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What Do Nonprofits Need From Their Tech Leaders?
Technology leaders at nonprofit organizations come in all sorts and job descriptions, according to the resources and the needs of the organizations they serve. Some organizations have a CIO, others an IT Director, and sometimes a Finance, Operations, Administrative, or Programs executive or manager takes on the technology leadership role. But what do nonprofits need from their tech leaders?
Our colleagues at Build Consulting believe there are a few indispensable qualities or capabilities that all tech leaders should have, regardless of what they otherwise do.
Community IT was pleased to partner with Peter Mirus and David Deal at Build to present a webinar on technology leadership best practices.
Many of these tips you can put in place quickly and begin to use immediately.
There was a 15 minute Q&A following the webinar, addressing specific questions and challenges of participants. As with all our webinars, this presentation is appropriate for an audience of varied IT experience.
Peter Mirus co-founded Build Consulting in 2015, following over 15 years of nonprofit consulting experience in the areas of technology, branding, marketing, and development. His work for Build’s clients has a broad focus spanning many operational areas, including fundraising, program monitoring and evaluation, accounting, and impact reporting/analysis.
He presented our recent webinars on creating a technology roadmap, improving data quality and creating an information strategy for your nonprofit, and has been a speaker on nonprofits and technology at Good Tech Fest and NTC.
David Deal co-founded Build Consulting in 2015, building on over 20 years of deep experience in the nonprofit technology sector. His work with nonprofits includes fundraising, program and case management, human resources, accounting, and much more.
He writes frequently on software selection, CRM management, and the role of Salesforce in the nonprofit sector. He is a frequent speaker and author on technology issues and nonprofit leadership.
What Do Nonprofits Need From Their Tech Leaders?
Peter Mirus: Hello everyone and welcome to the Community IT and Build Consulting Webinar for May 2020, titled “What Do Nonprofits Need From Their Tech Leaders?” Technology leaders in nonprofit organizations come in all sorts and job descriptions, according to the resources and the needs of the organizations they serve. Some organizations have a CIO, others an IT Director, and sometimes the Finance, Operations, Administrative, or Programs Executive or Manager takes on the technology leadership role.
But what do nonprofits need from their tech leaders? Today we’ll be describing the qualities Build Consulting believes are most important to being an effective technology leader, and tell some stories about our experience with tech leaders in a variety of different nonprofit organizations. We had over 40 registrants for this webinar and some questions submitted which we’ll try to address over the course of this webinar, and we hope to leave a few minutes at the end for any questions you have. You’ll also have access to our personal contact information for any follow ups you would like to send our way.
Before we get started today, just a few housekeeping notes, please be sure to ask questions using the available questions feature in Go To Webinar. Avoid multitasking, you may just miss the best part of the presentation. And as always the webinar recording and slides will be available, in a couple of different formats after the webinar. We also make the recording available as an mp3. A lot of our recordings lend themselves well to just listening and are good for just sort of bike rides, walks, commutes et cetera.
A couple of promos for some upcoming webinars: on Wednesday June 17th, Community IT will be presenting a webinar called Remote Staff Office Staff, Tech Tips for Nonprofits. You’ll join Community IT CEO Johann Hammerstrom, and some expert guests to discuss what works about remote working, what could be better and what we can do to move forward thoughtfully as nonprofit offices reopen.
And then on June 24th, I will be presenting Relationships and Constituent Journey Mapping, which is to discuss the relationships our nonprofits have and how to document them with constituent journey maps. These maps have benefits in the areas of branding and marketing, operations and information system requirements, development, and systems design. So be sure to check those out, we’re promoting those on our websites and email.
Just a little bit about Community IT and Build Consulting, we both work exclusively with nonprofit organizations to help them make information technology and information systems decisions that support their mission. We have a collaborative approach empowering our clients to make informed choices for their organizations.
And here’s a little bit more about Build Consulting’s services, all of our services are designed to help our clients transform themselves to better serve constituents of all types, including funders, donors, program beneficiaries, staff, volunteers, board and committee members and the general public.
WHAT DO NONPROFITS NEED FROM THEIR TECH LEADERS?
My name is Peter Mirus and for today’s discussion I’m the moderator and I’m joined by my friend and colleague David Deal. Together we have nearly 50 years of experience in nonprofit technology leadership and work with peers in that area across hundreds of nonprofit organizations.
Over the course of my career, I have served as a technology leader, on both the short and long term basis, under many job titles including CIO, Senior Advisor for strategic projects, Digital Communications Director, and as the project leader for a broad range of initiatives ranging from three months to over three years in length. I’ve managed small teams at small organizations and teams as large as a 100 members at organizations with over $2 billion in annual revenue.
