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Jun 5, 2009

Pushing back

Here is a story from last week that really made me feel good. I noticed that when we get graduates licensure applications, we make a hard copy, send the original to the State, then scan the copy into our digital archive, and then shred the hard copy. This seemed to me like a redundant process, because our copier that makes hard copies can also be used as a scanner. So, I figured, we can save a step by scanning the originals, and then simply uploading these copies to the digital archive. Three people are involved in the process: Vicky, Marissa and Lynette. Vicky did not like my idea right away, Lynette had a lot of doubts, and Marissa did not say anything, but I could tell she did not like it either. They thought it would actually be longer to scan everything right away. But I pushed hard, because I like new solutions, and because it just made sense to me to skip a step and save a little paper. After some discussion, we agreed that they will try the new process I developed (and I had to work out a few technical kinks; probably two hours worth of work).

They did try it, timed themselves, and have proven that the new process takes twice as much time as the old one. Lynette had the killer argument: the new process takes a lot of concentration, and at her busy front desk station she is likely to make more errors. Vicky and Lynette broke the news to me at the end of the day, so I was forced to retreat, and acknowledge that I was wrong. Licensure is very time-sensitive, because graduates need to get jobs, and every day of delay may affect someone's job prospects. The paper, however, is cheap. The illogical process actually works better, and reduces the time in limbo, when a particular record is inaccessible (there is a time gap between scanning and indexing). The possibility of an error is a big thing: we learned the hard way how costly such errors can be.

But what made me really happy and proud was the fact that they did not give up, and kept pushing back, because they could prove the point. A school director has a lot of administrative power over staff, and it is not easy to have a culture where people feel comfortable defending their ideas, and telling the boss he is wrong. In part, we have it just because who these people are: Vicky, Karon, Marita and Lynette all have many years of experience, and a good common and professional sense. They know what they are talking about. But I also felt like I was doing something right, because our little debate did happen, and because I was wrong this time. The last thing I want to do is to make staff's work more difficult.

We did improve a little part of it though, reducing one step where Marissa has to look up every applicant in Ursa. We tricked our SIMS database into generating ready cover sheets for majority of applicants.

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