Drupal Dev Days Szeged was a great opportunity for me to realize and take part in one of Kristof’s crazy ideas (well, almost as crazy as Drupalcon 2008 was ;) with some great people from the community. While the event turned out to be a success, I’ve learnt a lot that I would like to share with all future organizers through this blog post and other channels. Core organizers gathered from various organizations (Acquia, Pronovix, Integral Vision, tanarurkerem.hu and Brainsum) and an awesome team of volunteers helped us from the first steps until the last. We can’t emphasize enough how grateful we are for your priceless creativity and invaluable help! On the last day of the event, we had a 5-hour retrospective “sprint” to discuss the biggest issues we experienced and to gather best practices that can be forwarded to future organizers. Here I share a non-comprehensive list of the lessons I learnt and should keep in mind for next time ;)

  1. Create a doable overall concept for the event.
    After having some preliminary research regarding previous Drupal Dev Days and exploring our opportunities in Szeged (dates, target audience and venue options, event structure and other expectations, budgetary plans and sponsors, website functionalities etc.), we created an overall concept that would later become the outline for all planning and marketing activities. All building blocks were then organized in tune with our main concept: we created a website with ticket sale and registration, sponsor guide and visibility, session submission, scholarship application, event marketing and all sorts of useful information. We managed event logistics (venue, catering, accommodation, airport shuttle, print materials, gifts etc.), matched everything to the budget and planned marketing for it.
  2. Choose a good branding.
    The mascot of the event, DrupalMarvin helped us a lot in event marketing, became a good “selling” point (stickers, T-shirts, towel, crochet mascot) and helped generate considerable buzz (social media, registrations) via our planned activities in the Infinite Improbability Drive.
  3. Get more resources for a gradually extendable Drupal site.
    With the event announcement at Drupalcon Prague, we made a quick decision for a teaser site. However, as the organization started, the content creation for the website helped us polish our event concept to ensure the best optimization for each process (e.g. account info update, session submission, info sharing), and it also resulted in changes that made plans for the final site more complex. This also made a smooth transition between the two platforms (HTML5 and Drupal) very difficult, since with the time passing, most of the functionalities were needed right at the same time. So while we were planning to have a website that can gradually be extended, we realized a bit late how it wasn’t a good idea to have a different platform for the teaser site than the final site. The rupture between the two sites could have been avoided by getting more people involved in time and gradually adding features to the one and only Drupal site.
  4. Find the proper tools for project management.
    Drupal Dev Days is a community project with volunteers, but we realized that we cannot avoid project management as we cannot avoid deadlines either, so after some experiments with Trello (which actually worked nicely e.g. at Drupalaton), we went for what suited the dynamics of our team best: Skype and lots of lists in Google Drive ;)
  5. Get featured attendees and organizations on board.
    Among the great people involved in the event organization, we had Gabor Hojtsy, who is well-known in the Drupal community for his professional activity and well-developed international social network. His reaching out made some other key figures join the event already in the beginning, which made others join later… and this also helped us to scale up the event with quality sprints and sessions, and, as a consequence, with sponsorship, too.
  6. Choose your venue with the right scale wifi.
    We thought we had found a good fit for the venue (regarding price-quality ratio, scalability due to expected number of attendees, and everything else needed, e.g. cafe, nearby hotel etc.) and that it can ensure the proper internet bandwidth and speed, which we “calculated” from previous drupalcon and dev days experiences. Well, we should have talked to the venue technicians directly in the very beginning to find out that our guesses just cannot be right: building out the wifi system of an event venue is more complicated than one would ever think! Luckily, CISCO Hungary and the local CISCO Academy branch saw it as a challenge, and lended a hand both with devices (APs and stuff) and dedicated experts.
  7. Plan realistically, but always try to give a bit more.
    We tried to be prudent with our organizational plans and the related financial planning, and we were aware that we might need to realize the event from less than what we originally planned (which is generally the case). So we went for promises that can be kept and preferred to scale up later. For example, this turned our daily coffee break into a light conference lunch, which then was turned into something more robust, but nothing lavish, of course ;) The rule of giving a bit more also proved to pay off in other aspects, meaning a bit more visibility and recognition for sponsors and a bit more care for attendees (such as airport transfer, hotel reservations and special request management).
  8. Be incredibly responsive.
    While we all did our best to please everybody, most of it might have gone unnoticed if we hadn’t assured responsiveness via the preferred communication channel of the community. Actually, the responsiveness in Twitter proved to be the best sign of care for anyone interested in the event. And we really did care, so we listened, acted and reacted accordingly.
  9. Even with a heavy program, leave the freedom of choice.
    I think Hungarians are famous for their hospitality, and want to make a good impression on guests by providing the best from all. In the flow of the organization, I also had to understand that some people come really just to sprint on this coding event, and if you happen not to organize anything for certain time slots, things will get organized by other community members. This makes it a truly community event and assures the proper dynamics.
  10. Let everyone enjoy.
    We all worked hard on our assigned tasks, so that the event is delivered as the fruit of our work. And though we never got bored during the week, we also paid attention that all organizers/volunteers can set aside a time for the sessions they are interested in, attend parties etc. And I think I can say it on all our behalf and you could probably also see yourself that we the organizers loved it all, too!

Thanks to all who were involved either behind the scenes or as participants, we made it happen together! While we plan to share event insights on the eu-drupal-foundations mailing list with potential future organizers, I’m also happy to help if you have specific questions, just send me an email.

About the author

Márta Maczel

Operational Manager (Hungarian branch)

Marta is responsible for the management of daily operations, including office and project administration, human resources and financial management, at the Hungarian branch of Pronovix.

Before entering the corporate world, she was involved in international research projects and contributed to the advancement of science also via her participation in policy-making. She was active in nonprofit organisations, attended and organised multiple events, and took considerable part in the establishment and management of a world wide organisation.