LUP035 – When The Right Work Shows No Fruit

Here’s a quick overview of what you’ll hear in Episode 35:

  • Update – A frustration and an encouragement with Edify Hub projects.
  • Encouragement – Hear the story of a man who was ridiculed when his approach didn’t yield fruit right away, and what happened when he quit before seeing the results of his work.
  • Tech. Tip – How to organize your scattered thoughts when you start planning a big, new project.

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Update

OK, so I have two different things going on that I can share with you this month. One of them is really exciting, and the other is really frustrating. I think I’ll share the frustrating one first, so I can end on a more happy note.

On the frustrating side… I mentioned last month that we moved our Edify Hub servers from Virginia to Oregon. Well, it seems that ever since that move, we’ve been having silent problems whenever a missionary wants to change the overall design of their website. For example, if they try to change the fonts, or colors, or maybe the background image, it looks like it saves all of the changes, but the actual website appearance won’t change.

We’ve been able to trace the problem down to a specific step of the process, but we have not yet been able to figure out why that step fails. Technically, the error is called a segmentation fault, which just means that something really serious happened inside the program. What’s weird is that the program used for this particular step is a commonly used program – not one that we wrote.  When we try to reproduce the problem through any other means, everything works just fine, but when we run the exact same step from inside the website customizer, that program blows up.

I’m still exploring new and different ways to reproduce the problem and isolate exactly what the trigger is that causes it to fail. In the meantime, missionaries websites continue to work; they just can’t change certain aspects of the overall design.

I really gotta get that figured out.

On the exciting side, though, I have engaged some help to do some research on the deputation process for churches and missionaries. It seems that much of the feedback I got from missionaries seemed to indicate that most of the things that could improve the deputation process would be changes that would need to happen in churches. So, I had a friend call a bunch of churches to get their perspective on the matter – what did they like or not like about the deputation process? What would improve it. The answers have been enlightening. There’s a lot more research I’ll need to do to validate some thoughts and directions, but I’m starting to get some ideas on what kinds of tools might be a help to both missionaries and churches in streamlining the deputation process.

One thing is clear, though. Both churches and missionaries agree that taking more than two years to raise support is not what anyone wants.

So – as soon as I can fix that problem with the missionary website customizer, my plan is to put together two surveys – one for churches and one for missionaries. When that happens, I’d love to get your input. Come back next month for information on how you can participate and help guide the creation of a tool to help both churches and missionaries streamline the deputation process.

Encouragement

I like to achieve. I like to deliver results. I like to prove that the work I’m doing is worthwhile. But sometimes, like with this month’s customizer problem, those results just don’t show up – even though I’m working really hard.

Not having anything concrete to show for the effort can sometimes become discouraging. It can be even more frustrating when you have other people – maybe even your financial backers – who have their own ideas of how you should be doing your work, even though they don’t have a good background or understanding of the context where you’re working.

I’m reminded of a story I once watched on the history of the Panama Canal construction. Listen to hear how John Frank Stevens responded when the right approach took a long time to have results.

I don’t want to be John Wallace and resign in failure, but I also don’t want to be like John Frank Stevens and quit out of frustration, never able to see the results of the hard preparation work.

And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.
Galatians 6:9-10

Tech. Tip

Back in Episode 29, I briefly mentioned Trello, an application I use to keep track of the status of a bunch of different activities in a large project, who’s doing what, and what work remains. I use Trello a lot when I’m in the middle of a big project for Edify Hub. It’s great for keeping track of collaboration and status during the execution of the project. It’s not so great for the initial planning phases. On today’s Tech. Tip, I’ll share one of the tools I use to help organize scattered brainstormy thoughts during early planning. And next month, I’ll plan to share a second tool I find helpful for brainstorming.

This month’s technique is colored sticky notes.

Yes. I’m serious.

Here’s how I used them to plan the technology migration I mentioned in the last episode. As I was thinking about all of the different pieces of technology that work together for Edify Hub, I wrote down all of the different roles that were played by technology. So, for example, the website programming got a blue sticky note. The third-party website host software got one. So did the custom church-lookup service, the account management service, three different database services, various background processes that keep the system maintained – each one of those got a blue sticky note to make sure we didn’t forget about any of them.

Then, every storage space that we needed got a yellow-green sticky note. Storage for programs, data, troubleshooting logs, and temporary space for every one of those different services – each one of those got its own yellow-green sticky note. Then little yellow sticky notes captured ideas or reminders of things we didn’t want to forget.

At first, I just wrote down whatever came into my mind. If it’s a service, it went on a blue sticky note. If it’s a piece of storage, it went on yellow-green. Ideas and stray thoughts went on canary yellow. A few other pieces of information didn’t fit any of those, so they went on some other colored notes.

Sticky Note Brainstorming
Sticky Note Brainstorming

For your project, you may end up with different colored sticky notes for roles in your ministry, or volunteers that help you, or prospects you want to speak with, or different kinds of places to meet people. For my particular project, it was a bunch of technical ideas I needed to keep track of.

After I get the first wave of thoughts out of my head and scattered all over the wall, I like to start picking up those sticky notes and moving them around, grouping them nearby other related sticky notes. Sometimes, things are so related that I end up sticking notes on top of each other. Seeing the relationships between those sticky notes usually helps with the next wave of brainstorming, because it reminds me of other things that belong to those same groups – things that I didn’t think about the first time.

As the groups start to form, I like to get larger sticky notes and start naming the different groups. In our technology move project, those groups were the individual computers that would take responsibility for each group of services on the blue sticky notes, and the storage that I’d need to assign to each of those computers.

After we got the basic ideas grouped together on the wall, then we were able to take those organized ideas and write them up in a document that went into more detail. But seeing those relationships on the wall is tremendously helpful, and it gives you a way to see the forest and the trees at the same time as you write up the more formalized project plan.

“But Steve,” you say. “Hand writing your ideas on dead trees treated with dye and adhesive? Really? You call that a technical tip?”

Well, yes. I’m a geek, but sometimes the process is much easier when you can focus your thinking on the problem you’re trying to solve instead of the tool that you’re using to solve it. With sticky notes, as soon as you figure out the color coding pattern, it’s as simple as writing and sticking. Your brain is free to come up with ideas. I think that’s a pretty useful technical tip.

Now, if you’re a missionary, then depending on where you live, you may not have ready access to piles of multi-colored sticky notes, or it may be prohibitively expensive to go through them so quickly. Or maybe you want to collaborate with a teammate or two on the brainstorm. Or maybe you split your time working at home and at your church, and you want to take your brainstorm with you in both offices. I actually have a couple of long-term brainstorm walls that are like that. These are for long-running projects that I work on a little at a time, and from different places.

For those brainstorm walls, I use an online tool called RealtimeBoard. With their free plan, you and up to two other people can share up to three brainstorm boards. On those boards, you have a dozen different colors of sticky notes to choose from, and you can make them practically any size you want. And you’re not limited to just sticky notes – add charts, pictures, plain text, comments, or even videos and links to web pages all as part of your planning brainstorm.

So next time you have to plan a large project that needs a lot of coordination, try capturing those initial ideas using colored sticky notes – either the physical kind or the virtual kind using RealtimeBoard.com.

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