A Context for Advancement Systems – The Three Legged Stool

Over the years I have suggested an analogy (metaphor?, simile?, you tell me, I’m not an English major) that a System is like a Three Legged Stool.

Three Legged Stool

While many people think of hardware and software as “the system,” I would suggest that this is only one leg of the stool.  I typically include support from an institution’s IT department, or vendors, or others as another part of this first leg.  The second leg is the infrastructure – management commitment, resource budget, and policies and procedures.  The third leg is the users – the trained, competent, available users.  Characteristic of a three‑legged stool, all of the legs must be of the same length or the stool will not be in balance and may fall.  Only with the “legs” in balance, can you have a reliable system with accurate data that effectively supports your programs.

The Three Legs of the Stool:

  1. The “System”
    1. Hardware
      1. Processor/Server
      2. Network
      3. Desktop Units
    2. Software
      1. Programs
      2. Documentation
    3. Support
      1. Vendor
      2. Internal MIS/IT Group
      3. Help Desk/User Support Organization
  2. Infrastructure
    1. Management Involvement & Commitment
      1. Requiring Accountability
      2. System seen as a Management Tool
    2. Policies & Procedures
    3. Resource Budget
  3. Users
    1. Available Users
      1. Staffing Quantities for both quality and quantity of work
      2. Organizational structure with appropriate supervision
    2. Trained/Competent Users
      1. Functional Skills
      2. Technical Skills
      3. Application Skills
      4. Interpersonal Skills
    3. User Attitude and Aptitude
      1. Institution-wide View
      2. Team Players
      3. Motivated
      4. “Can Do” attitude/Empowered

Some institutions have a balanced system but it doesn’t accomplish all that they want.  To continue briefly with the analogy, they then try to buy new hardware or software, or implement some new procedures, or hire a new person to accomplish major new initiatives.  Each of these actions raises a single leg of the stool.  Any of these actions may be an important first step, but the entire system stool needs to be maintained in balance.

My business card reads, “Systems Consulting for Development Offices and Non-Profit Organizations.”  When I refer to “systems consulting” I consider all three legs of the stool, not just the software.  So should you.

I’d welcome any comments/questions via e-mail at CharliesBlog@riarlington.com  And please sign up for my periodic blog posts in the space in the column on the right!

 SDG, Charlie Hunsaker
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