American Idiot

At some point on August 20 or 21 of this year, a math professor will stand in front of a classroom, 35 students clustered around him, and realize that the classroom promised in the schedule is occupied by another class and not available. In an uncharitable but understandable moment, the professor may think to himself, “What idiot made this mistake?”

Professor, please allow me to confess. I am your idiot.

Through a series of circumstances that are in hindsight all too understandable and yes, preventable, but in the pressing needs of our day-to-day work lives, unforeseen, HWC administrators began to realize late in the afternoon of Friday February 24 that we were at risk of not meeting the deadline for class schedule submission on February 27. We scrambled late into the evening, and by Saturday morning, Armen, George and I joined Alma and Aretha in entering schedule information. Sunday, John M joined the crew. I took personal accountability for entering the Math department schedule, and helped out on some other departments.

We met the deadline.

I appreciate the way the team pulled together to make this happen. We are now gathering lessons learned. We will implement changes to lessen the possibility this will happen again.

I found it instructive to get personally involved in entering the schedule. I learned a lot about how challenging the process is. First, department chairs submit the schedules for their departments. Aretha then assigns rooms, trying to ensure we do not have conflicts. Then we need to enter all of this information into Peoplesoft. With the large amount of manual entry required, the process is prone to error.

Yes, we proofread (a few times) and cross check, but with manual entry of schedules, it is inevitable (in my mind) that we have some errors. The data entry has its challenges. Having sat on the IT side of the house, designing systems that handled transactions and data entry, I have an appreciation for the trade-offs involved in designing and implementing systems such as our Academic system. With each validation error I caused, I imagined the hundreds of hours of debate that went into the programming decisions. For example, should we allow a data entry person to save a schedule if we know there is a room conflict? What do we do if a faculty member is over-scheduled?

With each validation error, the team needed to decide whether to use a work-around. And with every work-around, we increase the risk that if we don’t go back and fix it, then incorrect information will make its way into the schedule. We did not leave ourselves any contingency, either. So as we hit system burps, we needed OIT to make heroic efforts over the weekend to get us back on track.

Many of us learned a lot about what we need to do differently to work with the system and are developing our wish lists of system changes for the future. I don’t want another weekend of heroic efforts to make sure we deliver on our commitments.

So while we work through these issues, I ask faculty for a little understanding. As you discover errors, and wonder who could have messed up things that badly, please remember that the idiot you seek may be your President.

Published by Don Laackman

Leader with non-profit, higher education, and private-sector consulting experience.

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