Thursday, September 24, 2009

IT is not your friend and you are not our customer! =IT planning? (Part 4 of 11 on Managing Tech 2 Meet Mission)

(NOTE: please read the comments after the post, Peter has made some amazing observations and comments. As I thought, Peter is the master of this topic. Thx for the comments Peter, I should have had you just be a guest blogger. And now back to the original post.)

The goal of the IT department is not to make friends. Nor is it a good idea to follow the old thinking that staff in your organization are your customers. IT should act as a partner.

Whoa, slow down Steve, what does that have to do with the IT Planning and Prioritizing chapter by the brainiac Peter S. Campbell in the NTEN book, Managing Technology to Meet your Mission? Well, if you would be more patient, I will get there. I was trying to think what I could add to Peter’s chapter without just repeating his totally accurate and well thought out methodology. Because I cant compete with his knowledge on this topic.

However, I think an element that should be stressed when Peter talks about building that integrated plan that includes technology, is understanding how IT is seen by the org. We can write the best plans, set goals, define metrics and have all the best intentions, but if IT doesn’t have the relationships it needs they wont be acted on.

If you think of the staff in your organization as customers, then your ultimate goal would be to meet their needs working with the motto that the customer is right. In this approach you react to the requests and needs of your customers. Your role is to provide the solution, support or training that they tell you they need.

If you strive to have the friendliest, well liked relationship with the staff, then all you do is strive to make them happy. But sometimes we have to push back on some ideas in order to balance the needs of the full organization. We simply cannot make everyone happy all the time and be their BFF.

We have to act as a partner, we are all working toward the same mission. The relationship between IT can be a friendly one, but our allegiance should lie with the mission and strategic plan. As a partner we work with the other departments, not for them as customer implies.

So tying this all back to Peters “spot on” description about IT priorities and planning. Our ability to participate in the planning process and get invited to the table with access to provide input depends on the role we play. If we are simply taking orders, then the IT priorities will be subject to whimsical changes. If we are there to be their friends, will they heed our advice and expertise?

After saying all of that though, you would be mistaken in not reading Peter’s chapter and implementing the process he recommends. You may just want to be sure you keep the whole picture in mind and read the rest of the book too. The best laid plans….

Over 11 weeks I am doing a themed series of blog posts. Each week I will write about a chapter of the book called Managing Technology to meet your Mission. This week is on the 4th chapter about IT Planning and Prioritizing. You should totally buy the book. (In case you are wondering, I am volunteering to do this, I am not getting paid or in any other way reimbursed for this. I just love NTEN and their events.)

Flickr photos by kalandrakas and by Claudio Cicali and by LollyKnit

Friday, September 18, 2009

North or Be Eaten (quick diversion in form of book review)

(I know I am in the midst of an 11 post series about the book called Managing Technology to meet your Mission but I needed a break from Technology. And what better way to hide from technology than to read a good, fantasy story?)

"Did the book get here yet?" For days that is all I heard from my 9 year old son and wife.  When they found out we were getting a copy of North or Be Eaten to read to do a book review they couldn't wait to get it. My son loved the first book and was anxious to see what happens next. He actually read North or Be Eaten before me.

You may ask, Steve, why do you like this book or what was it about? Well before I could tell you that I would need to explain that the biggest reason we looked forward to this book was because of the author, Andrew Peterson. As a Christian artist his soul and spirit shines through in the art (music, drawings or books) he creates which makes it genuine. These works of art are a part of him.  You can really see this in the Note to Parents on the Wingfeather website. My wife is a huge fan of his music, it is just so full of personality and raw emotion. And my family thinks the books are just plain old fun!

Andrew Peterson has a clever way of telling a suspenseful story while introducing the craziest characters and creatures in the book North or Be Eaten. The book was an easy read but was very compelling and kept my attention, which helped me forget about all the technology that fills my work week. This is the second book in the Wingfeather Saga and the second book Andrew has written. I do have to make one confession, the first book was a little tough to read in parts, there was a lot of jumping around. But that foundation of solid characters and setting that was set in the first book opens up the possibilities for a fantastic series of books that I cant wait to read!

Andrew's words create a world that is so believable and real that you begin to immerse yourself in it. Just with a few sentences he is able to paint a picture of the important elements of the scene and then let your imagination fill in the rest.  He also allows his characters to grow and change throughout the book.  You are able to connect and empathize with them as they meet continuous struggles. They make mistakes and even have some regrets from the past, plus have familiar family struggles.  Andrew also keeps the fantasy elements in check so that you are able to connect with it.

