Reducing the communication barrier between stands and pits

To preface my question here’s a quick overview of our student structure at competitions: we rotate students in and out of both scouting and pits while trying to avoid having more members in our pits than necessary (usually so that pits aren’t cramped) with drive team (excluding drive coach) being away in pits.

We have found ourselves in a position where scouts and our members in rotation in stands have a disconnect between drive team as to what’s going on with the robot, match strategy for an upcoming match, and little communication about strategy between students in stands and students in pits/drive team. Often times, students in stands have incredible things to contribute but with amount that happens in pits and when talking to other teams on alliances before matches, students who want to contribute to these conversations/figure out what’s going on find themselves unable to find a good medium to accomplish this. We’ve tried using communication platforms like Slack during competitions but pit members and drive team can often get caught up in the constant craze and the effectiveness of a communication platform like slack is lost here.

My question is, how do other teams deal with this? How do other teams make rotations/organize their students in comps so that communication between stands and pits is existent and beneficial all while everyone feeling heard?

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We’re not perfect at it either, but the strategy we shoot for…

Start by setting a schedule or rotation so students know who should be in the pit at any time.

As part of that, defined the responsibilities of each named role. Write them down. Only assign students you trust to the critical roles.

Make sure everyone has a copy of the match schedule and is being active on watching what match they’re on. Get a cadence of who needs to be where before, during, and after each match. Write this down, rehearse it at your shop, practice it on Thursday, and debrief it Thursday PM so students know how to improve for Friday.

If additional students are needed, someone either needs to go physically get them (less preferable) or get in touch via text/slack/discord/whatever your team uses.

Don’t give up yet on this front.

  1. Most students have phones at this point, and most of those students like looking at their phones.
  2. You don’t actually need the student the message was intended for to see the message, just someone nearby who can alert them
  3. The communication platform isn’t necessarily not-performing, it’s that people aren’t yet engaged with an expectation that it’s going to be used for instant communication during competitions.
5 Likes

Single point of contact. We have a scouting lead, who spends pretty much all of her time in the stands organizing scouting. A pit lead who’s responsible for all robot repairs and spends all of her time in the pit, and the drive coach. Instead of trying to have everyone talk to everyone else, those three stay in communication as needed, and pass things down to those working with them, as needed.

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We have almost sixty students on the team. It simply isn’t possible for everyone to be involved in match strategy during an event. We divide up responsibilities. Our scouting team is in the stands, collecting data and discussing. They use Slack to send info to the drive team, who are on the field, the pits, or sometimes outside discussing strategy or just relaxing for a moment. We have a designated “Robot Team”, that repairs the robot, and can call others to help if needed.

It all actually works well, and on our large team provides opportunities for everyone to be involved during the event.

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We heavily utilize slack and err on the side of too much information.

On logistics side, we have a coordination channel in which there’s a strat team member in the stands declaring the start and end of each match (and more detailed info when requested) and a pit crew member declaring when the robot is rolling to the field (I appreciate that because when I’m drive coaching I tend to head to the field much earlier than the robot needs to be there). Coordination is also a general space to declare any logistics info that might be useful to the group, and to ask for information that another work crew may know.


^An example of the constant chatter

All the work related communication is a collection of small routines and tactics, some of which get dropped when things are too hectic so we don’t get overwhelmed.

  • Strat tends to record potentially useful thoughts and info in the strat slack channel. I comment if I have something useful to add or if my opinion is specifically requested (via being tagged), otherwise it’s nice to be able to read.
  • Driveteam (including myself when I’m drive coaching) visits the stands often in between matches. We have zero pit crew responsibilities and make ourselves scarce there, and it’s nice to see other teams play and get some verbal time with strat to relay anything that was too nuanced for slack.
  • Myself or somebody else on driveteam often sends match recaps to an appropriate channel (general or robot usually). This is useful for us later on in an event when we forget everything that happened 12 hours prior, and gives others the chance to read/comment.
  • We have full team roundups each evening during which anybody can ask questions about anything that went on during day that couldn’t be communicated at the time because it was too nuanced to type out and/or there wasn’t time between dealing the situation.

For us, onus is mostly on driveteam to keep up with both strat and pit. Strat and pit generally don’t need to communicate directly with each other during the day, and evening roundup serves to answer whatever curiosities came up during the day. Like most things, communication is a series of small problems. When a particular type of info needs to be relayed brainstorm options to handle just that type of need, and eventually you end up with a set of routines that work fluidly.

