Wednesday, March 11, 2015

What I learned at #15NTC!

The annual NTEN Nonprofit Technology Conference is something I look forward to all year long! And #15NTC did not disappoint! I saw old friends, made new ones and learned tons!

NPTechies rule! This year had a good mix of sessions for the Techie!  We had security, contract negotiations, help desk, IT alignment, analytic, data, CRM, disaster planning and so many more. Loved seeing a theme of "People, Process and Tools" come from numerous sessions and different speakers! I was worried sessions on Ello and Crowdsourcing would crowd out the IT staff. oy. Big kudos to peeps like Peter S. Campbell for laying the groundwork to keep tech tracks alive (be sure to read his recap of #15NTC).

Weds, March 4

Ignite Plenaries!
The first round of ignites were great with quotes like:
Speak your mind, even if your voice shakes. from @jiandamonique
Be a mindful techie! #15NTC ignite. Savor the moments. Put your phone to bed and rest. Take time to focus.
"ie8 is a dumpster fire dressed as a web browser." from @dotcarly: Ha!
But the group on Friday really inspired me! Debra Askanase showed true bravery and shared a personal story about overcoming challenges with math. My favorite paraphrased quote was:
"I decided failure was not my story. Fear can not box me in. You can change your story." 
Then I enjoyed the play on semantics with Liza talking about how we should not "use" our volunteers. We use toilets, not volunteers. They are partners.

(And of course to the right is a video version of my ignite from last year, since Scope Creep did not get to perform this year)

Help Desk or Service Desk: Either Way, How Does IT Become a Partner?
It was amazing how much attention this session got since it was about Help Desks. I presented with Dar Veverka and John Cronin and it went super well! The key learning on this one was that most of the audience was already doing parts of service desk and didn't even know it.  But everyone appreciated the structure and more defined approach we offered.

Some key points:
  • A help desk is about responding to users needs, while service desk is more proactive and changes the way the organization works
  • A service desk is focused on providing expertise, structure & tools to improve processes across the organization
  • The process of implementing a service desk takes time and includes a plan for service strategy (policies, standards), design (plans), transition (change mgmt) and operation (daily support). 
  • The book ITIL V3 Small-Scale Implementation, is a complex but great resource to learn more about Service Desk

Avoiding Disaster - A Practical Guide to Backup Systems and Disaster Recovery Planning
This session was well run and the speakers (Dar Veverka and Andrew Rugninis) rocked, even lightened things up by sharing some stories about disasters they had faced (mostly water & monkey guts following Andrew around). Some key points:

  • Disaster plans should be iterative. Start with basics, then build over time. 
  • Disaster planning can be lead by IT, but should be an organization effort.
  • BIA - Business Impact Analysis combined with level of risk is a big part of how to prioritize in your Disaster Plan.
  • Knowing which key team members & vendors you will go to when a specific event occurs is critical.
  • There are a large number of backup options these days; cloud, drives, NAS, tapes, etc. Balance cost, ease & speed. 
  • Even if you are on all Cloud services, you need a backup. Crazy things happen when nature or humans are involved.
  • When fighting a disaster. Stop. Communicate first. Then start fixing. Admit problems, don't hide it. Establish trust.

Thurs, March 5

Strategy, IT\Mission Alignment and Outcomes -- How Do Yours Fit Together?
This session was even better than I thought! I can't wait to find a funder or partner to turn this into a book, workbook and full training for nonprofits! (contact us if you are interested!) This session built off of the IT Alignment model plus the Tactical vs. Strategic vs. Missional concept! The idea is:

  1. Spend time understanding how well your technology is aligned to your mission using these tools on my blog
  2. Build a set of plans and strategies which correspond to your IT Alignment Maturity
  3. Implement the changes using the seven IT Alignment Super Powers from the SIMO model
  4. And voila! You have the concepts, strategies and tools to align your technology!

What to do When Technology Isn't Your Problem?
Just like the family dog, technology is often blamed for things that are not its fault. Many of us rush to replace the technology we have. If it isn’t doing what we want, it must be broken. The greatest database in the world can’t save an organization that isn’t functioning well. And expecting it to will only lead to project failure along with a lot of frustration and missed opportunity. Some key points from this session:
  • Triangle of success: corners=tech, people, process with mission at the center. If you focus on a corner, you will topple the table.
  • A good role for leadership is to clear time for all staff for big projects  
  • Something will go wrong with projects, chunk the project to minimize & brainstorm risks ahead of time.
  • Can't convince the CEO, see if you can build other management support on a smaller scale to build off of.
  • Features don't sell technology, it should be the value it delivers.
  • Never underestimate the power of demonstrating opportunity costs. Sometimes NO is the best answer.
  • Projects need a definition of success, but they also need a definition of failure. Create go-no checkpoints.
  • When you are overloaded & a new project is added, always ask: "what should I stop doing?"
Igniting a Culture of Tech Innovation
If nonprofits don’t innovate, they are going to lose talent, support, and funding to other faster, sexier tech startups. Let’s talk about how to create a culture of tech innovation in nonprofits, because we have people’s interests, not just the bottom line, at heart. Some key points were:

  • Good, documented process= you don't have to think about how to do your work as much, more time to innovate
  • process maps are great for innovation because they provide a visual representation to react to. 
  • attributes, attitudes & behaviors = Org Culture. understanding these can help you influence innovation.
  • a good innovation driver facilitates the change, rather than doing it
  • innovation success factors after starting, follow up, integration, top level buy in, inclusion
  • Often a good idea, is just that, a good idea. Ideas get implemented when there is a real need, urgency, owner or ???
  • Resources: Innovation Network,, Standford Social Innovation Review

Fri, March 6

To be honest Friday's sessions were good, but the only session I attended worth mentioning here was:
Adoption Shouldn't be an Afterthought: Making Sure your Organization Actually Uses the Technology You Implement
Evidence shows that IT project failure happens more often than we’d like to admit in all types of organizations. The reasons for failure can be diverse, but at the root of many failures is lack of adoption. We’ll investigate the reasons that new IT systems don’t take hold in organizations, and how you can avoid these problems, starting from the very beginning of your project.  Some highlights included:

  • People may like a change, but may hate the disruption it causes & be snarky in the background
  • Include your skeptics in the project as project champions or planning. Don't avoid the conflict
  • documentation is key to adoption!- prelaunch feedback, living documents & human vs tech process
  • During adoption, watch for people returning to old habits or tools. Don't scold tho, find out why they went back
  • Talking about risks pre launch is good, but FIXATING on them causes them to come true. acknowledge, plan, move on. 
  • exec sponsor, org alignment, adopt plan, monitor success, tools - key steps to adoption
  • If a problem or conflict comes up in a project (or adoption), take the time to address it directly.
  • Silence is not a sign of support or all is well with adoption. Questions & complaints are better, at least they care

Sat, March 7 

Fishing with Friends at Lake Travis, best way to end a tech conference ever! Thanks to Scott Rockenstein for making it happen!


All in all it was one of my favorite NTCs! I met some awesome new people and learned a ton. But lets see if we can get a social media campaign started to bring back #ScopeCreepTheBand at #16NTC!


Peter Campbell said...

I maintain that our band is called "The Heye Five". Scope Creep is just a legend now.

Joleen said...

Awesome roundup, Steve. It was so good to see you, and in many ways so mission critical to NTEN that people like you are there to share you smarts with the nonprofit community. We have so much to learn from earnest, but passionate, folks like you!