Elaina Buzzell is a consultant helping nonprofits best communicate their programs and missions. This post was written for Idealware, but you can read other insightful posts on her site, www.elainabuzzell.com.
Yes, it's been a year since the movie Captain America: The First Avenger came out, but, just in case you are late watching it, there are spoilers ahead.
I was re-watching Captain America recently, and I noticed a great story about good project management. Right after the government gives the hero, Steve Rogers, the new abilities that turn him into Captain America, the scientist in charge of the project is killed, and then the military seems to forget why they did the project in the first place. They don't send him to the front lines to win the war or even have scientists examine him, but they instead send Captain America on a tour to sell war bonds. It thus takes a long time for the Army to get a good return on their investment, and their hero spends this time feeling depressed from under-utilization.
In a similar fashion, I've seen nonprofit technology projects that would have otherwise been successful go south at the finish line after an ED or other important staff member leaves the organization. Their replacement often doesn't see the value in the project, and aren't sure why decisions were made the way they were. As a result, the new tool isn't appreciated, it doesn't live up to its potential or the project is just axed completely.
But just because a leader goes, that doesn't mean that your tech project has to fail. Here are some things to do to make sure your project stays successful, even if there is a key departure:
1. Plan well to start off your project.
Planning well will not only help your project be more successful in the best of circumstances, but it will also help your project stand up better to problems like a key departure. This post will help you take on some planning on your own, and the keys are to be very clear on your goals, requirements, priorities, timelines and budget. But, for the planning to help to its fullest, you need to...
2. Document, Document, Document.
Make sure that all of your planning steps and decisions are well documented. Hold onto scopes and contracts from your vendors, and, assuming you took multiple bids, save those as well for reference. In the case of a leader's departure, these documents will be very helpful when bringing their Flickr image from user joelogon
replacement up to speed quickly and getting them on board with your decisions.
3. Have multiple stakeholders involved in your project.
It's true that "too many cooks spoil the broth", but no cooks will spoil it too. While it can be difficult for a nonprofit to dedicate two or more peoples' time to planning and project meetings, it will allow you to keep things moving if one leaves or even if one is just sick and has to miss a meeting.
4. Communicate staffing changes with your technology vendor.
Whether you are working with a paid consultant, a vendor, or a volunteer, make sure that they know that you are having a staff change, especially if their contact is leaving. They will, at minimum, want to know their new contact person, but will likely also appreciate a chance to meet with them and help bring them up to speed on the project. They can also potentially pause or slow the project to allow them to get settled into their position.
While many of these tips involve advance thought and actions long before you need that you will need to handle a transition, they will also help insure that the project is more successful in any circumstance. By setting your project up for success, you can be confident that you won't have a sad, under-used action hero, but you'll have a tool that your whole organization uses and appreciates.
Have you had a staff transition hit during a project? Did it affect the project's outcome? How did you handle bringing them up to speed?
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