Technology isn’t the Answer

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Now, don’t get me wrong here – I like technology.  My degree is in Computer Information Systems and my iPhone is my other “brain,” so I’m not a technophobe.  It also drives me nuts when organizations don’t update their accounting software for five years (but that’s another post).  However, new technology (no matter how sophisticated) can’t hide or fix bad processes.

Allow me to explain:

Let’s say you decide to get more organized and want to manage your time more effectively.  You do a bit of research and decide that the best way to handle this is with a new smartphone.  You pick one that has all the bells and whistles – calendar, email, to-do lists, voice commands, etc.  You even find several productivity apps and install them onto the phone.  Two weeks go by and you’re still missing appointments, your inbox is still full of unread emails, and that to-do list, well, it’s still all in your head.  So, what happened?  This phone doesn’t work!  Right?  Sorry, that excuse won’t fly.  You see, you kept your old processes and put them onto a shiny new toy.  The technology isn’t the problem – your processes are the problem. 

Let’s backup in time two weeks and say you still get the new phone and the productivity apps but you also map out how you’re going to use them to manage your time.  You turn off email notifications and only check email four times a day (and process each message immediately, thereby getting your inbox down to zero each time).  You also schedule 20 minutes at the end of each workday to plan the next day’s activities.  You take items off your to-do list (that you actually developed and didn’t just leave in your head) and made them into calendar appointments with yourself to get those tasks done.  You change your processes and all of the sudden this new technology works!  Amazing, right?!

This example is a bit silly, but we do this with technology that costs way more than a smartphone.  We buy a new database system or accounting software and expect it to make us follow up with volunteers sooner or track our spending better.  We get the latest version of the coolest media development software or video camera and expect to suddenly be able to generate viral videos everyday.  Isn’t that just as silly as expecting a smartphone to organize your life?  Yet here’s the problem: those tools cost thousands if not tens of thousands of dollars.  Money that people donated and that you worked hard to generate.  If you are truly serious about being a good steward of your organization’s finances and time, you need to develop the process first and then find the right technology to help you make a good process even better. 

Technology isn’t an instant solution – it’s a tool.  A process isn’t cool or fun to develop – it takes careful planning, detailed consideration and some trial and error.  But developing a process is a lot less expensive than buying a new piece of technology and using it to try and fix the symptoms of a bad process.  Do the hard grunt work of fixing the process and then see if you need the new technology.  When you do implement that new software, your team will be able to use it more effectively and it will prove to be an excellent use of your time and money.  Remember: Process first, then tools.

When was the last time you evaluated your processes?  What did you learn and what changes did you make?