If Your System is Dysfunctional, Look in the Mirror First!

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I recently got back from a trip out to Tucson to visit family and as I was talking with my brother about what I do for a living, he said, "Huh...organizations hire you to fix their system problems but you actually give them management and re-organization consulting along with the systems help."  (BTW, my brother, is a programmer.)
I said, "Of course....and then realized, that perhaps this is not so obvious."  I told my brother, that one of the reasons, I never take a job over the phone, whether it's a report request or a whole new system they need, is that the phone is not the best way to really get to know someone.  Personally, I like to look the person or persons in the eye...to know who I will be working with and to let them know that I know fundraising, I understand their needs and their day-to-day struggles. 
In that first meeting, I avoid talk of the details; the technology; the geek-speak.  I'm on a fact-finding mission.  I want to know about their fundraising program; their staff; which departments get along or don't get along with other departments; challenges they face unique to the structure and operation of their organization -- that kind of stuff.  I always ask for an org chart.  This is an extremely useful tool and often tells me alot about how the structure of an organization might be designed to fail.  I ask for brochures; standard reports; their annual report, etc.  All of this helps me to get to know them at a core level.  If that goes well, we dig into the specific tasks at hand....but I digress, a bit.
I really intended today's blog to be a short and succint posting on the fact that systems mirror us.  They do...what we tell them to do.  They are not sentient....yet.  They can't tell us....hey dummy, that doesn't make any sense, why are you doing that?  They follow our orders.  They insinuate themselves into an organization and we wrap our business around them.  So...if you're having trouble getting the reports you need; having trouble keeping your data clean; and feeling that your system is at fault, I say, look in the mirror first.
Take a step back, look at the entire picture and ask yourself some of these hard questions.
1.  Why do I truly think my system is at fault?  Is it that the business needs have truly outgrown the capabilities of the software or is something else altogether?
2.  Who am I not communicating with that I should be? 
3.  Make new friends.  Offer olive branches.  Take an enemy to lunch and try to see it from their point of view.
4.  What can I do to help another department get the information they need to do their job better?
5.  What are the stumbling blocks to progress and cooperation?  Is it one department?  One person?  Top management?
6.  What can be done that doesn't cost anything but time and cooperation to improve the situation?
7.  Have I provided my staff with adequate training and support?
Software is just a tool.  The difference between a successful organization and an unsuccessful one lies the strength of its most precious asset -- its people -- the human component -- not the widgets and gadgets and cool tech.  I can tell you that over the past 20+ years, nine times out of ten, when someone tells me they have a problem with their system, it ain't the system...:-)

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