Monday, February 25, 2013

Technology Planning #MMM Episode 2

That's right! It is the last Monday of the Month and it is time for (drumroll .....)

Episode 2 of Minute Monday Movie #MMM!

This month I tried to create a tech plan in 1 minute. It helps when you can speed up time, prepopulate things and not really finish the process.

Of course, I would recommend transforming your spreadsheet into a narrative providing additional information, plus a more detailed project plan and overview, but what do you want in 1 minute. Seriously.

But I think this can jump start anyone that is struggling with how to start a tech plan.

Grab your popcorn, but eat fast, this is only 1 minute.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Tech Priorities sabotage strategy.

"Our database needs to be replaced."

"Our website needs a redesign immediately."

"Our network is down."

Typically followed by:

"In the best interest of the org we need to make this a priority and focus only on it."

All of these projects would need to be made top priority and would require the highest attention. I am not denying the simple fact that IT is often required to focus on a single project or drop everything to fix something.

But as I think through my experiences and so many stories that I have heard, I hear a common theme. "The project we were working on was so critical to one team or goal...... but somehow we missed how it would impact the full org or other goals."

Software is a classic example of this.

  1. How many times have we heard about a single department or program area running out to get software to meet their needs without first checking with IT to see if it was the right choice? 
    • This meets the immediate needs and may be the best solution. But a good discussion of how the data will be created, stored, used and shared is critical.
  2. Or how many times have we changed software packages only to realize that it was our process that was broken not the software and our old software actually did have the functionality we needed?
    • Often we blame technology for our ineffective processes 

Websites carry the same issue.

  1. We spend time defining the audience, the design, the functionality, the goals we hope to accomplish and are very deliberate about everything.  But then once the website is implemented we suddenly realize that it isn't integrated with our core database, we have created manual work-arounds to collect email signups from the website or includes tools that overlap existing ones used internally?
    • We don't always take time to understand the tools used to build our website or to explore other options.
  2. We often also forget to think through what we will do with the data, analytics and transactions that happen on our website and what the follow up process will need to be.
    • How does what happens on our website impact our work and what will we have to do as a result?

Often we do everything we are supposed to within a project to ensure it's success! But without a dedicated resource that reviews all tech projects as a whole, you will miss opportunities to evaluate the impact on the overall org.

Every nonprofit should have a resource, whether internal or external, helping them develop a technology strategy that can be used as a decision framework for technology projects.

Don't let the immediacy of a need or the lack of resources dictate your technology strategy. You will pay for it in the short and long run.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Lack of budget can be such a bad excuse.

Lack of budget and resources is a real problem across many nonprofits. I am not denying that fact.

One of my favorite NPTech people, David Krumlauf, has been making the circuit and speaking with foundations to convince them of the importance of funding technology for nonprofits. The days of "we only fund programs" and "we don't fund overhead" is just so backwards thinking. It is like saying we want to fund you, but it isn't our concern how effective, efficient or if you can get the tools to succeed.

But with that being said, I have heard too many nonprofits talk about and almost hide behind the excuse of "we don't have the budget for technology."

One of the things that I respect about my new job is how they get every penny out of the technology they have. They are able to make magic happen with spreadsheets, a custom SQL database built over time, low cost software, and 1 tech person (until I started).

When someone talks about their low tech budgets the questions I ask are:

  1. Are you using your current technology to the full capacity? 
    • There are often features, modules, add-ons, plugins, short cuts and other parts of our tools that we just never took the time to explore, implement or use
  2. Have you taken time to review your business processes?
    • Often we don't even know where our inefficiencies are, are we working smart?
  3. Have your prioritized your tech needs to be sure your tech budget is allocated correctly?
    • Technology does cost money and you have to make the budget for mission impact technology
  4. Have you leveraged nonprofit discounts and donations?
    • Look for cost savings on non-mission impact technology
  5. Are you proactive in your tech spending or reactive? 
    • Fighting fires costs more than preventing them
But even with those questions it is a lost point often because of a lack of time be proactive and\or a lack of staff expertise in business process. In those cases it is best to look for outside support, turn to your board, lean on vendors, look for pro-bono help and start your planning somewhere!

Nonprofits often work on shoestring budgets but make huge impact on real issues. Nonprofits get creative with their solutions. Nonprofits change the world every day, often with very little funds.  They find a way to make it happen. I would love to see some of that effort, creativity and problem solving put toward their core technology (and no I don't mean social media, web or the surface tech). The trains need to run on time.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Is the business stakeholder always right?

The customer is always right. Isn't that what they always say?

Well in some people's minds, the stakeholder is the customer for IT staff. So therefore the stakeholder is always right?  

Um, how do I put this delicately enough so to keep the stakeholder's support but still get the job done in the best way for the org. No. The stakeholder isn't always right.

(SIDE NOTE! I completely disagree about calling people customers as IT staff, we should partner with the staff in our org as IT staff, not just take orders)

In a previous job we were working to select a CMS for our website. IT and Marketing collaborated closely to create the RFP, select a group of vendors, narrow the choices and then at the end we voted for our top choice. Seems very reasonable right? 

But the voting was just a way to let Marketing make the decision because they were the stakeholder. IT needed their support to make the website successful. So we let the conversation, decision and process lean in their favor. They know what is best, let them lead and decide.

In the end we loved our design and our website overall. But a month didn't go by without us struggling as a team of IT and Marketing to get the functionality to work for us. We had a tool that limited our flexibility, required many work-arounds and didn't meet our needs. We had repeated releases to try to address the issues, but a few of our problems were a direct result of the choice of CMS\vendor that we made.

Did we do what was best for the stakeholder by not pushing harder to educate or illustrate the challenges we would face?

Many times it seemed like all we did was set us up to be blamed for not being able to make the website work. And for us to retort with, well you picked the tool. Now it wasn't as school playground, smack talky like that. No it was just this hidden, ugh kind of feeling.

So is the business stakeholder always right? My answer is. Lead with a yes, they are right, but some education and push back can go a long way to avoid organizational problems that won't go away. Before a large decision like this starts, clearly define areas of expertise and then let the expert make the decision, not always the stakeholder.

Just my thoughts as I reflect.