Monday, February 17, 2014

How to Work Around Workarounds…

diversion never ends! 
When doing a recent migration project to a new database, the following issue became very obvious several times during the project - an expression which generally depresses everyone: "we have a workaround for that…" And whilst I know that sometimes workarounds are (or at one time were) necessary, there is one particular instance of such practises which I feel could be better addressed:

This is, ironically, in mid/large charities with multiple teams, where one specific reason for creating workarounds (and yes, by that, I sadly often mean creating spreadsheets…) is because an individual fundraising team feels - rightly or wrongly - that they have not got the necessary support/input from the database team; and so by introducing the workaround, that is the only way to achieve something which they have to do. So they create their workaround and, before you know it, that has become the accepted (if still annoying) practise within the organisation.

In such instances, whatever the reason it did happen in the first place, whether it was because the database team at the time couldn't help (maybe through under-resourcing or inability) or even if it was because the individual fundraising team was bloody-minded enough to do it without any proper consultation of the database team, it should no longer be just accepted as the right process to follow. We need to find out if the workaround can now be resolved and got rid of.

So what's the answer?
If such a workaround is now semi-permanently in place at your organisation, the answer is pro-activity. Either from the database team or the fundraising team.

Pro-activity on behalf of the database team if that's appropriate: discussing the situation with the fundraising team when you find out about such an instance, understanding the problem, planning what you can do, and then with realism and pragmaticism, suggesting a new approach which will remove the workaround. Don't blame people or say how bad the old system was or someone was, just approach it from the point of view of showing how you can now fix it. That's what people want to hear.

Or pro-activity on behalf of the fundraising team if they are the party who feels that the database team are not helping enough. Again, recognising that the database team might be stretched, but emphasising how much a change would help, offering help if appropriate, possibly suggesting how the same process is done at another charity with the same database as you (although you need to approach that carefully in case it gets the back up of some database managers!) or maybe even having to accept minimal compromise to ensure the bigger picture is improved.

And yes, I know that everything I have written here is sometimes easier said than done, and that it's likely that both teams - all teams - are always busy, but addressing horrible workarounds like this can be one of those things which really can help everyone and truly improve efficiency.

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