Across that time I’ve learned a lot about what it means to be a good leader in general and technology projects specifically. And one of the things I’ve learned is that what’s in your heart and between your ears is what matters. How you engage with those around you and how you think isn’t so much about specific technical knowledge that’s more readily available than ever. But the hardest things to develop and what requires the most self-awareness and introspection are the things I just mentioned.
Over the course of the past 20 years my approach to leadership has been shaped by many people and information sources, one of those people is the person that’s with me today, David. David, would you please introduce yourself?
David Deal: Thank you Peter. I’ve had the pleasure of working with Peter for the last decade including more closely for the past five years here at Build Consulting as two of the founding partners here at Build. My career has been in nonprofit technology since it began in the early 90s. For the first year of that time at a nonprofit and since then as a consultant to nonprofits. I grew my fist company which was Community IT to a team of 60 staff providing technology guidance and support to hundreds of nonprofits. In 2015, I left Community IT to co-found Build Consulting.
And I had the opportunity from early in my career to serve as CEO and in doing so, I learned a lot about leadership—I’ve learned in lot of ways about leadership including first and foremost my own mistakes of which I’ve made plenty. Secondly, I learned from other leaders I hired, who had leadership talents of their own. Thirdly, I have to give a shout out to a great executive coach Whitney Walpole who worked with me for over a decade. Fourth, I got to participate in a peer group of CEOs and something called Entrepreneurs Organization. Fifth I’ve had the opportunity to serve on quite a few nonprofit boards and on corporate boards over the years. And then lastly from working closely with senior leadership at numerous nonprofits, both on technology projects and organizational change management, often related to tech projects. All of this has provided me the opportunity to observe leaders and to really observe what works.
Peter Mirus: Thanks David. Build Consulting believes that tomorrow’s best nonprofits will use technology to change themselves and the world. But our analysis of the industry statistics combined with our own observation at hundreds of nonprofits across the sector is that about 50% of nonprofit technology projects fail. And the reason we were founded is to address the fact that oftentimes, when a technology change project is happening, the technology moves forward, but the organization does not. And this is the slide we often show to our clients to underscore this OO plus NT equals EOO, which stands for Old Organization plus New Technology equals Expensive Old Organization.
And it’s just to highlight that transformation is critical to your success. And what does this transformation entail? Well, we created this information strategy framework to help organizations consider the various aspects of the organization that will need to be transformed in order for the technology transformation to ultimately be successful. And those are, from left to right, leadership and governance operations, process, data, and technology.
Yes, in organizational challenges with technology, sometimes there are technological problems themselves to be addressed, but studies have shown that about 50% of executives say that those problems are related more to people in the organization, and that includes leadership and that’s what we’re going to be talking about today.
One of the most critical factors in technology success in nonprofit organizations is having an experienced and empowered technology leader with the right qualities to get you where you need to go. And as David and I are going to discuss with you today a lot of those factors or qualities are not hard skills, but are more soft, what might be considered soft skills; indispensable qualities that a person must have, on which they’re building their business and technical knowledge. And in a nutshell those things are ethical, strategic, process-minded, collaborative, adaptable, and servant-leader.
We’re going to be talking about each of those things in turn, relating them to what we’ve seen in the nonprofit sector from technology leaders, both good and bad, in relationship to each of these things and providing a specific examples of how applying these things can help transform your work and your organization’s work for the better.
We’re going to start with ethical. David, can you take the lead on this one?
David Deal: Sure thing, thank you Peter. This concept, like many other concepts we’re talking about in today’s presentation, really applies to all leaders, not just tech leaders. We’ll share examples that are specific to tech leaders, but realistically it applies to leaders in general. So first of all an important part of leading successfully is that people believe in you, and judge that what you’re doing is in the best interest of the organization, not just yourself.
A clear commitment to the mission of the organization is especially important for all nonprofit leaders including nonprofit tech leaders and I think the idea of being an ethical leader is also related to characteristics like trustworthiness and integrity and some of the specific behaviors that build trust and support integrity.
I wanted to call out:
Number one—Does a leader do what they say they’re going to do? Are they willing to hold themselves to the same standard they hold others? The phrase, “Do as I say, not as I do,” doesn’t work in parenting, as I can attest; and it also doesn’t work in organizational leadership or in technology leadership. So if a leader says, “The organization is going to use the CRM,” are they using the CRM?
Number two—In a leader’s explanation of decisions, are they more guarded, or are they transparent? If a leader is irrational in their decisions, is opaque, if (their decisions) seem arbitrary, it’s going to undermine trust.
And then thirdly—Does the leader’s decisions lead primarily to their own benefit, or do they really benefit the entire organization?
So, ethical leadership, integrity, trustworthiness, these are the things that are really the secret sauce that either support or undermine everything else a person does as leader, and everything else we’re going to talk about today.