9 Likes

@Jon_Stratis’s single point of contact is a very good way to go. To build upon it from the scouting match strategy side of things, my teams have often had a separate slack or discord channel where the scouts can discuss what to do in upcoming qualification matches. Once a consensus is reached, one person posts the scouting data and match strategy plan to a channel where the drive coach and the entire team can see. We often post it immediately after our match so the drive coach can see it right when he gets back to the pit.

I also wouldn’t expect to have real-time back and forth communication between the pits and the stands as there is truly too much going on in both locations to expect that. While the drive coach sometimes has questions about the strategy (ie ‘our third partner really wants to climb, do we trust them to do it?’), more often than not it’s just the initial message from the stands to the pits.

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1745 has used the walkie-talkie app, Zello, to connect our Pit Lead, Scout Lead, Strategy Lead, and Drive Team (when outside THE ARENA per H303). this has worked really well to keep those groups coordinated and informed in real-time.
(for 2022 we tried to upgrade to dedicated walkie-talkies but event rule E109 explicitly bans walkie-talkies from being brought to the event, but not phones. )

Our approach seems to be an outlier compared to responses thus far:

  • We don’t rotate students (or mentors) between the pit and scouting during an event. The students in the pit are often leads of their respective disciplines.
  • We rely mostly on scouting data and scouting freeform comments for match strategy. If the drive team can’t tell if a teammate should be trusted to climb from the data and comments (along with input from the teammate), then we feel like that is a failure of our scouting process. If a scouter has a message that needs to be heard, that message needs to go into the comments.
  • Our scouting information is available in the cloud and in the pit immediately after each round, so the drive team in the pit has the latest information as they plan match strategy.
  • Each scouting record has the scouter’s name attached to it. If there is a question about the data or comments for a particular record, the drive team can call the scouter. If the scout is currently scouting, this contact may be delayed, but I don’t know a way around that. Unless the question is about something truly memorable, or maybe within a few matches, the scouter has been busy with other matches and other teams and doesn’t usually have much, if anything, to add beyond what they entered during the match.
  • Scouts have an opportunity to participate in team evaluation Friday evening and playoff strategy discussions during Saturday lunch. If there are things they remember about certain teams they scouted, they are able to contribute to those discussions.
  • We try to conduct an after-action review following events. Discussion of where scouting data was particularly helpful is a part of that. The intent is to reinforce to scouters that their contributions were used and valued.

Did you have any issues at places like SVSU where many communication channels seem to be delayed significantly? We experienced problems with reception (phones, text messages, etc. didn’t go through or were delayed significantly) both in the field area and in the pits.

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Yes and it’s lightly traumatizing. We are honestly notably less fluid at MSC than we are anywhere else. I have no particular complaints about SVSU aside from lack of cellular data service, but for that reason alone I’ll be relieved if MSC ever moves venues that it may alleviate this problem. Alliance draft Friday evening compounds the stress as there’s more that needs to be communicated and no time to execute a roundup, and any draft prep we’d do Thursday evening is mostly just outlining priorities since it’s hard to make much of a list based off of three matches worth of data and mostly unknowns regarding final rankings.

That said, in that situation each work crew (drive, pit, strat) is generally able to do their job independently of each other, and we trust each other to make the best decision with whatever information is available and able to be communicated. We definitely do a lot more walking between work crews for verbal communication at MSC than anywhere else. Work crew assignments are stable and we don’t swap between pit/strat/drive, so everybody is pretty familiar with their responsibilities by MSC.

But yeah, MSC has been the site of our most frustrating lapses in communication two (maybe three?) seasons in a row now. It’s a topic we’ve identified to analyze and hopefully address before 2023.

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461 has a group of scouters in that stands that generally stay there all event. We have a pit crew which usually includes the awards team for robot checks and talking to judges (typically this group stays in the pits). Our driveteam and strategy teams are the most mobile traveling between the stands and the pits.

Scouting team communicates the data to the strategy team who formulates a plan with the other drive teams. They then pass on this info to the drive team in the pit area before each match. The strategy team then heads back to the stands to watch matches and record our team specific footage for post match reflection with the drive team.

We use electronic scouting so data can be dumped via a flashdrive to the strategy tablets and slack helps keep everyone in the know if needed.

If there is something the scouting team wants the drive team to know, they’ll tell the strategy team or leave a comment on the scouting data.

I often forget to look at my phone at events when we’re getting pretty busy. I’ve found pretty cheap knockoff smart watches ( I think I paid $20 dollars for mine when I got it) do a good job at alerting me to information on the go.