Kathryn Grant is a volunteer on the Bishops Storehouse Inventory and Reporting (BSIR) project -- one of the many community projects that volunteers can work on. In this article, we chat about this BSIR project, its goals, progress, and lessons learned. Kathryn provides some great advice for other volunteers working on community projects.
What is the BSIR project all about?
The Bishops Storehouse Inventory and Reporting system (BSIR) is a web-based application that will track the inventory, orders, and volunteer hours in the various bishops' storehouses. It will be deployed initially and primarily in Central America, South America, and throughout the Caribbean.
What system are they currently using?
Currently, the inventory is tracked in a Microsoft Access application, which itself was a giant step forward from the paper system. However, the time has come to move to the next level.
Is the team almost finished?
The team began work in August 2010, so we've been working on the project for about eight months. We're just nearing the end of beta testing, and the application will be rolling out soon, just in time for the 75th anniversary of Welfare Services.
What advantages does BSIR provide over the previous system?
BSIR provides the following key advantages over the Access application:
- Users need only a web browser and LDS Account; no special software needs to be installed or maintained.
- Data files no longer have to be sent between locations.
- Lists of stakes, wards, and leaders are pulled dynamically from Church systems and have become maintenance-free.
- Inventory changes are displayed immediately for all users, whether at the storehouse, Area Office, or Church Welfare Headquarters.
- Likewise, reports show up-to-date statistics at all times for all locations.
What advice would the BSIR team offer to others working on community projects?
Developing BSIR was an exciting adventure, even with the inevitable bumps in the road. Here are a few lessons we've learned:
- There's a need for volunteers with different skills at different levels. If you'd like to get involved, don't hesitate!
- Resist the temptation to consider volunteer projects casual. If you commit to a project, stay with it or let the team know if you're unable to continue.
- Know your users and their processes. If you can't interview users in person, arrange a phone conference.
- Develop thorough specifications. An oversight in the BSIR specifications required some significant redesign late in the development cycle.
- Communication is key. Keep each other in the loop, question assumptions, and if you see a problem, speak up!
- Murphy is a silent team member on all software projects, so build extra time into the timeline to compensate. A worthwhile project doesn't mean the absence of challenges.
- Focus on priorities, and avoid the temptation to be distracted by items that are easier (or more fun) but less important. Also, under tight deadlines, keep in mind the adage "if it ain't broke, don't fix it"—even if it could be improved.
- Test, test, test. Find testers other than the developers, who know the product too well. Engage the project sponsors and end users. Sometimes people question the value of testing before the product is "done," but the time to find issues is beforehand.
- If you need to work with the Translation Department, involve them early and allow additional time.
- Engage technical writers from the community to write clear and complete help documentation.
- Don't plan a rollout near General Conference. The Translation Department is booked for several weeks before and after. There are lockdowns on some Church systems. In addition, there are special events such as annual training meetings and the LDSTech Conference which cut into team members' availability.
Finally, enjoy the experience, learn from it, and get others involved! It's a great feeling to work together to help build the kingdom.
If you would like to get involved in a community project, log in with your LDS Account in the sidebar, and then click Projects at the top. From the Projects tab, you can complete your profile, select your skills, and browse available projects. When you find a project that appeals to you, go to the project's detail page and click Join.