Peter Mirus: That’s right and we’ve seen technology leaders at some organizations whether it would be a CIO or a CFO or sometimes an IT Director, they did serious damage to themselves, their teams, and projects, and their organization through a variety of what we would consider at least to be unethical behaviors. Including such things as making preferential deals with vendors to get favors for themselves, squashing others in the organization to make themselves look good or feed their own egos. Taking advantage of their systems access to spy on others, making mistakes and then throwing other people under the bus, as David alluded to failing to make good on their promises or the commitments. Promoting people that operated in bad faith while demoting or firing good actors or even simply just taking on projects that they knew in advance they weren’t well-equipped to deal with.
And then in contrast we’ve seen people in these roles behave in exemplary ways. They will refuse to be swayed by any favoritism from vendors, will act respectfully and generously towards others, they’ll set clear boundaries for themselves and others regarding privacy and use of privilege to access. They will admit their errors and propose resolutions and they help to promote positive cultures where good people are elevated and people that hurt the team are marginalized or let go.
And so, as David said, this is true of any leadership role—that there are so many opportunities to either choose or not choose the good, and technology leaders no less so. So, as David said, this is the foundational characteristic that you just can’t do without and that’s why we put it first in this lineup.
Now we’re going to talk a little bit about the quality of being strategic and what that means and I’ll give a little lead into this one and then defer to David for some other comments. One of the things that we’ve encountered often in this space is that a tech leader who feels like they needed to be hands-on or in the tactical weeds of administering the system or understanding the data model or even the code, they may not have the perspective necessary to understand what the business needs in order to use technology effectively. It’s more important for a technology leader to be able to frame the right business questions for other leadership inside the organization. Such as, the opportunity for return on investment, risk versus reward, or understanding the value and process of change management.
David Deal: And I look at strategic as both competency that some people bring, but also a skill that can be learned and I really think this is a key skill for a tech leader to develop. It’s discerning what is a technical question and what is a business question. So going back to the CRM example I briefly mentioned earlier, the mechanics of configuring a CRM and supporting it fall squarely on the tech team and tech leaders. There are really some questions that a tech leader needs to surface for organizational leadership, for decision by leadership and communication with staff.
Things like: Why is the organization deploying the CRM? What is the envisioned use or expected use of that CRM going to be? Who is going to own various aspects of using it effectively? These are non-technical questions that tech leaders need to resolve with business leadership before they can really do their technology job properly. This involves supporting the work that needs to get done, and training staff effectively on its use. I think a related skill, closely related to bringing business questions to business leadership is really helping those business leaders understand the trade-offs—every meaningful decision is going to involve trade-offs between money or resources and time and quality.
I sometimes see tech leadership get into too many technical details or explaining what technology can do without getting to the heart of the choices that senior leadership needs to make, to be able to use that technology effectively. And a few typical trade-offs or things like what to prioritize? A lot of times I’ll see people try to add another major project to an already full slate of work without de-prioritizing something else. So, I think a tech leader has a responsibility to help others in senior leadership, who are making decisions with them, really understand the trade-off between taking on something new and giving up something else, when they do that.
Secondly, I think security considerations are strategic decisions if you want to be more secure. In many cases it’s going to create either a little more inconvenience for end users, or a little bit more cost for backend technology solutions.
And then, in balancing costs a lot of times the focus can be on direct costs. For example, if you want to reduce the spend on external support for your CRM, well the indirect cost you’re going to face is a cost of investing in internal capacity, number one, and again de-prioritizing something that those internal staff members are doing now, because they’re now taking on new responsibilities and de-prioritizing something else that they do. So they’re kind of soft costs, to those trade-offs.
Peter Mirus: And one of the things I like to talk about is being a planner not a reactor. Trying to be proactive, not reactive. And this includes realistically determining as David said what it will take in terms of time and resources to get an organization to its destination with data and technology projects. And then, just to add to what David said that one of the big challenges for technology projects is time management. Oftentimes nonprofit organizations sort of effectively treat their internal staff capacity as being infinite, because they don’t really keep track of where people are spending their time and they don’t really do a good job of estimating what initiatives are going to take, from a time commitment standpoint. And so people get over tasked, and it’s the responsibility of the tech leader to be strategic in thinking about these kinds of things and helping the rest of the organization understand where lack of that kind of strategic planning is going to create a negative impact. David, did you have anything else you wanted to add on this topic?
David Deal: Yeah, I remember early in my career working as an engineer, solving server issues, being really hands-on, while at the same time trying to move the organization’s overall use of technology forward and trying to be strategic with technology and really finding it challenging to do both of those well. At small organizations where tech leaders are often wearing many hats, it’s difficult, but even at larger organizations it’s easy for a technology leader’s job to tend toward putting out fires, solving problems as they come up, instead of carving out the space necessary to get ahead of things.
