The Department of Public Works (DPW) succeeded in streamlining the process for labor coordination back in 2002, but the outcome owed a lot to sheer luck. We thought the improvement would continue as smoothly in 2003, but that expectation proved to be difficult to fulfill. Now we’re back to baby steps.

Back in 2002, we learned that we could actually do more work with fewer people. We had planned for roughly 120 crew members but fell short. Amazingly, DPW still finished ahead of schedule, despite the shortage of labor. We wanted to build on that experience of tighter, more efficient crews as part of the core structure of DPW. To foster this fundamental transformation in 2003, we invited individual project managers to become more involved than before in selecting their crew members. This change created a stronger, tighter work force than we’ve had in the past and did wonders for overall morale and performance. It also created new parameters for understanding what effort is necessary for project completion.

Learning and growing from past mistakes has made DPW the great force it is today. Like the Burning Man Project as a whole, DPW revels in the freedom to overcome previous mishaps in creative ways. The one thing that is still hardest to master is communication, though. Every person’s brain thinks differently, so what’s apparent to one mind can remain obscure to another.

About this photo...Our labor planning stumbled over a major communication breakdown early in the process of building the city, throwing some projects into chaos. For a few jobs, more than one person had unknowingly been assigned responsibility, while a couple of jobs were delayed because no one had been assigned. These mistakes produced chaotic gaps and overlaps, as well as hurt feelings and some cases of shoddy work. We are currently working to resolve these problems, and many ideas are percolating. One proposed change is to reorganize the management structure of DPW to more closely resemble the model of a construction company. We are also looking at collecting information more frequently to increase status updates for our 20+ projects.

We are also returning to the grass-roots ethos of Burning Man—VOLUNTEERS! Introducing new people with new ideas to the DPW experience will promote new development. If you’re interested in participating in that growth, please fill out a volunteer questionnaire and select DPW as one of your interests.

Submitted by
DPW Volunteer and Labor Coordinator