5 Tips for a Smooth Tech Project

Submitted on Fri, 11/9/2012 - 12:47pm
What one mid-sized organization learned about managing a technology project -- and how it can help you.

When you're investing in a large technology project, you want it to go smoothly, from planning to launch. At Food & Water Watch, we just finished a big data migration, moving our online and donor databases to a new, integrated database and eCRM that, at launch, needed to be actively used by about 40 staff.

It's common to hire a consultant to manage a process of this scope, but we chose to manage it in-house, working directly with the vendor. That approach worked well for us, and now that we're up and running with our eCRM, I wanted to share what worked well for us, and what we learned along the way.

  • Identify a project manager in your organization – one person who will “own” the project and be responsible for communicating directly with the vendor, and keeping things moving. Make sure they have the time and resources they need to do a good job, because they'll be key to keeping track of all the moving parts.
  • Identify a core team that will be involved in all phases of the project and will stay informed about the status. Within that group, know who the “deciders” will be – maybe one person, maybe a process of group consensus, maybe something in between.
    • Keep it small – we had 5 people on core team and 5+ others who joined as needed
    • Make it a priority – everyone on the core team needs to stay actively involved, even if they can’t attend every meeting.
    • Include representatives from the major teams that will use the tool. There should be techies and non-techies – the non-techies will quickly come up to speed on what they need to know, and will give you a valuable perspective on how other staff will view the new tool.
    • Have regular meetings with the core group, but have an agenda to keep the meetings focused and useful.
  • Communicate a lot, both internally and with the vendor. Put your needs in writing for clarity, because it's easy to misunderstand or forget what was agreed upon during a meeting. Don't make assumptions about what the vendor knows or understands. A cloud-based project management system is helpful for keeping everything organized and in one place.
  • Get yourselves trained on the tool as early as possible, so you can better communicate with the vendor. Until you do, you may find that you're speaking different languages – a word like “member” may mean one thing to you, but something completely different within the context of the technology. Be proactive in requesting training if the vendor doesn't immediately provide it.
  • Start planning your roll-out and training process very early. It will take longer than you expect. Make lists of everything that needs to happen, and set priorities so you're as ready as possible at launch.
  • Figure out your business rules, and train other staff. You know better than the vendor how you will actually use the tool – for staff who aren’t expected to have a deep knowledge, train them not on how it works, but on the specifics of how you want them to use it, right down to naming conventions. We did all our training in-house through a series of recorded webinars, run by the new “experts” in the tool. To help staff absorb the trainings, we had a required homework assignment after each session, which seemed to help enormously in getting them comfortable with it.
  • Walk before you run. Be patient and don’t try to do everything on day 1. Set that expectation with staff who will use the tool, too. Be realistic about your timeline for getting up and running, and let everyone know there may be bumps in the road.

This is just one approach to managing a technology project: one that happened to be very effective for us. What has worked for you? Share your own tips in the comments.

Jo Miles is an Online Organizer at Food & Water Watch. She uses data, testing, and analysis to constantly improve her online fundraising and advocacy work.

This article is part of NTEN's Member Appreciation Month, featuring content submitted by our Members.