And so really it requires creating mental space to be strategic, and I think that also requires space in the schedule, so I think it helps to block off time, for doing this sort of creative thinking. And I’ll say even at one client I have that added a mid-level technology leadership role, the person in this role quickly got wrapped up in putting out fires, doing system administration. Number one because there were not enough other resources dedicated to doing those things. So in part it’s the organization’s responsibility and number two, because I feel like this person derives satisfaction from solving problems as many of us do and so, I will say that is both the responsibility of the organization as well as the individual technology leader to ensure that they are carving out enough time and space to be strategic.
Peter Mirus: Yeah, we often see challenges within organizations, when a team member is asked to step into a strategic tech leadership role without prior experience in that role, and sometimes without the necessary mentorship or professional development support. So this is just sort of a caution, when you’re elevating from within to make sure that somebody primarily with more tactical experience or management experiences is making a good transition into that strategic role and so, in cases where that doesn’t happen you often end up with a person that struggles to make that transition and therefore is not able to establish the credibility to be taken seriously in the role.
And we’ve seen this resolved by people within the organization working around the tech leader in order to get things done, because of their perceived lack of effectiveness. But some organizations do well elevating from within, if the right person is selected and they’re performing in a more strategic way that is planned and supported. And Build Consulting’s clients often ask us to help with the professional development of a talented person that they would like to see grow into that greater strategic leadership role. And that’s a very enjoyable thing to do because it’s a shared characteristic in our group that we love to learn things and teach them to other people. So it brings us a lot of joy and positive energy to help people make that transition and have the tools to flourish in their new roles.
And when acting as part time or interim CIOs , we’re often helping organizations define what good strategic tech leadership should look like in their organizations and then help hire and on board someone, in a permanent staff role, to serve the organization in that way moving forward. So as David said this is something that you can grow into the sort of strategic mindset and sometimes it just requires a little support to get you there.
Now we’re going to move on to talking about process-minded.
David Deal: When we talk about process minded, we’re speaking to the importance of technology leaders understanding what the organization is trying to do and the specific processes that business units need to execute. A successful tech leader needs enough technology experience to make informed technology decisions, but really most importantly should have a primary focus on what people or teams are trying to accomplish.
The tech leader really needs to bring perspective and guidance on how to best use technology to do that work. To that end, one role we’ve somewhat commonly been recommending these days for nonprofits is a business analyst role, and that’s because there’s often a gap in communication and a gap in responsibilities between the technical team and the end users in finance, fundraising, operations programs.
End users aren’t necessarily clear on specifically how they’re supposed to use a system to do their work. They often don’t have standard operating procedures. Who has time for that anyway, right? And meanwhile, the tech team may have provided training, but that training often focuses on what a piece of software can do as opposed to how people are supposed to use that software to get their jobs done. So, a business analyst can help to bridge that gap between software and business process and can build an organization’s capacity for defining and following standard operating procedures and standard processes.
I really think a tech leader should have this process-minded focus and should consider how a BA role, – a business analyst role – is filled within their organization, whether that’s a role they themselves need to play or whether they have the space to hire a team member or allocate a team member to focus on business analyst capabilities.
Peter Mirus: That’s right and this is a good opportunity to point out that technology leadership is often a shared effort, even if one person is primarily accountable for it. Sometimes the primary tech leader is the Director of business systems, and is charged with being the primary business analyst for the organization and that’s fine if they have the capacity to do that, but at other organizations the primary tech leader might be a CFO, or a COO for example and might not have the time to take on the business analyst role. And so they may hire a business analyst and share the leadership responsibilities in some sense.
And in other cases you may have a CTO, that is great at infrastructure and helpdesk management, but lacking in business analysis capabilities. But whatever the scenario is in which you find yourself, it’s the responsibility of the tech leader to either have that process-minded viewpoint themselves or build and leverage that capacity elsewhere. And not just build it, but give it a voice and take advantage of the benefits that it provides.
Now let’s talk a little bit about what it means to be collaborative as a tech leader. It’s very important that the tech leaders be collaborative, particularly because research has shown that technology project leaders that employ a collaborative iterative approach have a greatly increased chance of success in these projects. Iterative, a part of that equation is spoken to in our next important quality for a tech leader which is adaptable.
But in terms of collaborative, we expect that an effective nonprofit tech leader will have good relationships with other key stakeholders in the organization and lead in a manner that ensures that as the tech leader they “Take the journey with those stakeholders and arrive at the destination together.” So for technology leaders to be effective they can’t lead other departments from a distance in the front, nor constantly be pushing them from behind. For systems to be effectively implemented, it needs to be a collaborative aspect and all key stakeholders must be together in collaborative unity.