"There are some parts that really FREAK YOU OUT, but it is so good." says my 9 year old son. I asked him if it was scary though. He said "It isnt scary, but there are some bad things that happen. But it's not like they were that bad." When he was reading its like he just climbed right into the book and pushed play.  Its like Andrew says on his website, "Sometimes it is necessary to paint the sky black in order to show how beautiful is the prick of light."

Well those are my thoughts, so go get the book now!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

ROI - what can I say Beth is a genius (Part 3 of 11 on Managing Tech 2 Meet Mission)

Let’s play a game.

Sure what is the game called?

I don’t know, it doesn’t have a name.

So you start to play the game, but as you play the game you and your friends make up the rules as you go. “You can only step on the yellow bricks” or “you cant get me when I’m touching the house”. Some rules work, some seem to ruin the game. But no one ever seems to win either, the game just sorta ends when Mom yells time for dinner.

Mom asks, what were you kids playing? The answer of course, “nothing”.

That nothing means more when it isn’t a game anymore. As kids we didn’t need to set goals or have to measure the success of our game. We just want to have fun. We look back at it and ask, “was that fun and should we play again? And if we play again what do we change?”

I get the feeling that many people approach some of their technology projects in the same way. They decide they want to try something, but they don’t set goals, don’t know the rules and aren’t really sure when they are done. So even though the technology may have worked and stuff got done, they aren’t really sure what they did.

Beth Kanter reigns supreme when it comes to measuring the ROI of a project, especially social media. Anything in the post I probably learned from Beth. OK, yeah, not probably, I did learn it from Beth. Her work on listening, metrics, and ROI is the best and most respected that I have seen in the nonprofit sector. So when it came time for me to write a blog entry about her chapter in the NTEN book, I was worried about what I could add to an expert like that. But then I remembered something Beth had talked about that didn’t seem to be as obvious in the book as I had expected.

It is a simple concept, ROI is best measured when the goals and metrics are established before you start.

However, as my pastor says simple is not the same as easy.

I cant tell you the number of times that as a project is finishing or in the middle of it, we get asked about the outcomes or the ROI. So we go back, dig through the data (if we have any) to look for evidence. But this evidence gathering should not be like hide and seek, where everything is hiding and you don’t know what you are looking for. It should be like a scavenger hunt, where you have a list before you start and gather the pieces as you go.

But why is it important to set the goals and ROI first. Can’t we just experiment and see what happens? Well for some things yes, you can. Beth does a great job in the chapter giving advice on how to decide how deep the ROI analysis should be. But measuring a project when it is done doesn’t determine if you accomplished your goal in the most effective way. You end up reporting outcomes, not reporting if you met your goals.

“What gets measured gets done” that is what a colleague of mine used to say all the time. So let me try to explain my thoughts on establishing ROI before you start in a different way.

Many organizations spend time at the end of the year reporting statistics of # of people served, communities impacted, new programs launched, etc. So if you budget and year end reporting are your only tools to measure success then the goal of your organization drifts away from accomplishing the mission and begins to be driven by meeting the numbers. So if you only measure the fiscal amounts and the number of people served, then that is everyone’s focus.

Metrics has to include tangible and intangible goals that are set and tied to ROI metrics before the efforts are started. Otherwise what will you review to gage progress? Yes, the results and outcomes may be very different and even much better than the metrics, which is awesome. So then you may have to adjust your metrics, but at least you have them to adjust.

Anyway, again those are my random but slightly related thoughts. So lets not set our ROI to make a real difference and stop making up the rules as we go.
Here are some of my favorite posts from Beth on ROI:

ROI - Fun read - Good ideas - makes ya think

ROI (Results on Insights): Nonprofit Examples of How Listening Returns Value

SXSW: Social Media Nonprofit ROI Poetry Slam - Slides, Links, and Poems (long)

Over 11 weeks I am doing a themed series of blog posts. Each week I will write about a chapter of the book called Managing Technology to meet your Mission. This week is on the 3rd chapter about ROI). Also dont forget that NTEN is also running an AWESOME 2 day online conference! You should totally buy the book and sign up. (In case you are wondering, I am volunteering to do this, I am not getting paid or in any other way reimbursed for this. I just love NTEN and their events.)