November 12, 2010

Seven Steps To Heaven - Or Is It Nine, Or...?


Over at Proper Course, Tillerman spends a lot of time blogging about how anal the International Laser Class Association can seem to those of us who are not at one with the karma of Lasering - to those of us who just don't get the whole Laser Gestalt.

I always assume he exagerates just a bit for comedic effect. After all, there are about a billion Laser sailors in the US alone, according to the last census, and most of them seem like perfectly affable and reasonable people.

Certainly, they must insist that their class association behave in a responsible and sober way.

But I was recently wandering around on the ILCA website (please, don't ask why) and discovered this shocking little bit of evidence that all may not be as under control in the world of Lasering as Laserists would have us believe.

Click and zoom in to have any chance of deciphering this

This diagram is the Official ILCA visual representation of the Application for Entry process that you must understand and negotiate if you want to 'attend' ILCA European or World Championships. By 'attend' I think they mean these are all the steps you have to go through to actually compete in a World Championship. I sure hope you don't have to do all of this if you just want to show up and watch. Some of us just like to watch.

You can tell from the diagram that this is an organization in crisis.

First of all, there are all of the colors. A good workflow diagram shouldn't need colors. You should be able to just draw a bunch of boxes and arrows and done. I think they started out that way and, when they were finished, took a step back and examined what they had done.

"Uh-oh. We're in trouble. There are just too freaking many boxes and arrows for anyone to make head or tail out of this. Maybe adding color coding will help make some sense out of this mess."

It was probably at that point that the workflow chart got assigned to the Color Code Assessment and Evaluation Committee (the CCAEC). After a few weeks of evaluating and assessing, the committee decided (by a 7-4 vote, with two abstentions) to adopt a four-color simplification scheme for the visual representation of the Application for Entry process.

I'm not sure how they arrived at four colors. I think two colors would have worked better. You know, one color could have stood for 'good' and the other for 'you're screwed'. A simple red and green scheme could have helped guide you down the right path for entering a Laser World Championship. Keep landing in the green boxes and you're OK.

Probably the losing side of the 7-4 vote (with two abstentions) thought two colors would have been plenty. I'll bet that one of the committee members was assigned to write up a minority opinion on the value of a two-color system. But the majority of CCAEC members held out for more complexity.

Complexity clarifies, right?

So, in this workflow chart, I'm not sure what color you should be aiming for. I'm pretty sure green is still good and red means 'you're screwed', but what does the yellow mean? If you start out on yellow, what does the transition to green mean? And I don't want to even think about purple.

Another sign that the ILCA is plainly admitting that this is a hopelessly complex, unfathomable process is that they had to abandon straight lines before they were even half-way through.

The mark of any good workflow chart is nice, unambiguous straight lines leading from one step to the next. Having to draw curving (or worse yet - 'S'-shaped lines) is a tacit admission that you forgot to plan ahead. It means you kept adding extra steps as you went along that you'd completely forgotten about when you started. Curving lines on a flow chart are like detours on a road map.

The result is a flowchart that leaves me - admittedly a Laser outsider - completely baffled. I thought just staying on a Laser without falling off was hard enough, but I think sailing a Laser is probably the easy part.

Anyone who manages to successfully enter a Laser World Championship should get some kind of trophy just for that.



  1. You sure made head and 'tale' out of that!... and yellow on diagrams means you're sea sick (I thought you knew that!)

  2. Even as a Visio fan who has recently been forced to use phrases like "customer journey maps" that is a bit OTT.

    I guess there was meant to be a whole traffic light red / yellow /green colour code, but the verify email block - that can happen at multiple stages - seems to have thrown a spanner in their workflow.

  3. As Peter Sellers said in Being There, "I like to watch".

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  5. So the people who run the Laser Class don't meet O Docker's exacting standards for flowchart design? Shock horror! They used color! They used curved lines!

    On balance, I think that I'm grateful that these folk make up for their apparent lack of knowledge of the Berkeley Mafia Flowchart Drawing Standards, by having the amazing ability to organize successful Laser World Championships every year in fantastic locations all over the globe. And there isn't just one Laser World Championship each year, there are separate ones for Masters and Youth and Women and 4.7 rigs and Radial rigs and Standard rigs and various permutations of the above. And some of these are huge events - 400 boats usually at the Masters. The logistics of planning and running these events is mind-boggling. I, for one, am grateful that our very small international staff is so talented and experienced in this field.

  6. OK, Tillerman, try to remain calm.

    I've spent some time in New Jersey and I think I know exactly what's happening here.

    Is there someone named Vinnie the Vice, um 'representing' shall we say the ILCA standing behind you as you type this?

    If so, just post another comment saying somewhere in the text 'this is an outrage'. I'll understand.

    Don't worry, I've contacted the Rhode Island State Police and they're surrounding the Tiller mansion as I type this. Hang on, we'll get you out of this. I hope they haven't done anything too serious to your Laser.

  7. But how would you change these instructions to make the Tri-Lasar-maran instead of making a mini-Laser?

    ....Look for an old abandoned Laser hull, either in the weeds or upside down baking in the sun, a Laser that hasn't been moved in years, preferably a Laser where the owner has lost everything but the hull....

  8. Once upon a time I had a real job in the corporate world, that paid a livable wage.

    If I gave someone a chart like that I would have been as I am now a long time ago, doing security work in a parking lot. There would have been no saving to pillage to buy a Catamaran or any other real boat!

    No wonder these folks sail toy boats.