Probably the most challenging part of a project is defining your requirements. Try these tips to improve the odds that your next project will be successful:
Allow sufficient time to document your current system – and what features / functionality you want in your new system.
Ask a team member who is a strong writer to help with this process.
After you think you’re done, show your write-up to someone who is not directly involved in your project. Can they understand what you’ve described?
Many vendors/consultants will guide you through the requirements gathering process. This will cost more than doing it yourself, but in the long run will cost less than if you have to re-do a project that has failed.
Plan for a phased approach – not all requirements not have to be met in the first release / launch / rollout. The more focused and short-term you can keep your project, the more likely you will get the results you want.
Prioritize your needs. Getting a system that meets 80% of your requirements in 3 months is probably preferable to holding out for 90% of your needs that will take much longer to implement.
Have a change control process in place to handle user requests for items that are not part of the requirements. Keep a ‘wish list’ of features / functionality that you may want to add later.
Assume that staff members may leave and companies you hire may change who is assigned to your project. This is why it is so important to document your requirements clearly.
Need more help on how to document your requirements? See Requirements Management: The Good, the Bad, the Ugly from the Project Management Institute. Doing this right won’t guarantee that your project will succeed, but if you don’t, most likely your users will not be happy with the results.
If you want to start to break down silos, it’s not just everyone else that has the problem. Start with yourself. How can you involve other departments in your work on an ongoing basis?
Sometimes there are also silos within development between direct mail, major gifts, and online giving. It doesn’t matter who ‘gets credit’ for a gift. Treat donors as they see your nonprofit – as one organization.
Planning to bring in a new fundraising system? Start first by building small wins through pilot projects. And don’t forget to involve other departments, e.g. fiscal, who need to have a voice in what software you bring in.
Don’t be afraid to ask your volunteers to deepen their commitment as advocates / evangelists of your organization.
Ask management what metrics they want to see, then present them consistently. Providing data to show the impact of your work is critical both internally and externally.
My best take on how to break down silos – get out of your chair and walk around your office and visit other sites. You can’t develop effective working relationships by focusing only on email.
Thanks to Tricia Hart and A.J. Minogue from Amnesty International and consultant Jodie Green for sharing their expertise at this event, and to Softrek for sponsoring (it was nice to attend an event where they actually served a real breakfast).
When my boss asked me to attend a three day training in Virginia on NIEM, I was a bit surprised since I had never heard of the National Information Exchange Model, nor does by organization often pay for out-of-office trainings. But as it turns out, all nonprofits could benefit from learning about NIEM.
NIEM provides a way for organizations with data in different systems to be able to exchange data with each other by using an intermediate data model. There is some effort involved in creating a NIEM model, but once done, it can be used to provide data with any other nonprofit that uses NIEM.
In my 15 years working with nonprofits, I’ve often observed how challenging it can be to share data because of cultural issues – many organizations are just very protective about their data. For many of us, that will be the primary challenge. But eventually grants may require us to use NIEM as a way to provide data externally, so why not learn about it now?
How to get started? First, encourage departments within your nonprofit to share data with each other and consider using an internal dashboard featuring program statistics. Then, try some free online classes, but consider in person training since NIEM can be a difficult topic for those of us who are not expert programmers.
Although these sessions were given at different times with different co-presenters, they really were related; how to get organization support from the start to increase the probability of project success, and what to do throughout the process to make sure users are happy with the new system. Below are my slides illustrating ten scenarios of what can go right – and wrong in user adoption:
If you would like more tips on how to make your projects end better, take a cue from my friend Peter Campbell, who in his latest post What is Nonprofit Technology explains that “Successful technology implementations at nonprofits are done by people who know how to communicate. The soft skills matter even more than the tech skills, because you will likely be reporting to people who don’t understand what tech does.”
Interestingly, another session I attended was entitled What to Do When Technology Isn’t Your Problem (see collaborative notes), which focused on the importance of people and process as well as the technology. Spend the time to fully understand business processes work and make sure you work on your relationships, both inside and outside your organization. When tech projects fail, the technology usually isn’t the reason why.
I believe feeling ‘old’ is often a state of mind rather than a chronological age (or maybe it’s just someone who’s been around a bit longer than you). But most of us have had some experience with caring for a family member or friend who needs help as they age. And like it or not, most of us will eventually need help eventually, and few people I know want to end up in a nursing facility.
So who will take care of you so you can continue to live at home? The Age of Dignity: Preparing For the Elder Boom in a Changing America, describes the difficult life for those who currently care for our seniors. As baby boomers age, the US will have many more elders needing help – and most likely not enough workers to take care of them. If you’ve ever been in the position of having to help parents or other family members while taking care of your own family and holding a full-time job, you know why this role can’t only be fulfilled by family members.
Author Ai-Jen Poo is Director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance and Co-Director of Caring Across Generations, an organization which is seeking to transform how we care for our family by taking care of those who work for us. A home care aide generally works extremely long hours, receives low pay and few if any benefits/time off. Especially with so many of us reaching 65 soon, this situation must change.
My Aunt Minnie lived at home until she died peacefully at age 98 with the help of two dedicated home attendants. I am still in touch with one of those women (have been unable to reach the other), and her life is still very difficult. But because of these women, my aunt was able to live a long and happy life in the environment she loved.
Ready The Age of Dignity and learn how we can help those who currently care for our families – and may eventually care for us. If for no other reason, do it so you can eventually live out your life the way you would want to.
Have you ever been in a situation where you carefully describe your organization’s database requirements to a vendor / consultant / developer, only to find that months later they still haven’t gotten it right? Then since the project has taken much longer than anticipated, the people doing the work have changed, so you have to explain again to the new staff, since they weren’t around for the initial round of meetings.
Sadly I find myself in that type of situation currently, but fortunately with the help of my boss, we’ve found a way to make to make our needs crystal clear. First, take a print screen of your current form. Then, use a tool like Snagit or Skitch to annotate the form to indicate how you’d like things to change, including explanatory text:
Yes, this can take time, but probably less time that having repeated meetings about the same topics. Even if the project ultimately fails, we now have detailed specifications that we can hand off to another developer if needed.
Hey, there’s a reason why graphics are so effective on social media in getting people’s attention – they work. And in this case, they may make the difference between getting the system that matches your needs – or not.