May 11, 2016

From Idea to Awesome: 7 Steps to Manage Change While Innovating

Innovation and change go hand-in-hand. You can’t innovate without changing things; you typically can’t change things without innovating. The problem is innovation is shiny and sexy and it’s easy to get excited about but… Everyone. Hates. Change. So you come up with a truly innovative idea, do your best to plan for the changes ahead, launch the project, but then you still encounter people problems that slow down adoption, or at worst, could lead to your project fizzling out.

At Sierra Club, we’re not new to this. Since our founding in 1892, we’ve seen drastic changes in everything we do, causing us to constantly innovate and change. We’ve gone from full-page newspaper ads asking people to send in hand-written letters, to creating Twitter storms to impact decision makers. Most recently, we were very excited to have launched AddUP.org—a socially-integrated digital home for our constituents that will shift our organization from transactional one-off asks to helping us build a transformative, inclusive movement. Our biggest takeaway in this process is that adapting to strategic innovation requires implementing a culture of participation and listening.

With that in mind, here’s our seven steps to create the best technology and ensure adoption:

  1. Create a stakeholder group. Before you put any plans on paper, identify the stakeholders for this project. Who are the people you need buy-in from to make this successful? Who are the key users of your project? Start by listening to their needs. What are their pain points? What does success look like to them? If folks are listened to from the beginning, they’ll have more of a sense of ownership of the project down the road. During this phase, keep an eye out for potential change ambassadors (more on that in step four).
  2. Draft a shared vision. Visioning is incredibly important. If you don’t all have an agreement on where you’re going (and by when), how will you get there? Often times, projects start with roadmaps and strategies but they skip the really fun part of creative visioning. My favorite visioning process is laid out in Ari Zingerman’s article, “Creating a Company Vision.” Be sure the voices of your key stakeholders are part of the vision, clearly outlining what’s in it for them, and how it will solve the pain points you heard about in the first step.
  3. Build it, launch it, celebrate it! Obviously, this isn’t that easy—collecting user stories, agile design, and development is a whole other topic. Bottom line for change management during this build cycle is to be sure to include feedback cycles from your stakeholder group during this process.
  4. Demonstrate success. Remember the folks you identified as change ambassadors in the beginning of the project? It’s time to let them shine! Within one to two weeks of launching, and consistently afterwards, have these change ambassadors share stories about how they’ve used your product to alleviate pain points outlined early on. Early adopters are the best spokespeople of your project (not you!). Help them test and build case studies and be the star of the project.
  5. Listening. 30-60 days after launch, set up listening sessions with larger stakeholder groups. Ask what’s working well, what they’d like to see improve, or why they haven’t started using it. As you listen, evaluate what needs to go back to the product team. As product issues are resolved, communicate solutions back to the folks that had the issue. Winning someone over that had a problem could turn them into one of your change ambassadors.
  6. Be honest. Projects usually aren’t awesome at launch, even after several stages of user acceptance testing, beta sites, etc. Be honest with yourself and teams when things don’t go well and create action plans to fix it. Communicate your action plans far and wide if needed.
  7. Keep listening and innovating. There’s a reason why resilience is often cited as one of the key factors of successful innovators. It takes time, failure, and a lot of listening to truly innovate and make change. Lots of projects fail in the first iteration, but it’s how you listen to user needs, make changes or come up with new solutions that continue to pave the path of innovation.

Did we miss any steps, or do you have other tips to share? Let us know in the comments below.

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Stacey Kawakami
Stacey Kawakami is Senior Director of Digital Innovation at Sierra Club. Stacey is perpetually curious, which is why the ever-changing landscape of digital media has been such an attraction. She has over a dozen years of experience in events, PR, fundraising, paid media, email marketing, mobile, video, and social media. She holds an M.A. in Strategic Communication and has managed major advertising campaigns and creative digital campaign development for NGOs and consumer brands -- from a major reproductive health organization launch to Hello Kitty. In her current role at Sierra Club, she's very excited to be working on a project that could revolutionize digital advocacy.