Tactical Tech PlanningTechnology should be helping your organization, not holding it back. But in Idealware’s work with nonprofits, we often see organizations struggling with technology that limits their abilities. Luckily, some simple planning — along with great resources like TechSoup — can go a long way toward resolving problems and preventing future issues.

How do you go take a technology action plan from concept to reality and make it approachable and feasible? The short answer is, in two separate steps — first you plan out what you’re going to do, and then you implement it. Assume that planning will take about half your time and effort, and implementation the other half.

Below, we've created an overview of what the process might look like for each stage.

Planning Process:

  1. Identify Goals. Plan at least a quick meeting to make sure your team is on the same page with what you want to accomplish. State what you hope to achieve, describing your end result in terms of how you define what success looks like. In addition to planning what is part of the project, make sure to state what is not included, to avoid scope creep.
  2. Define Needs. Create a spreadsheet or other document to record all of your requirements for the project. If you're not sure what needs you might have, do some research — talk to colleagues at other nonprofits, talk to the staff members that will be directly affected by the project, or do some reading on the particular type of technology you’re looking to implement. Then, go through what you’ve identified and define what needs are critical, and what would just be nice to have.
  3. Consider Improving Processes. If your project will change the way your staff does their work, take the opportunity to improve or change your processes, rather than "building a cathedral" to the way you've always done things. When possible, try to standardize your processes to best practices and reduce inefficiencies.
  4. Explore your options and make a decision. Remember that you're not the first nonprofit to go through this process — talk to other organizations that did similar projects, to find out what they did, as well as any issues or complications they encountered, so you know what to expect. If your project involves selecting software, create a shortlist of three to five systems that sound like they might be right, and schedule demos from the vendors. In advance, send the vendor a list of specific examples of functionality or processes that you need, rather than letting them dictate what you see. Compare all these options against your needs in order to determine what best meets your needs.

Implementation Process:

  1. Implement and Configure. The first step is likely to involve getting everything up and running and working in its final location. It's common with software projects to have to configure or customize the system to better suit your organization's needs. Do you need to set custom options, create or hide custom fields or settings? Depending on the configuration needed and the type of technology, you might be able to do this yourself, or you may need someone with more intimate knowledge of the system — like a consultant — to do this for you.
  2. Data Migration. If you're dealing with a system that has data in it, you'll need to think about moving that data from the old system to the new one. Data migration is a big deal — it takes knowledge of how to get the data out of the old system, how to manipulate and work with it, and then a detailed understanding of how the data goes into the new system. It's likely not a smooth process, and you'll likely need a consultant to clean up and transform the data to fit the new system.
  3. Define Usage and Support. The next step is to define how are people supposed to use the new system and who is in charge of supporting it. What's okay for staff to do with the system? What's not okay? If data is involved, what standards are involved to make sure the data is entered consistently? It's also important to define who will answer users' questions.
  4. Train Users. You typically won't be able to set up a new technology and expect all your staff members to immediately know how to use it. Training is a critical step. It doesn't matter how much of a step forward your project is for the organization is no one knows what they’re doing with it. It could be a really minimal process, or it could take several days of hands-on training and documentation.
  5. Measure and Check In. At the start of the process, you defined what success would look like. At the end of the project, take a look at what you've done to see if you've achieved that. Come up with a set of measures and an on-going process to track how well things are working. Check in on an ongoing basis to make sure that everything is still working as planned and if the solution is still the right one for your needs. And remember to look to the future when this solution no longer meets your needs — schedule an on-going process to identify issues and make the decisions that need to be made.

Want to learn more about goal-setting, project planning, and defining a technology plan for your organization? At Idealware, we created the On Demand Tactical Technology Planning to walk  you through the entire process — and we recently partnered with TechSoup to make it available to nonprofits for a generous discount. The entire course is on-demand, which means you can take it on your schedule, at your pace, and on the device of your choice, and share it with as many colleagues within your organization as you’d like to help your team plan together. Use the associated workbook to help apply what you're learning to your own organization.

You'll finish with a working tactical technology plan specific to your organization's needs for technology infrastructure, both now and in the future. Start your organization down the right path at tacticaltech.idealware.org.

Learn more great tips about tech planning during a free webinar on tactical tech planning with my co-worker Andrea Barry this Thursday, April 24 at 11 a.m. Pacific time (2 p.m. Eastern).