Good enough is no longer good enough when it comes to technology. No matter how much money you’ve invested in technology, your ‘maybe next year’ list continues to grow. Mobile, responsive, social, data analytics, online communities, content management, meeting technology, data privacy—how do you decide where to invest your limited budget?
How do You Determine Your Organization’s Technology Needs?
Everyone is a technology consumer—and buyer. Technology is no longer locked away in the server room. Association and nonprofit staff can easily purchase software without keeping IT staff in the loop because tools and systems are readily available, affordable, and turnkey.
And that’s a problem. To keep your technology running smoothly, and adequately supported, IT staff must be part of technology decisions and implementations.
The power of the IT project portfolio
An IT project portfolio includes all technology initiatives and projects organization-wide, so IT staff can easily spot projects that aren’t aligned with the strategic plan or that lack appropriate resources.
Even with a project portfolio, the questions still remains: how do you decide where to invest your limited budget? You need a technology plan—a proactive method for prioritization. A technology plan includes a prioritized list of projects, timelines, and budget estimates.
That’s all well and good, but what if you don’t have a technology plan and you have to make a decision this week about which projects move ahead and which don’t?
How to establish technology priorities without a technology plan
First, don’t take on any new projects until you develop a list of technology priorities.
Second, review your organization’s strategic plan and goals. You need a solid understanding of your association or nonprofit's top-level priorities to inform your decisions. Talk to senior staff and department heads about their plans to achieve these goals.
Third, answer these questions:
- How does your existing technology assist or hinder progress toward achieving those goals?
- Is the technology you already have sufficient for the job?
- What options exist that will make the job easier?
- Can any of those options be used to achieve other goals or support other activities?
- How do your existing business processes help or hinder achieving those goals?
- Do you see options for streamlining or improving processes with the help of technology?
Fourth, meet with senior staff to identify existing, upcoming, and desired projects that involve technology. Are these projects in line with strategic objectives? Does the budget exist to fully support these projects—not only the purchase of the system, but also requirements analysis, project management, initial and ongoing training, maintenance, and upgrades?
The process of technology prioritization
Once you know what’s in the IT pipeline, you can start dedicating resources to specific projects. Work with executives and a cross-departmental team to prioritize your pain points and projects. The decisions you reach may not be unanimous, but broadly representative participation is crucial.
Categorize each issue as:
- Critical: The issue is stopping day-to-day business and preventing staff or other stakeholders from accomplishing their tasks. Examples include technology infrastructure issues.
- High: Because a workaround is in place, business can move forward, but it’s painful or time-consuming.
- Moderate: The issue doesn’t stop the flow of business but needs to be addressed. Examples include cosmetic issues like adding new fields to the database or streamlining a process.
- Low: The issue needs to be kept on your radar but can wait until you’ve taken care of the high-priority items on the list.
- Wish: The ‘like to have’ but not necessary items.
After you’ve categorized each issue, look only at the list of Critical items. Which take the most staff time to fix and cause the most complaints? Mark them as priority #1. Rank these #1 priorities from most to least important. Then continue ranking the remaining priorities on the Critical list.
After you’re done with the Critical items, prioritize and rank the High items in the same way, and then proceed to the other categories.
As you prioritize problems and projects, keep in mind that infrastructure is a critical area that must be addressed first. Then, you can address—in order—data management, website and email, and social media.
What to ask when you’re not sure How to Prioritize IT Projects
Consider these questions as you assign priorities:
- How will the new technology help the organization achieve one (or more) of its strategic goals?
- Would the new technology force your organization to change existing business processes? Is that a positive change—for example, will it help improve response time or reduce staff time?
- Does the technology minimize risk and improve business continuity—for example, preventing security breaches or network downtime?
- How scalable is the new technology?
- How easily will it integrate with existing technology?
- What benefits does the technology have in terms of cost savings, access to increased information about members, or other advantages?
Sometimes it’s worthwhile to include a ‘quick win’ or two in the first round of projects. Quick wins are projects that require little investment of time or money, yet they create goodwill and buy-in by showing that this new collaborative approach to project prioritization is working.
Prioritizing of your association or nonprofit's technology pain points will help you identify the critical and high-priority IT projects that impact your organization’s effectiveness. Remember, project prioritization is a team effort. To keep everyone engaged and invested in the process, share updates with staff on the progress of the project portfolio, particularly the status of their projects, and news about both quick and significant wins.
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