David Deal: And Peter, I think another important characteristic of a collaborative leader is that they’re open minded, they’re willing to learn and be informed by others’ experience. They’re really about understanding what the organization’s teams and individuals need to do, finding solutions, and partnership with others and working collaboratively with their colleagues to use the software effectively.
So yes there’s some teaching a tech leader often needs to do, but I really think there’s just as much listening that a tech leader needs to engage in to understand what’s needed and what’s going to be valuable to someone else. So it’s really in that give and take, in that sharing and listening that a tech leader and others can build mutual understanding and build alignment around what’s needed, so they’re pulling in the same direction.
Peter Mirus: Yeah, I remember reading a research report, way back in 2011 or 2012 now, that indicated that the top priorities for nonprofit CIOs were delivering applications or systems fast enough to meet the business needs of the organization. And their lowest priority was having good or better relationships with members, with leaders of other departments. And that’s just antithetical to how we think about the tech leadership role in the nonprofit community. We think that there has to be that open mindedness in that commitment to developing relationships and as David said learning and being informed, by those other experiences.
As an example, we have a client right now, where we’re rolling out a Salesforce communities based product to over 11,000 users. That’s a huge effort, and from the earlier stages for that effort I would say technology leadership at that client has been very careful to solicit and incorporate stakeholder input for designing the constituent journeys and then performing collaborative reviews of the product to various design changes.
They leveraged an internal cross-functional group of staff, and a group of early adopters from different parts of the end user community of volunteers for this purpose. I think all in all about a 110 people were involved at some level. So this is an example of a large scale collaborative effort. And it has been highly effective in making sure that the project met the needs of the community, and in building buy-in for the changes necessary to successfully implement that system across an 18 month phased roll-out. And none of this could have been possible without taking a collaborative approach, nor would it have been possible without taking and maintaining an adaptive approach and exhibiting a lot of adaptability in the course of administering that effort.
David Deal: So, I think the adaptable characteristic really comes up, because things change fast. Nonprofits are having to change quickly, these days. Technology, of course, changes extremely quickly and Peter, you mentioned the importance earlier of being iterative. I think that’s extraordinarily important and I have to say, when I am working with a vendor I am usually on the client side of the fence on these technology projects. And when we are working with a vendor, who comes in with a waterfall approach to a project, instead of an agile or iterative approach, I have to take a deep breath, because a lot of times, these projects are really large and I find the waterfall approach really cumbersome. And I think the same applies when you are thinking about technology roadmaps.
So, the roadmap that painted a picture of what the next two or three years should look like for an organization, needs to be responsive to emerging technology capabilities, to vendors not always delivering on promised capabilities, and even evolving business needs and opportunities. Things aren’t always going to go the way you expect and you need to be able to transition the ultimate plans with positivity, with grace, in order to maintain the confidence and the engagement of the people with whom you work.
So, I think being adaptable is also about resilience, which is extraordinarily important, during times like this. The technology priorities for many organizations changed significantly in response to COVID 19 if you were not already fully mobile and fully cloud based, with good collaboration software in place, you really had to prioritize those things, to make the transition to a virtual workforce. And you had to de-prioritize other things to remain effective in a world where most are in a work from home mode.
Peter Mirus: A few minutes ago, I mentioned that effective tech project leaders play a collaborative/iterative approach, as David said, that’s sometimes called an agile approach. And a technology leader who isn’t adaptable can’t lead effectively in this style, because they are not flexible enough to shift to respond to changing or new requirements that will emerge during an agile process, just by the nature of it.
And I would just use this as an example, that one client, recently, I had a tech leader insist on doing a more waterfall-based approach. And they sort of did enough for our requirements gathering, for a new system and then, went into a separate space and spent about 12 to 18 months, developing the solution and then, brought the solution back to the organization. And after that period, this person met with a high level of resistance, because the solution was no longer and maybe never was, in touch with the needs of the organization. And this is to say that a tech leader, who was not adaptable via nature or training, did not take an effectively iterative or for that matter, collaborative approach to solution design and development. And he did not have the adaptability to be truly responsive to the needs of the organization when confronted with this challenge.
And ultimately and this is somewhat of an extreme case. Because of this incident, he ultimately needed to move on from that nonprofit and find another place for employment. So, I would say that there is a finite quality to how adaptable and flexible you should be, and I think good leaders and tech leaders are included in that. (They must) have constant principles that they apply that are rooted in best practices, for both non-profit business and technology.
Again so let’s say that there shouldn’t be a limit to the flexibility of a tech leader. But folks who are in that role, who are not sufficiently adaptable, for the reasons David and I outlined above, don’t perform well for their organization, particularly in today’s rapidly evolving landscape.
