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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.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Summertime Blues

You'll love those lazy hazy crazy days of summer - those days of hot dogs and pretzels and beer... remember that old tune? I can remember listening to it on the radio as we drove to the Catskills in my Dad's old Dodge. But vacations are different now - everywhere I'm reading articles about how we Americans don't really get away from our work anymore when we go on holiday. We go loaded with smartphone and laptop and a plan to get six weeks of special projects done during six days on the beach. I know that's how I made my last trip miserable.

But I don't think we should get too new-agey about this one. For the techie in the non-profit or association space, taking a guilt- and anxiety-free vacation is not about state of mind, but about preparation. It's about making sure your organization, your clients, your users, really will be OK during your absence. Its a sort of preparation you need to be thinking about in one way or another before any absence - whether its a day off to paint your kitchen or a month-long trip through India.

Prepare your users. Your users depend on you on a daily basis for solutions, for advice, for troubleshooting. The longer your absence is going to be, the earlier you need to let people know about it. Make sure all your key users understand when and for how long you will be out, and give them a good understanding of the limits on your availability during your vacation. Encourage them to think now about needs that might emerge during your time off. Make sure they factor your absence into their timeframes for special projects! And let them know where to turn for help while you are gone.

Prepare your backup. The folks who are going to be filling in for you during your vacation need to know exactly where your major projects are at, how to find the information they might need, and who they can turn to for further help. Make sure they know exactly how and when they can contact you, and when you be unavailable. What should you prepare them for? Look through your last years log of issues you've had to resolve. And be careful: documenting your network is useless if you have not made sure the right people know where to find that document.

Don't have a backup person? - no wonder you and your coworkers are anxious! Take care of this first. If its not someone on your staff, make arrangements with a consultant.

Prepare yourself. Your work pattern needs to change as you get ready to leave. We did a project several years ago for Deutsche Bank in Frankfurt. Frequently our partner Jochen would fly there for meetings. Pressed by the users to make enhancements to the application on a short time frame, he'd crank out code in his hotel room in the evening and install it the next day. Then he'd get on a plane to come back to D.C. Inevitably the user would have some huge issue with what he had done while he was on his seven-hour flight home. None of us back in the office had a clue what the requirements were or what the discussion had been. We've identified this as the Friday Install problem. Now we know to wait until we are in a position to support before we change. When your absence is going to be longer than seven hours, this issue becomes much more sensitive. Make sure you are not adding to the support burden in the days before you leave.

And send me a postcard!

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