Monday, March 16, 2009

IT Alignment over the years, the story and history part 3

Jello. When you make jello you have to wonder, how will this ever come together and take shape? It seems like it is a liquid and wont ever solidify. But then right when you aren't watching it happens. One minute its liquid, free flowing and hard to contain, then next it takes on a new life in the form of the mold you chose. (Photo via andycarvin on Flickr)

That was how the IT Alignment diagram and spreadsheet happened. And there's always room for Jello, so take some time to read these posts and use the IT Alignment resources!


This series of posts is in honor of the newly released book from NTEN called Managing Technology to Meet your Mission. We are having a release party on March 31, its a free online party, so join us! And now for our regurlarly scheduled program:

So like our jello, our ideas were very liquid about what this drawing could be and what it should include.  (For those of you just joining us, we are trying to create a single picture that demonstrates how technology is integral to the mission, yeah right).  We had ideas of flow charts, images, data maps and still photos of fruit (ok maybe not the fruit.)

The group struggled for a few months on this image idea.   But then we remembered that Jello needed to be in a mold for it to have a shape and we got to pick that mold.   What would we want people to see and learn when they looked at our image.  We picked up on a couple key elements that had to quickly be portrayed.
  • IT Alignment is an ongoing process, not a single project or set of steps
  • There is no one right solution, method or set of goals - you have to find the right IT Alignment stage for you and your org
  • Dont focus on the technology - balance of people, process and tools is key
  • IT Staff has to be integrated into overall organization
From there picking the mold came quickly.  So I made a sample graph.
The group didnt really like it at all. Next mold please. That is when John Merritt from the San Diego YMCA jumped in and gave us a much clearer idea.

So I tried this:

These were better and the group liked them, but we still werent there. So that is when John Merritt stepped in again, having seen our previous attempts he created a great model and then we gave it to some professional graphic designers, which led us to our final product.  Once the image was done, we quickly created the IT Alignment  assesment spreadsheet based on it.  The words, scoring and other pieces of the spreadsheet were easy when we tied it all back to our image.  Plus we had an awesome team of YMCA staff helping review this and we were all very excited and learned something along the way.

The diagram and spreadsheet were distributed and the YMCAs that implemented and used them, loved it. They got their IT team together and used the resource, then shared it with the rest of their org.  Their leadership and boards were engagned, it started whole new coversations.

I would love to say that this resource exploded in popularity and got used heavily, but alas Fate had it own ideas.  New leadership, new strategic plan and new direction came to the national office at the YMCA of the USA.  And they asked the CEO's across the YMCAs what was most important to them.  And of course, the CEO's didnt rate technology as most important, probably because it isnt.  Technology isnt the priority, but every single thing that the CEOs said was important would require technology to give it the biggest benefit.  

But that is not how the YUSA leadership saw it.  They announced that technology was no longer a priority to help YMCAs with.  They said "IF the demand exists" for YMCAs to get help with technology that they would turn to a vendor.  So my department, this resource, the YMCA technology committee (Y-Tech) and the tech conferences were all closed in June 2008. All of the progress that started to grow was summarily dismissed.  While it seems that the acknowledgement and importance of technology is growing in other orgs based on the work from NTEN, our YMCA national office decided it was just a fad or something.  We dont need a central technology strategy, all we need is for each area of YUSA to have a little bit of info about the technology that pertains to their focus. FAIL.

My biggest mistake with all of this, I think, was that I was so focused on helping the local YMCAs understand IT Alignment that I forgot to make sure my own leadership at YUSA understood it enough.

But as I was given permission to share this resource with other orgs they saw the value immediately. So when the opportunity was posted to be an author for the NTEN book, I jumped on it and emailed Holly as fast as I could, of course that was after checking with the legal department at YUSA.

I have missed some details in this story, but I think you get the idea.  I also dont want to paint a picture that the YMCA or YUSA is messed up.  The YMCA as an organization is going through some very big and fundamental shifts.  The YMCA of the USA has set some lofty goals and created a vision for the future of our movement.  I COMPLETELY AGREE AND SUPPORT this mission focus that our YUSA leadership is bringing.  We need to get back to what makes the YMCA great, which is Spirit, Mind and Body, not just the body. And our national office is helping make that happen.  They are just missing out on the mission enhancing impact that technology can have.
I would love to take time to thank everyone that was involved in creating this resource, but there were just too many. They are all listed in the opening of the paper though.

The full resource, diagram and assesment spreadsheet are all available at:

Also, John Merritt and I will be presenting a session on this at the upcoming, Nonprofit Technology Conference, be sure to come see us there.

1 comment:

Judith Sol-Dyess said...

I enjoyed reading the history of how this all came about. I knew bits and pieces, but I often catch myself (or don't), starting a conversation mid-way through my thought process. This reminded me how much history is involved in how we do what we do every day, and how challenging it can become to do it differently, or do something new. Furthermore, it's quite the challenge to get others excited about the changes, and seeing their value. Often times I think technology is looked at that way, a "cool toy" for really smart people. That's not it at all, but of course that's part of the challenge technologists face in a culture that is 150+ years in the making (at least my org's).

Thank you for your insights, Steve.