David Deal: Yeah and all this tech, Peter, that being adaptable and being principled, I do not see as being in tension in any way. I think both are extremely important.
Speaking of principles, this one servant leadership or being a servant leader is one that’s really important to me personally and what it means. It’s about a leader viewing their role as being in service to others, not about wielding power over others. It’s about being a leader who doesn’t need to be the center of attention, who doesn’t need to get all the accolades. A servant leader empowers others, puts them in positions to do what they do best. In the nonprofit sector, where our work is all about mission and impact, I believe a servant leadership approach appropriately puts the focus on the many people at an organization who are vital for achieving the work at the organization. And I was personally very heavily influenced in this perspective by the leadership team at one of the earliest nonprofits I had the privilege to work within my career. I was so influenced that I studied it, eventually even to do a TEDx Talk about it, and I really encourage people to explore servant leadership, if they are not already familiar with it.
And related to this concept of serving and empowering others, I think, it’s really important for a leader to be self-aware. Self-aware about what they are good at and what they are not good at, because we all have our strengths and weaknesses and understanding one’s limitations really helps to inform who a tech leader needs to collaborate with, needs to surround themselves with, to be effective. It’s vital that leaders depend upon others who offer complimentary skills and expertise and that they support those people in succeeding.
Peter Mirus: Yeah, I consider David to be my servant leadership Sherpa. He has been dedicated to this ideal for a long time, even before I knew him and we have known each other for, I think eight years now. So, I don’t have a lot in addition to offer on this point, other than to say that servant leadership, I think, is more felt than heard. There are a lot of people that give lip service to the idea of servant leadership, but it isn’t really an integrated aspect of how they function in the day to day.
And in order for servant leadership to be effective, it has to come from who you are, not just from a set of tasks. And I do think that to effectively exhibit this quality is dependent on the environment that you are in. And I would say that when you don’t have an empowered role within your organization, it actually makes it more difficult to be consistently exhibiting servant leadership qualities, because you are not in the position to lead effectively.
So, when you are not even in a position to lead effectively in any way then it’s difficult to really exhibit, all of these qualities, but I think particularly the servant leader quality.
So, those are all of the formal talking points that we had for this presentation today and hopefully, we will have some Q&A at the end, or we can just wrap up early.
But before we get to the Q&A, I just want to flash this information up on our screen. There is a lot of information that we cover in these webinars and there is a lot of opportunity for reflection after the fact. I know that some people also register with the plan of consuming the recording later on. So, if you didn’t get an opportunity to ask a question that you wanted to ask, during the course of this webinar or if you just listen to the recording after the fact, please know that we are available for you to reach out to us. Our email address is in LinkedIn profiles and the address of our website is up on the screen here.
We are happy to hear from you at any time. We are happy to engage in a quick chat back and forth via email or over the phone or a zoom call, to get some sense of what you are facing, in terms of challenges and opportunities, inside of your organization and how we can maybe just provide you with a little insight or free consultation in that moment that will help you take an action for the benefit of your organization’s mission.
And with that, we can just go to Q&A and I will give a few moments to see if we have any questions come in.
Peter Mirus: So, we do have a comment from one of our participants and they say, “I think developing relationships with people throughout the org, and then other orgs, indeed is critical. Too many techies focus on only meeting the needs of their supervisor, which is important, but isn’t the only thing that matters.”
I agree and I think to just broaden out that idea a little bit, I think that understanding the relationships that the organization itself has with other constituent groups, and thinking about those relationships and meeting the needs of those, is important as well. So, it’s a good thing to be sort of holistically relationship focused, in terms of the personal relationships that you maintain and also the relationships that the organization has with other groups and individuals that are important to its mission success. David, do you want to chime in anything on that?
David Deal: I just want to say these relationships are extremely important for one, understanding what’s going on throughout the organization, for hearing different perspectives, and two, through the process of collaboration for coming to some alignment with other people, about what’s needed or what would be helpful. So, I 100% agree with the comment, relationships are vital.
Peter Mirus: Thanks to Norman, for putting forward that comment. We got another few more coming in, so here is a good one for you David, because I don’t want to answer it.
David Deal: Okay.
Peter Mirus: “How does one adapt to adaptable projects, when they have to be fixed 18 months in advance of the project?” That is a great question, from David, David to David.
David Deal: So, I think, one thing that organizations have begun to do is quarterly refresh their budget, so it’s no longer only organized around the annual cycle, it’s really organized around more of a quarterly cycle. Because organizations realize that spending in different areas needs to change; it needs to evolve to meet current conditions. If you are in an organization that doesn’t function that way, it’s admittedly difficult to do. I think it’s really important upfront to set the expectations and to be clear about the assumptions that go into defining a certain budget for a project.
