Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Rome wasn't built in a day and neither was a good digitization program

I'm not sure how long it took to build Rome (Italy not New York), but the saying goes that it wasn't built in a day. The meaning behind that saying is that whatever is worthwhile takes time to create. Yes, some things can be rushed. Extreme Makeover Home Edition really can build a new how in a week, but I bet turning that house into a home takes a lot longer. And so it is with digitization programs. We may want to get the funding today and begin scanning tomorrow, but it takes longer than that to put the processes in place, test them, modify them, and then let them run.

While there are many things that can slow a program down, let me just mention those that we forget:
  • Other priorities -- You may not have the luxury of having dedicated staff for your program. If you are expecting them to divide their time between digitization and other tasks, you might find that the other tasks -- those things that they are used to -- take priority. Yes, they will say that the digitization program is their top priority, but do they act like it?
  • Meetings, vacations, holidays, etc. -- How much can you get done? You think you know the answer, but have you considered those things that will interfere like meetings, vacations and holidays? I have every intention of making great progress between Thanksgiving and New Years, but will you really?
  • Obtaining approval -- Not only can building consensus take time, but normal decision-making that requires several levels of hierarchy to get involved can take time too. Depending on your organization, purchases above a specific amount may need several signatures (approvals) and it only takes a delay by one person to cause a problem.
  • Too many cooks -- The says is that "too many cooks can spoil the soup". While it is important to have people involved and to build consensus, having too many people making decisions can be counterproductive and can slow a program down. What you need instead is a strong head chef along with a sous-chef and line cooks that are all working in harmony with each other.
Yes, equipment will break and you'll run into other problems. While you'll be frustrated, it could be that your program will be stronger and more stable because you didn't rush. I know of one program that took five years from idea until its formal roll-out. Along the way, they got campus-wide buy-in, built teams and processes, and launched a site that is both used and admired.

Yes, make your goals both aggressive and realistic, but remember that it's not all going to happen overnight. It'll take time. That's just the way it works.

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