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Why Moving from a Custom Environment is So Challenging

Over the course of my 20 years of consulting to associations, I’ve run into several situations where the association is moving from a completely custom system (often designed by someone on staff) to an off-the-shelf (OTS) system. (I’ve written before why associations should not build custom systems, but it happens!)

While I wholeheartedly support moving to an off-the-shelf system, moving from a custom environment to an OTS system creates additional challenges as compared to moving from one OTS system to another. Allow me to explain using the example of report creation to illustrate how the development process changes dramatically.

In a custom environment where the staff does all development, development of reports will look like this:

  • A staff person creates the report, gives it to staff who requested it, they test it and provide feedback
  • The report creator updates the report, staff tests and provides additional feedback
  • The report creator updates the report, staff tests and provides additional feedback
  • and on and on. This could run from three to ten iterations or more.

This works really well when the customer (staff) is working directly with the developer (also staff). The developer can be immediately responsive and two or five or ten iterations doesn’t take long and, effectively, costs nothing (it does have a cost, of course, but it’s not an obvious cost or direct cash outlay). Staff is very comfortable with this process.

In an OTS environment, where a third-party is involved, and staff is often working with a project manager (who is NOT doing the actual report development), the process will look like this:

  • Specs for the report are developed with a business analyst (BA) and/or project manager (PM), not directly with the developer.
  • PM or BA writes up specs and delivers to the customer.
  • Customer reviews specs and signs off on these specs, or updates them as appropriate.
  • If updated, the specs are updated and sent back to the customer for sign off.
  • Once signed off, the developer then develops per the written specs. If things are missed during the speccing process, change orders have to be created.
  • Change orders are created, signed off on by staff, and then the developer makes the changes.

All of this takes time AND costs money. What might have been a one-day or two-day process before, with no direct cost to the association, can now be a multi-week process with a significant outlay of cash associated with it.

For most staff coming from a custom environment, this is a totally new and different way of doing business and it takes time to get accustomed to it. And it requires staff to be extremely diligent with reviewing specs and testing delivery of reports/functionality, etc.

So if you’re moving from a custom system to an OTS system, keep in mind you have the added challenge of a completely different way of doing business.