Serving as a systems analyst during my data processing years, most of my cohorts assumed I got my training in college learning about computers. Little did they know. It started a lot earlier than that.
Boiling it down and forgetting about computers for a minute, systems analysis can be defined as the study of an activity or procedure to determine the desired end and the most efficient method of obtaining this end.
Listen, we’re talking motherhood here. Aware of it or not, every surviving mother of multiple little rugrats learns more than she ever wanted to know about systems analysis.
The most effective systems analysts I ever knew were mothers. We just never got over the thrill of telling a computer what to do and having it do it the first and all times following. Compared to the less than obeyed instructions like “Go brush your teeth”, or “Do your homework”, there’s just no comparison to a really fine COBOL program, that obediently and faithfully executes the commands every time. How lovely.
Without technology at her fingertips, however, most mothers improvise. In my case, I had the hard-nosed theory that if I could fully instruct and train the eldest in the litter, all of the succeeding little urchins could be programmed to follow suit by learning from the one just older in the pecking order. Just like a wonderful Rube Goldberg system. So here were my victims in 1962:
An example was how I cleverly taught them to tie their own shoes. As carefully as I could – with me being right-handed and my oldest child, Mark, being left-handed – I taught him to tie his own shoes.
A year later, it was Matthew’s turn. Instead of teaching him to do it myself though, I said, “Mark, it’s time for you to teach your little brother Matthew how to tie his shoes.” Only an intrepid systems analyst or an overworked mother might come up with such a strategic and efficient instructional technique. Or so I thought at the time.
So it was that Mark taught Matthew to tie his own shoes. Then Matthew taught Lisa, Lisa taught Susy, Susy taught Gretchen, and so on. Eventually, all fourteen shoes were being tied by their owners, and not by their long-suffering mother. I was proud to know that the system worked. I felt just like Rube Goldberg must have felt when one of his “systems” actually worked.
Years later, I happened to be riding in the back seat of the car sitting next to Judy – the runt of the litter – who was about 14 years old at the time. During the ride, she pulled her foot up on the seat and tied her shoe.
Astonished, I gasped, “Judy, what are you doing to that shoestring?”
“I’m tying my shoe”, she responded.
“No, you aren’t”, I admonished, “Whatever you’re doing to it, that isn’t how you tie a shoe. Wherever did you learn to tie your shoe like that?”
“From Teresa”, she said.
“And where did Teresa learn to do it like that?”, I asked as the truth was slowly leaking in.
“Well, she learned it from Gretchen”, said Judy.
“And Gretchen learned it from Susy,” I said slowly, “Who learned it from Lisa, who learned it from . . . okay, I get it.”
Here’s what I think happened. Their mother – a right-hander – taught Mark – a left-hander – to tie his shoes, but incorrectly. Mark, already impaired by being taught to tie his shoes wrong – taught his also left-handed little brother Matthew to tie his shoes just as incorrectly as his older brother had learned. Then, Matthew taught his little sister Lisa – who is right-handed – to even more incorrectly tie her shoes. And, listen, it doesn’t get any better . . .
Lisa promulgated the bizarre shoe-tying to right-handed Susy, Susy took it from there to teach Gretchen, Gretchen furthered the infection to Teresa, and Teresa finally taught the method to Judy, the final victim.
It’s no wonder, Judy became an expert in the harvest, spinning, knitting and rug-hooking of yarn. She’s obviously fixated on trying to figure out what to do with all that string.
So alright already. Not every system works perfectly. Even Rube Goldberg knew that.
Here however, is one (contributed by Linda Lewis) that proves that good systems analysis CAN work to perfection.