No project ever goes exactly as it’s planned upfront, there are always going to be some curveballs, and so I think it’s really a combination of those things and setting appropriate assumptions upfront that factor in the cost that you are providing for that project. And at some point, if the budget is just fixed, then you have to take a more agile approach, where you are prioritizing the requirements, the things that you need to create as part of that project and just address the highest priority functionality first.
Peter Mirus: Yeah, I think that those are good points, one of the other things, that I would suggest from a budgeting standpoint a tip is, “The less certain you are, about what the requirements for the project are going to be, the higher the estimated budget amount should be.” I learned early on in my career that it is a good rule to try to measure the level of uncertainty associated with the project or the conditions, under which the project might evolve, and then take your best guess at the budget for the project and then multiply by a factor that’s related to your uncertainty.
So, it would be pretty common for me to take my best guesstimate of what a project or what a whole department budget might be based on comparable that I had seen in previous clients of similar size and scope. Then, really take a look at the individual efforts within that budget and apply what I may call a “growth factor,” where it seems like there was less certainty around the scope of a thing or if there was a chance something might change.
And part of that is also about learning how to do some sort of risk assessment upfront. And there are certain things that you can’t plan for. We’re experiencing a lot of that now and so, even the most adaptable or flexible budgeting process can be turned upside down, by extreme events. But those are just some tips to help you think about the budgeting process and having some adaptability and your flexibility there.
David Deal: Your comment there made me think of one other thing, which is for a lot of projects, the larger the project, the more complex it is, the greater chance that some of the assumptions are going to be off or you are going to discover something along the way that increases the cost. Pretty commonly for enterprise implementations, for large technology projects, I will encourage at least 25% contingency budget, for things that you don’t know and can’t know upfront, that are going to be discovered along the way and that are going to need attention and are going to require more time and more investment to address. So, it’s just another technique that gets at what you are talking about there.
Peter Mirus: Yeah, so, thanks David, for that question. We have a question from Tim, “How can you educate other executives to not see technology as something separate from our other business and strategic efforts?” David, I know, you have actually been thinking about this a little bit lately, due to a client need. Do you have anything that you would like to share on that?
David Deal: Yeah, it’s not something where there is a one-time example you can provide, that’s going to change someone’s thinking about it. I think it’s about cultivating a relationship with the person or people you are trying to persuade. And two, I think, it is engaging with them around that topic, over time. And number three, I think it helps to reference, not just your own experience, but also others’ experiences.
So, maybe some of you can use some points from this webinar, to support this point to leadership or there are white papers out there. There are articles, there are trainings, there is a lot of information out there, demonstrating that organizations that think about technology strategically, get much better results than organizations that look at technology as a cost center. And I would argue that almost all nonprofits these days need to be thinking about technology as a strategic advantage, not just a cost center.
Peter Mirus: Yeah, I definitely agree with that and I will also say Tim, that one of the things that I like to start with, when I am working with clients and trying to build that level of integrated thinking, for technology and business is, I encourage them to think about the different groups that their organization has relationships with and what is necessary to support those relationships and mature or develop those relationships over a period of time. Sometimes this is called constituent journey mapping and as I alluded to earlier, I’ll be doing a webinar about that next month. But the reason, why I start with that is because, it really helps in the organization — as a whole particularly executive leadership are thinking about technology and data, in terms of relationships. Like, technology is a supportive thing, you have relationships, there are certain processes that take place for them in those relationships, in order for the organization to fulfill its mission. There is data, that’s called input and output as a part of that and then technology, comes in behind that and technology has to be tied, not just notionally, but in very concrete ways to supporting those relationships.
So, I find that conversations about technology, where technology has been in a separate bucket or idea, previously, can be unified to business strategy in that way, but again, it’s a time thing as David said, it’s something that has to take place over a period of time and it’s kind of something as well, where sometimes, you can get others – your peers, within the organization can be just tired, if you beat the drum constantly.
So, sometimes, it is necessary to at least temporarily insert a new voice or a new perspective, whether that be in a half day workshop with somebody that can speak to these things, over a couple of sessions, sometimes that could be effective as well.
David Deal: Yeah, I will just add one more strategy here, which I think is, trying to understand what is it, that leader or those leaders, typically ask for, in a way of information, what is it that they want to understand, about how the organization is performing. If you can answer those performance questions, through technology, through a dashboard, for example, through a regular report, the more it really brings home to them, the way this technology is providing value to me. Here is the way this technology is strategic for me and not just something that I am spending money on for the benefit of others in the organization.
