'm not willing to adapt any further (and that would have to be a very far stretch), I'll just quit. This is not to say I don't think players shouldn't express their opinions; I do. I have done so myself quite often and quite intensely (particularly when I was on CSM 5). It's just that to engage in an informed way requires more mental energy and time than I have or want to give to EVE these days.

So, I focus on my corp and its needs almost exclusively during my allotted EVE time. Signal Cartel takes up every minute of that most days, and often a bit more. :P I was speaking with my friend Matterall today (Talking in Stations podcast host, Imperium News Network Creative Director) about the level of effort we put into our respective EVE projects...for no clear return. Except, we both agreed, there IS a most valuable return: the satisfaction of building something meaningful, something that has value to others as well as yourself. For me, that something is Signal Cartel.

To help ensure its success, I bring as many of my real-life business, management, and creative skills to CEOing as I can. Maybe I sometimes go a little too far for an internet spaceships game but I care deeply about doing my level best to serve my corp wisely and with foresight. I am always thinking, "What can I do today that would minimize the disruption in Signal Cartel if I fell over dead tomorrow?"

What's been on my mind lately in that regard is continuity for corp programs. In our 2.5 years of existence, Signal Cartel members have developed programs which have value both to the corp and often to the community. Some have come and gone, some have flourished, others have languished (often due to a key player's departure).
We differentiate between corp programs (which are designed to benefit the corp in some way, are financially supported by the alliance, and subject to leadership oversight) and initiatives (projects run by individuals within the corp on their own and usually funded by them, not the corp). Initiatives sometimes evolve into corp programs if they are well-organized and well-run, and there is sufficient benefit to our members.
The Signal Cartel Anoikis Division (AD) is a subscription program within Signal Cartel for those who want to live in wormhole space. More than a year ago, the AD was floundering and we were going to shut it down. Merk stepped up with a fantastic proposal to turn the whole thing around. He was very successful, expanding the AD and offering even more wormhole opportunities for subscribers. He managed literally every facet of the division and did it *very* well.

For the most part, the AD was off leadership's radar except for Merk's semi-regular status updates. But all the experience he got from running the AD predictably gave him the itch to start his own wormhole project. So, he gave a generous notice, handed off the necessary info to me, and set sail into Anoikis to establish his corp, Lux Permanet. While always bittersweet to see such a trusted and key member leave, we are excited to see how Merk carves out his own space in the sandbox and wish him well.

Meanwhile, I was pondering how best to replace him. The solution had to be one that didn't involve myself or Johnny Splunk running the AD and one that wouldn't fail-cascade if a key person decided to take a break from EVE. Johnny and I are of one mind on corp programs: if our members don't want to invest the time and energy to keep programs they enjoy alive, then we will cheerfully let those programs die. But I knew we had a number of long-time AD members who were invested in the division. There were also a few enthusiastic newer members. Believing that many hands make work light, I coasted the idea of a council to some of them and got a positive response.

So I implemented the AD Council and gave them free rein to self-organize and manage the division as they see fit (within the context of our neutrality and Credo, of course, and their subscription- and donations-supported Anoikis Division fund). It is already working better than I expected. The inaugural council of Alexej Burovshcenko, Ismael Caleb Echart, John Young, Kobo Motsu, Mushroom Greene, Piwakawaka Wakasu and Vladimir Gengodov jumped right into the wake of Merk's departure and kept the AD boat firmly on course. They have written a council charter, updated various documents, and taken on management of membership and other record-keeping tasks. They even already expanded some of the services available to AD members. This bodes well for the AD's future and thankfully has gotten me out of the loop far sooner than expected, so kudos to them!

The model of a shared job or council approach has great appeal. It is robust, proofed against the departure of key people, lightens everyone's workload, and ensures that multiple perspectives factor into decision-making. (Sort of like EVE Online's own CSM, go figure.) In addition to the AD Council, we've implemented a similar "co-leaders" organization for smaller divisions in Signal as well as two key staff positions (Recruiter and Office Quartermaster). Of course, it only works if the appointed people are communicative, responsive, and able to collaborate. My experience is that most who want to do the actual work involved in assisting corporation or alliance operations in EVE tend to be inclined that way anyhow. The team/council approach has alleviated my concerns about whether these programs can maintain momentum. Good teams seem to generate an internal energy that they then pour into their programs. When one member of the team flags, the others take up the slack. That is a much less risky approach than relying on the energy and availability of a single lynchpin player.

The other piece of the continuity puzzle is project resource ownership, access control, and documentation.  As one example, some of our projects' in-game mailing lists and reference documents were owned by players who are no longer with Signal Cartel, which can create intel or management issues. How I wish CCP would let a mailing list owner assign a new owner (if this is possible, it's not apparent to me). Anyway, I've been drafting some policies about these matters as they come to light. The issues are all solvable, it's just hard to think of them all in the crush of a transition.

Always a work in progress, this CEOing thing! Signal Cartel has evolved into something I never envisioned and could never have really prepared for, despite how much work we founders did pre-launch. (Interestingly, the Credo has changed very little and continues to serve us well.) As usual when thinking about CEOing challenges, I find myself wondering how other corps our size handle these types of things, especially if - like us - they are fairly risk-averse and extremely restrained about giving out roles or wallet/asset access.

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