Loading the CANnon

The ausTIN CANs have never won an event, we’ve only been finalists three times since 2007. One of those we gained this year. Historically we have placed a bit above the 1500 range for elo. This year was a great season for the team, with 4 official event plays, finishing with 30 wins 28 losses, and 1 tie. We won judged awards at our two district events, judges award, and imagery award. We were picked at both of our district events making it to finals at Austin, and got eliminated in quarters at Greenville. We went unpicked at district champs, but gathered enough points to make it to worlds. At worlds, we were the 4th seeded team, and became the 4th alliance captain. We hope to use the energy and excite from our years performance to improve.

We’ve gone through a big change in mentors on the ausTIN CANs, losing some, and gaining others. We’ve taken this opportunity to talk about the direction we want the team to head in. We haven’t set any goals,(that’s to come at the start of the school year) however, the general idea is being more competitive, winning more matches, and increasing student involvement.

The ausTIN CANs have an amazing level of resources available, we have our own building at the school, with our own machine shop, a build space with enough room to fit 80% of a field permanently, and a healthy budget.

We do, however, struggle with a few key things.

Team Culture
Student culture on our team needs improvement, some students see meeting times as an excuse to get together and play video games, others just don’t show up until the end and get to do the cool/fun traveling part of robotics. On a team of 25+ students, the majority of the work is being done by 6-9 people.

Team Structure
Our team is currently structured into departments, some of them are programming, cad, manufacturing, electrical, etc.. the students in these departments don’t learn anything outside of their assigned department. This results in a very silo’d team composition which leaves us unable to adapt to changes in resource requirements. The silo’d departments, and lack of cross training, leads to inefficiencies during build season when only one or two people have a required skill.

Shop Organization and Cleanliness
This is something that all teams struggle with, maintaining a clean and organized work space is a never ending task and is something we hope to improve.

The mentor team (myself included) did not do a great job with house keeping the past year. We need to start having regular meetings, keeping track of meeting results, and following up with assigned tasks. We also need to work to better engage and encourage new mentors. There have been new mentors this year that have struggled to quickly understand FRC, and what’s required from a mentor. We also need to work harder during the off season to train and motivate our students.

Off season Activities
This one can be broken down into two parts: training, and student involvement/engagement. We currently don’t do a good job at training our students, sometimes their first time doing a task is during the build season, this slows progress and wastes precious time. We have in the past, attempted to do free form projects in each department but that has not gone well. Another problem with our off season involvement has been meeting only once a week. After general housekeeping has been taken care of, the team is left with little time to work on projects. We haven’t finished an off season project yet. These factors lead to low motivation and low student involvement during the off season. The mood during the off season sets the tone for the coming build season.

Looking at your team and finding problems, and things you wish you could do better is the easy part. The hard part is creating, implementing, and measuring solutions in order to ensure that the problem has been solved.

We Can do Better!

For the first meeting of the season, we will be providing the students with a list of expectations, that we expect them to meet throughout the entire year. Below are some of the expectations, the list is still a work in progress:

  • A minimum of 80% attendance, I understand the consequences if I drop below 80% attendance.
  • During a meeting I will be productive.
  • I will seek out work during a meeting if I don’t have any.
  • I have read and understand the shop rules, and commit to following them.
  • I will check Slack daily.
  • I will behave in a responsible, mature, and graciously professional manner while on or representing the team.

This list will hopefully help set the expectations for the students.

We are planning on restructuring the team, in order to remove the silo’d nature of departments. There will be two departments, Technical, and Business. Each of these departments will have required functions that every one in the department will be trained on. The departments will also have specialized functions that interested students will be trained on, and responsible for during the year. The bolded items are required functions that every ausTIN CAN member should be capable of.

  1. Technical
    • Programming
    • Basic Machining
    • Advanced Machining
    • Assembly
    • Prototyping
    • Wiring
    • Pneumatics
    • Design
    • Game Analysis
  2. Business
    • Outreach
    • Awards
    • Marketing
    • Fundraising

Over the summer we are working to create a structured approach to off season training. Using the team break down above, we are creating a series of lessons that will enable someone with no experience, to engage in hands on learning activities to learn these required skills. These lessons will be self driven, done either alone, or with a partner. The goal of the lessons is to be something that does not create a large workload on the mentors when a student decides to take it. There will be a high upfront workload, in order to create all of the lesson plans, and associated materials, but once it has been created the incremental cost of another student taking a lesson should be low. There will be a future blog post that covers some of these topics, and what we have planned for the lessons.

The mentor team is going to create an onboarding document for new mentors. The purpose of this document is to outline, expected behaviors, and quickly turn new mentors into productive mentors. Along with this, the mentor team is starting to have regularly scheduled mentor meetings again. At each meeting, assigned tasks will be reviewed for progress and after each meeting, the minutes will be distributed to the mentor group.

Starting in the off season we will end every meeting with a 10 minute clean up period, this will hopefully help us maintain a clean workspace. There will be a lot of work done over the summer in order to start the new season with a clean space.

We’ve identified several areas for improvements across our team, and we’ve decided on which approaches will be taking to improve the ausTIN CANs. We’ve had an amazing seasons, and hope to use the energy to get better, hopefully you’ll continue to follow along as we document our journey.






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