Document Your Systems

Records make troubleshooting easier

By: Joan Heberger and Karen Thomas

August 23, 2000

Documenting the maintenance and the troubleshooting that occurs on your machines is one of THE most important things you can do to help keep your systems stable. Why? And why is this a special report in the Volunteer and Consultants sections of TechSoup?

Many nonprofits use volunteers to troubleshoot and fix their machines. If a nonprofit is very lucky, they'll get an exceptional person who will be able to come in regularly without much notice to fix a crisis situation. But, alas, most of us aren't that lucky. So, when you're working on your End of the Fiscal Year Budget Report that's due tomorrow, and your computer goes kaput, what do you do? Prepare an offering to the volunteer gods in hopes of that wonder volunteer? No. You probably try and make do and either attempt to fix it yourself or get your co-worker who seems to have a knack at this to come and take a look. So, how does this tie in with the documentation?

A maintenance log that tracks the types of problems encountered on your machine, who fixed them and what technique they used is extremely valuable in a crisis moment. It allows you to look at the log and see if your machine has had this problem before and how it has been fixed in the past. That way, you or your technically minded co-worker might be able to repair it yourselves! Then, of course, you would want to record your problems with the machine, and how you fixed it, etc...

Think of this log as a kind of medical history of your machines. Like a medical record, it shows past illnesses and remedies. Since your computer can't talk for itself (yet!) it's helpful to have this information to track recurring complications that may reveal a bigger problem. That way, when that exceptional volunteer with gobs of experience comes in, they can take a look at your log and make a diagnosis and recommendation.

Having one key staff person responsible for maintaining the log will ensure

  1. that it's used, and
  2. that the entries are complete

Below are two files you can download and use right away for troubleshooting. The Troubleshooting Log has a sample row filled out to get you started while the Blank Troubleshooting Log is empty. You'll be surprised how useful these little tools are. They'll also make you instantly popular with your technical volunteer or consultant.

About the Authors:

Joan Heberger is a former project associate at CompuMentor.

Karen Thomas is Senior Program Manager for TechCommons at CompuMentor.

Copyright © 2000 CompuMentor. This work is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 License.


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