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I recently joined a non-profit organization/club where all of the administrative work is essentially handled by one person.

In fact, this is even more than just org admin, she manages all of the organization's projects as well.

Several of us members have decided to help her with all this, but it's proven to be more difficult than anticipated. It seems that delegating the work would require more time (explanation, supervision) than actually doing the work itself.

I understand this, as I have been in a similar position in software development.

So, I'm wondering how we can start helping her without completely destroying her productivity.

I think the first step is to increase visibility on the work she's actually doing. This would (ideally) not create too much of an overhead as she wouldn't need to convey 100% of the information required to perform a task... just its metadata.

Once we have an idea of the categories of tasks and the volume of work, it'll be easier to figure out how to help her.

Is this a valid approach?

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So, I'm wondering how we can start helping her without completely destroying her productivity.

Your concern is that you want to improve long-term productivity without impacting short-term productivity. While I can understand that some activities can't stop, keep the end-goal in mind. At a macro-type level it may be in your organization's best interests to stop some work temporarily in order to realize greater benefits sooner.

I think the first step is to increase visibility on the work she's actually doing. This would (ideally) not create too much of an overhead as she wouldn't need to convey 100% of the information required to perform a task... just its metadata.

Once we have an idea of the categories of tasks and the volume of work, it'll be easier to figure out how to help her.

Don't try to put the "how" before the "why" is explained to the "who".

The first thing you need to do is to get your admin person to buy into the idea that a change is necessary and of benefit to her. If you fail to do this you will get resistance to change from her, resulting in the whole exercise being dragged out.

Once you get buy-in from the admin person get buy-in from management. Then sit down and figure out who else is impacted by the change and make sure they are on board.

As you get stakeholders on board with the change you can get their input on the best way(s) to reallocate work. Remember that you want to implement change with people, you don't want to impose change on people.

  • Hi Doug, thanks for your input. Our admin is onboard with the change, and there are no other people, stakeholders, or management to deal with and nobody but her is impacted (she literally does everything for us). In other words, there are no political blockers here. The problem is a logistical one. – MetaFight Apr 14 '14 at 13:03
  • If it truly was only your admin being impacted then her short-term productivity would be a non-issue.I'd suggest that management, other project teams, the people taking on some of her roles, etc etc are all stakeholders that will be impacted and should be engaged. – Doug B Apr 14 '14 at 15:25
  • ok, I guess if you put it that way, yes, others are impacted, but they are also the ones trying to find a way to distribute the workload so that the admin is less burdened. We aren't a software house or an office. We're more of a non-profit hobbyist group. People wouldn't be involved if they weren't already willing to lend a hand. – MetaFight Apr 14 '14 at 15:35
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TL;DR

As stated, this is really an X/Y problem because you're asking for validation of your approach. This simply leads to confirmation bias.

What you are really trying to accomplish is business process reengineering, which requires your organization to invest time, money, and resources in changing essential workflows. Enumerating and understanding your current workflows is a prerequisite to changing them.

Logical Reconstruction

Part of the problem is that your premise and conclusion contain a logical fallacy, insofar as you have created a false equivalence. When restated as part of a logical argument, your underlying question appears to be:

Is increasing the visibility of someone's work an effective means of knowledge transfer?

In other words, you have started from the premise that task visibility and knowledge transfer are roughly equivalent. This may or may not be true; in this particular case, assuming that they are equivalent leads to an anchoring that will bias your options and obfuscate the real issues.

Define Terms and Measurements

I'm wondering how we can start helping her without completely destroying her productivity.

I'm wondering how you're currently measuring her productivity, how you plan to measure the effectiveness of any knowledge transfer, and how you expect to measure the overhead or drag of adding task visibility.

I'm also wondering how you plan to get something for nothing. In other words, you want to transfer knowledge, which requires people and time, but you don't want your projects to pay for that transfer with any reduction in velocity. The Theory of Constraints basically says you can't have your cake and eat it, too.

What to Do Next

Having said all of the foregoing, raising the visibility of the person's tasks and creating some sort of information radiator is actually a good first step, but not for any of the reasons you've presupposed. It isn't a substitute for real knowledge transfer (or delegation either), but is a necessary first step in getting your arms around the scope of work that needs to be documented and delegated.

So, making tasks and procedures visible is a good first step, but it's only a step on the path to process documentation. As an organization, you need to get your arms around:

  • The person's scope of responsibility.
  • The processes that the person routinely performs.
  • The step-by-step procedures that the person follows to successfully execute the process.

Once you've enumerated the person's functions, and documented how those functions are carried out, you will then be ready to measure those functions and determine what changes (if any) will add the most value for the least cost. This is obviously not a quick fix, but is usually the correct approach to this kind of systemic bottleneck.

  • woah, nelly! Maybe I asked on the wrong SE site, or maybe I wasn't particularly clear (or maybe both), but I think you've misinterpreted my question. I appreciate the time you put into it, but I'm not equating visibility with knowledge transfer. All I'm saying is that we currently have no clear idea what she does and no idea of how to start helping her. That is to say, we don't know how to even start planning to help her, let alone helping her directly. (more) – MetaFight Apr 21 '14 at 18:28
  • All I was saying about visibility is that it could be a relatively low cost way to help us organize ourselves and start a rough plan on how to transfer her knowledge and help her with her tasks. Or, in other words, by increasing the visibility of what she does we might be able to notice patterns which might make developing a knowledge transfer plan easier. And, by the way, we're not a business. All our members are volunteers, including her. – MetaFight Apr 21 '14 at 18:29

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