Thursday, May 15, 2014

4 Easy Steps to Missional Tech Planning

This post is a follow up to a Tech Planning Smack Down: Behind The Scenes post on the Community IT blog about a Session at the Nonprofit Technology Conference. Be sure to go read that post first!


A silver bullet for technology planning does not exist. There is no right way to do it for everyone, your job is to find the way which works best for you today (might be different later).  But it actually goes even further, you may have to use multiple technology planning methods to build a single plan. We will walk through Tactical, Strategic and Missional technology planning.

In order for technology to meet staff and organization needs, support the organization’s strategic plan and provide innovation for program delivery and mission impact, it will need to implemented in a range of ways. Each style of technology planning requires different information, people, time, resources and skills. Each of them is also used to create different plans over different periods of time.  The first key is to have an overview of each type of planning; Tactical, Strategic and Missional.

So first an overview of each type.

Tactical: focuses on using quick timelines with small teams (even one person) to get all of the technology working correctly, establish a replacement plan with improvements and begin to address problems, not symptoms.

Strategic: Shifts to meeting the operational and strategic needs of the organization. Relies on cross-functional teams with a need for business process changes, staff training and change management. As strategic technology improves it gets tied to and even can be integrated into the organization’s strategic plan.

Missional: Scope shifts beyond the goals and plans to the mission and vision of the organization. This often requires expertise, insight and collaboration from outside the organization. Identify gaps between your ability to meet the mission and the capacity of the organization, then march technology to the gaps.

Make It Happen

Just understanding the types isn’t enough though, you have to know how you create and implement the plan too. But the real trick is that there is no one right way to do the planning.  Here are just some ideas, but you have to make it your own.

There are plenty of resources out there to show you how to do the tactical and strategic planning. I would suggest reviewing the Tactical Tech Planning course from Idealware, attending the Nonprofit Tech Academy from NTEN and reading the Unleasing Innovation paper from MAP Tech Works.  You should also consider working with a consultant to run the process and bring in outside expertise.

But I have not found as many which focus on the mission focused technology.  Which is why we ran a session on it at the 2014 Nonprofit Technology Conference.  So here is our idea on how to do it. (Lindsay Bealko from Toolkit Consulting and Andrea Berry from Idealware were key in planning and running this)

Who: Pull together a diverse group of people from inside and outside of your org with a wide set of experiences and expertise (including some who may not know your org well, but understands the cause). Have this group break into small teams and the activity we did in our session.

1. Mission or Vision Statement
Review your mission and\or vision statement and look for the phrases or concepts which:

  • extend for many years
  • exceed the capacity of your org
  • requires collaboration across the sector
  • reflects the big hairy audacious goal of the org

2. Identify the barriers
What stands in the way of acting on or in completing the selected part of your mission or vision statement? Create a list of these barriers.

3. Brainstorm with technology
Use a set of cards with different types of emerging and core technologies (prepare these cards ahead of time).  These cards should have a range of things from e-learning, emails, websites, mobile apps, text messaging, tablets, computer labs, CRM, big data, wide area network, etc.

Have the group brainstorm possible technology approaches to each of the barriers you identified in the second step. To make it tougher we had the group pick the technology which seemed like the least likely match. Challenge the group to look for ideas which do not rely on staff intervention, extend past the reach of the org, have a direct impact on constituents, etc.  Come up with your own rules for the group based on your style, culture and cause.

4. Bring it back
You may or may not come out of this exercise with a real and actionable idea to act on. But what you will get is a whole new conversation. Find a way to collect the info and then build on it.

Presentation Slides:

Here are the slies from the presentation.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Technology Committees - Who to Include and What to Do (part 2)

This is a continuation of a post about types of Technology Committees and the value they can bring.

NOTE, this post really focuses on advisory tech committees, but can be altered for others.

Once you decide to have a tech committee, who should you include and how do you recruit them?

SkillsThe key is to find some members with experience and skills which don't exist in your org. Often these are not technology skills at all. Remember, you aren't using your technology committee to do your tech support, they are there to help you drive your strategy. So often things like vendor negotiation, business process, data management, governance, tech policy, software selection, project management and other business skills. Often these skills are the ones missing in orgs. A nice balance of these skills with experience in technology projects or management is great.

PurposeBut even more important is to match your members to the purpose of the committee. How do you plan to use the group, to brainstorm new ideas, review existing process, assist in projects, strategic planning, reviewing vendors...

Connections - It is great if you can find a range of members who may not be connected to each other. It is great to have a few who are existing supports of your org, know each and get along. But at the same time, with variety comes a different set of vendor experience, tools used and so on.

Recruiting - Look for existing volunteers, donors or engaged audiences. Specifically target a few people through your board, most of them work at companies with the types of people you are looking for. Reach out to some friends or colleagues at other orgs who are in similar roles or look to bigger orgs who may have more tenured staff. The trick is to have your purpose, vision and structure of the committee ready, along with being able to articulate the value they can bring and what the commitment would be.

SIDEBAR - Now I have to take a minute to stop sounding mechanical and maniacal, like this is all calculated, all about some master plan. It isn't. This about people. Our Tech Advisory Board is full of people I respect and have developed friendships with. This group has been more than helpful, they have made a real impact. OK, so now back to the post...

Then once you have a team, it is time to meet, but to do what?

Information - Share information, updates and insights about the tech and strategic plans of your org. This is a great way to both get them involved and open opportunities for input. 

Challenges - Be upfront and honest about where the org is struggling, it is the best way to get support and help. Always painting a happy picture may not drive them to action. And don't just focus on the little ones, make the challenges big enough to be meaningful.

Social - be sure to make the group social in a way that fits your culture. Infuse the stuff that makes your org great, be who you are as an org.

Focus - provide a focus to your meeting, what is the big item of the agenda.  Be sure to share this ahead of time, give them time to prepare. Push through the updates and info to allow focus on this.  A great way to do this is to be in regular communication with this group between meetings.

Anyway, those are my thoughts on Tech Committees, specifically ones with an advisory role. The time, effort and attention needed to make these work may or may not be right for your org. It is just an option working for us which I don't hear talked about enough.

Also, if you want to join my tech committee, just let me know!