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Patience is critical to learning and teaching!

Recently, I had breakfast with a good friend, mentor and supporter. While we were chatting about politics, the state of our economy and other light topics (HA!), we brushed up on her organization’s implementation (they were in my first cohort). They’ve lived with this system for about 18 months and it’s been serving their needs. During this time, my friend (who happens to be the executive director) has had a few ah-ha’s that I think are very relevant and important to share:

  • Don’t throw the database out with the bathwater! It’s really true. She recounted an example where the database did not have a specific field. During the designing phase, they were capturing the work done by the volunteer, hours and client served. No volunteer name was captured. What they learned, as the system was put into the flow of the business, is that the volunteers wanted follow up with clients but the staff couldn’t find volunteers since the names were not put in the database. She laughed and said, “before, I would have said let’s throw this database away. It is poorly designed!” But now, she realizes that THEY CAN FIX IT. They are empowered by being able to make the changes on their own. There is power with this sense of freedom and realization that systems are made to be flexible and fluid. Organic!
  • Reporting is more than just numbers. She laughed as she told me about their reporting mechanism. Someone would send a request to the system administrator who would create the report. Pretty simple, but what they realized is that they were not providing her a good definition of their needs. What they saw were that the numbers looked wrong in the reports. Now, they knew the data was entered correctly. So, as they dug deeper, they realized that it’s not simply pulling numbers from the system but really understanding the basic underlying structure of the database. Here is an example of what I’m talking about: getting a list of active clients should be easy, right? It’s just a list of all the contacts in the database, right? But, when the requestor is given the list of “active” clients, he/she realizes there are some “inactive” clients in the list. And, as they dig into the system to understand why the “inactive”clients show up, they realize that the definition of “active” client was not properly given to the system administrator. So, what would have been better is the following: I need a list of contacts that have had activity in the last 12 months. This gives the system administrator the ability to pull the data appropriately from the system. But, here is the thing, if the requestor doesn’t understand how the system was built, they cannot even begin to know what to request. Since this organization created their database, their understanding is much deeper. The requestor and the system administrator can have a conversation in data lingo and understand each other. It’s wonderful and amazing to see this growth and learning.

As she recounted these stories, I could feel myself swell with pride for this organization. I am so very proud of how far they have come with their education. The education that they have given themselves is more than I could have ever hoped for… it’s simply amazing what they have managed to do themselves. It goes to show, if you give individuals the education they need and crave, they will surprise you.

This organization has come such a long way in their understanding. and it happened on their terms and in their time. That is the beauty of teaching database development in this way, it teaches you patience, persistence and focus. Through this comes knowledge and through that will come wisdom.

It’s a privilege and honor to be given the opportunity to teach and learn beside these individuals. It’s very humbling.


  1. Tim Lockie

    6 years ago  

    Thanks for these thoughts, as a self-taught salesforce consultant specifically to non-profits, I run into these things again and again. Non-Profits are process oriented in most things, but want IT systems to be instant.

    Implementing Salesforce for a non-profit is usually more about changing the DNA of expectations and culture than it is about business processess.


  2. Ashima Saigal

    6 years ago  

    Tim, thanks for taking the time to read this over. I’m also a self-taught Salesforce consultant, are there any other kind?! LOL.

    You’re so right, it is about changing the DNA of an organization. Sometimes that change can be quite a shock. My theory is if the organization is actively involved in the change, it can actually be a beautiful thing. Kinda of like a caterpillar turning into a butterfly.

    Have you found something that works well in this process of shifting culture?

  3. Doug Yeager

    6 years ago  

    Re: instant systems/ culture: there is an approach embedded in Salesforce that I have found can help nonprofits through this expectation of instant systems that magically guess the business problem faced by a user. The SF organization is a real devotee of Agile Development, which spins project managent on its ear.
    Traditional ‘waterfall’ PM starts with requirements (scope) and then figures the resources and time needed to meet them. Agile begins with a timeline (really short!), assesses resources and then figures what scope will fit.
    By teaching clients to focus on granular tradeoffs, they come to see systems development as iterative, and since the projects are bite-sized they learn nuances of the design.
    Doug Yeager

  4. Ashima Saigal

    6 years ago  

    Excellent points Doug. It’s true that focusing on something granular, as simple as getting all the clients in one single location with basic contact information, can be the starting point that most orgs needs to move forward. I have found that this first step is the most crucial. I didn’t know that Salesforce developed using Agile processes. I was borne from the traditional “waterfall” methods, but probably leaned toward Agile development as it speaks to my sense of getting stuff done 🙂

  5. Keeter Consulting

    6 years ago  

    I was responsible for training a variety of professionals (nurses, case managers, safety experts, etc.) on a sophisticated database program several years ago. The #1 problem I ha then (and still have now as I train users on how to use things like Blogspot or Google Docs) is that I usually WAY overestimate their basic computer proficiency.

    When you’re sitting across from an obviously intelligent, educated, experienced professional with whom you regularly exchange email, it’s natural to assume that they understand the most basic things on a PC like “copy & paste”, “save as”, “spell check” and “attach file.”. Or that they can at least type 20+ words per minute.


    It’s nearly impossible for them to learn how to use an unfamiliar app and understand the process that it’s supporting if they’re still struggling with figuring out how to maximize a window or toggle between apps.

    Even as they pick up these skills, they still need to learn the simple shortcuts to work efficiently, e.g. “[Alt] + [Tab] to toggle between apps. That turns what should be quick, simple tasks into huge annoyances for the end users, and that slows down how rapidlly (if ever) they will adopt the new tools.

    I also want to weigh in on the “reports are more than just numbers” comment.
    1. A report is only useful if it’s providing the metrics that the recipient cares about, IN the format that the reader best understands. Too often the report designer doesn’t fully understand this and dishes up data that gets overlooked by a customer who doesn’t know how to relate it to his or her particular role or needs.
    2. A picture is worth a thousand words. If I write I’n a business plan that the entrepreneur is contributing $1,000 to his business launch and reqesting $3,000 of assistance from the VA, it’s far less impactful than a pie chart illustrating that he’s providing one quarter of the resources.
    3. Less is more. Presenting the data graphically or numerically in the simplest, leanest format possible greatly aids in comprehension. When a report designer ha access to deep, rich data, there’s a tedency to want to show it off. Don’t show average household income broken down by county, city and ZIP code when simply showing it by county is sufficient.
    4. Color is better than black and white. Varying elements by font size, bold/italic/underline/etc. and/or adding empty rows or columns to break up a spreadsheet improve readability. Nobody ever got a promotion for unnecessarily cramming a whole bunch of data into a single page. (Though I’m still tempted to test this theory occasionally).

  6. Ashima Saigal

    6 years ago  

    About computer profiency, I’ve actually seen a huge difference in generations. As an example, I was explaining how to download a program and install it on a computer to someone between the age of 40 and 50. She needed each step in detailed. Something like you describe in your post. Go to this web site http://blah.blah, use the scroll bar to scroll down and find the link that say “blah”, click on that “blah” link, it’s underlined. Now, a window comes up… you get the picture. Same question comes up for me and the person is between 20-30. I do the same explanation and she looks at me sideways and says “I know how to find stuff on the Internet and install programs, what’s the name of it. I’ll figure it out.” It was like a smack across the face when she said that and a realization that we are dealing with generational differences that will, eventually, disappear. My explanations will be more like “go find XYZ and download and install” or the cloud analogy “go to the web site xyz and create a trial account”. I believe we’re going to see that change happen sooner than later.

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