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The topics discussed here grow out of the bread-and-butter issues that confront my consulting and software clients on a daily basis. We'll talk about prosaic stuff like Membership Management, Meetings and Events Management and Fundraising, broader ideas like security and software project management, and the social, cultural, and organizational issues that impact IT decision-making.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Control and Flexibility

Control and Flexibility. These might be two of your goals in in working with your personal trainer. But in configuring your network and key applications, there is always a tension between these ambitions. How much do you lock down to prevent error and occasional malfeasance? How much do you leave open so that each staff member has the greatest ability to work freely and serve your community without running into roadblocks? It's one of the key areas where we see organizational culture influencing Information System design

For example, board members and donors are hoping you keep good track of the comings and goings of their dollars. So there is a pressure to lock down access to financial records to one or two highly qualified individuals. On the other hand, if it takes the CFO to issue a five dollar refund check, you've created a real bottleneck. Somewhere between these two is your financial control balance point.

This fulcrum won't be in the same place for all organizations. For example, a YMCA with it's hectic point-of-sale environment and fifty or sixty part-time or volunteer front-desk staff will arrive at a different solution from a trade association with a full time staff of ten professionals.

The same dichotomy between control and flexibility arises when you start to push out e-commerce capabilities to your community. We see some organizations who are loathe to let a member change his own address. "Do you really work with organizations who do that? What if they make a typo or something?" And at the other extreme, there are organizations who say "If someone calls and wants to register for our workshop, we direct them to the website to enter it themselves. We genlty insist they do it themselves. Staff time is a scarce commodity". Again, your organization needs to find its own comfort point along this scale.

You should rethink this balance periodically though - it is not a simple issue. Too little flexibility and you weaken your staff, your donors, and your membership, diminishing commitment they bring into the organization. Too little control and time, money, and energy flow out the door.

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Comments on "Control and Flexibility"

 

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