Peter Mirus: Yeah, thanks Tim for your question and again, feel free to reach out to us for follow-up, if you want to discuss any of that further. Larry, says, “I am in a relatively small organization and I’m the only tech resource, responsible for balancing strategy and tech implementations. I would like to grow and improve my strategic and business thinking; do you have recommendations for books or online courses to learn and improve in this area?”
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the blog and learning sections of the Build Consulting website so, you can check those out. We have a lot of good resources there, whether it’s thinking about specific technical decisions for your organization or change management, the considerations, a wide variety of strategic and also to some level tactical sets of resources that you can review.
I often like to refer clients to the recent presentation that we did on, “How to Build a Technology Roadmap for Your Organization”, because that includes a lot of strategic planning tools and techniques, in a very compressed short period of time, as well as the recent change management webinar, I think it’s called “Change Management for Changing Times.” That really helps to think about technology change efforts in a strategic way for insight into your organization. And David, do you have any other ideas for Larry?
David Deal: I have ideas, I don’t have specific resources to recommend here, but I will say that, number one a lot of what I have learned about leadership has come in relationship with other people and in trying things, and then trying to model from my own mistakes and learning from my successes and learning from my team’s failures and successes.
So, a lot of it comes through relationships, or has for me. The second thing, I will say is, I do a lot of reading of how other CIO’s think about technology strategy. So, I find that it’s helpful, just to get different CIO’s perspectives on how they think about it. And then that broadens my ability to employ different ideas that may be appropriate at different times.
I think, the third thing, I would say is that project management itself is an important discipline to learn, because it’s all about being proactive, which is a really important skill for a leader to develop. So, CIO readings, project management trainings and reading about project management practices, and all of those things, I think help to build up skills that support a person in being a better tech leader.
Peter Mirus: And finally, I’ll just mention another resource from our website, there is an article, I think called, “What Makes Non-profit Tech Projects Successful?” And there is also a webinar that’s related to that and that really speaks to the research based determinations as to what are the most critical factors in technology, project success, and how to learn and develop those skills for your organization to make sure that those projects do and achieve the intended business benefit. So, that could be good for your formation as well.
Larry asked a follow-up question as well, “Does Build have a blog post or white paper with a list of tasks or projects that the tech department should undertake every month, quarter or year et cetera?” I do not believe that we do, Community IT may have this in their resources on their website. We have the “How to Build a Tech Roadmap” presentation on the Build Consulting website and related materials.
And I would say that that is equally applicable on a per department basis as it is on a project basis. So, you can think of it in terms of planning for a project, for an initiative, for a system implementation, et cetera. So, we would go through a very similar process, say for during the whole organization assessment as we would for just an assessment that will focus on departments that are the heaviest users of an ERP system, for example.
So, that is the answer to that question. And I know there are resources like that as well, online that you can search for. We should consider doing an article or webinar about that sometime, maybe in collaboration with Community IT. I know that we certainly have done it for clients to sort of outline what are the things that they should be doing on a regular basis at certain intervals, whether it’s related to planning or budgeting or security or checking the roadmaps or products that are currently used by the organization, things of that nature.
David Deal: And I am going to give one really specific tip for you as a tech leader at your organization, which is just make sure you block out a little time on your calendar, each week, each month, to think proactively. Just think strategically about things and to consider, what are the things that we should be doing that we’re not and also what are the things we are doing that we can maybe stop doing, because we have more important things to focus on.
Peter Mirus: Yeah and I will just — as a quick additional follow-up to what David and I had just said, I had mentioned looking at roadmaps and schedules for products that you are currently using, I do think, it’s important to look at that on a quarterly basis at least, because especially for the platforms that we use, thinking of your Office 365, your G Suites, your Salesforces, et cetera there is going to be a lot of change that comes to you unbidden. Not change that you are in a position to dictate, when you are on the receiving end of it. And that could be a wide range of minor and major system changes and feature evolutions.
So, one other thing that I find most helpful for my role in doing this for Build Consulting internally is occasionally, quarterly basis, looking at the roadmaps for the major systems that we use in kind of calling out for people. What’s currently happening and what’s coming up and what are these and how it relates to needs that they might have or how it’s something that’s more pertinent to serving our clients and it is for our internal use, making distinctions like that.
So, an increasingly large part of IT management is being aware of what’s coming to you in system releases, whether you like it or not. Tim, thanks for your follow-up comment, thanks.
And there are no more questions and we have got – we can just wrap it up five minutes early. I want to thank everybody who participated today and I really enjoyed spending this time with you, again as I said before, don’t hesitate to follow-up with either David or I or both of us, if you have any follow-up questions.
I am just going to put our information up on screen one more time, also you can – as I said, reach out to us through the Build Consulting.com website, just go to Build Consulting.com/Contact and you will be able to shoot us a message through there. Thanks everyone and have a great rest of your day, thanks David.
David Deal: Thank you.