Technology planning

The principles of a successful project partnership

Underneath the piles of red-boxed candy and overpriced flowers, Valentine’s Day is all about relationships or partnerships. Good partnership are worth celebrating, and at Fionta we are reflecting on just what it is that turns a project into a partnership. Perhaps not coincidentally the list below reads an awful lot like a relationship how-to manual!  

It Takes Two

Our clients who work for nonprofits and associations are used to wearing many hats. It’s the nature of the industry to take on multiple roles and do what it takes to drive your mission forward. For many, working with a vendor on a big technology project such as a Salesforce implementation or a website redesign might be their first experience wearing the hat of technology project coordinator. Taking on this role in addition to your usual responsibilities can be challenging.

At Fionta, we strive to guide our clients through the project process as a partner, not a vendor. We don’t just build widgets – we work closely with you to match your requirements to the right solutions and we follow that up by providing the training your team needs. Like any partnership, there are principles both parties can implement to ensure a successful outcome. If you find yourself wearing the project coordinator hat, you’ll be prepared with the secrets to a successful project partnership!

1)    Keep the lines of communication open

Communication is the cornerstone of a good partnership. During a project, communication is essential throughout – from requirements documentation, to meetings, to budget and status updates, and all of the other emails and phone calls in between. The time your technology firm spends communicating with you is part of the overall project costs. So how can you ensure you’re getting the most out of that investment?

Let your firm know your preferred method of communication

Some organizations live and die by email and rely on written documentation that’s easy to save and share. Others can’t get out of their inboxes fast enough and would rather hop on a call. Let your project manager know your preferences; they want to be communicating with you in the most effective manner. .

Set the stage for a successful meeting

If you have a lot of questions to cover in a meeting, sending a list of questions a day or two in advance will help your consultants be prepared to provide answers on the call. When questions arise during a meeting, your consultants may need time offline to research the answer. A project manager will sometimes say, “I’ll have to get back to you on that” because they want to provide you with the right answer or guidance and need to consult with an internal resource first.

When multiple members of your team are involved in decision making, it can take time to come to a consensus. It’s worth exploring whether your team can meet internally and reach consensus before meeting with your consultants. If so, that will save project time. If not, never fear – experienced technology partners know some debate and discussion is often inevitable and are experienced in guiding those discussions!

Stay aware of your team’s schedule

When you need to include multiple people in a meeting, finding a time that works for everyone and letting your project manager know can help save time on back-and-forth to pin down everyone’s availability.

If an upcoming conference or emergency project will divert your team’s attention, let your firm know so they can adjust the project schedule accordingly.

The project schedule will include some deadlines for decisions, reviews and approvals by your team. Often the next phase of the project is dependent on these milestones. Internal schedules and automated reminders can help keep your project “homework” on track. If your team won’t be able to meet the deadline, let your firm know in advance so they can work with you to adjust the schedule.  

Keep those who need to know in the know

You know your organization best, and you know who needs to be in the room. Involving stakeholders early and often can not only help prevent any last-minute decision reversals, but helps those across your organization become invested in the outcome of the project.

2)    Establish (project) boundaries

Like the defining-the-relationship talk, designating the boundaries of a project early on is necessary to make sure everyone is on the same page. Staying within those boundaries, even as new ideas and other competing priorities come up, is what will keep the project on budget and on schedule.

Prioritize, prioritize, prioritize

In a world where budgets and timelines aren’t unlimited, tough decisions are needed to keep a project in scope. At the beginning of a project, your consultants will work with you to identify the most important goals and must-have requirements. It’s inevitable, though, that new ideas and requests will come up during the project—what we in the biz call “scope creep”. Be ready to prioritize these requests and decide which are worth adding scope—understanding that additional scope equals additional budget and usually an extended timeline. Perhaps some requests can be held in the backlog for a future phase. And on that note…

Plan for a Phase 2

The rollout of Salesforce or launch of a new website may mark the end of a project, but it’s also the beginning of the next phase. Often you’ll have a backlog of enhancements or change requests that came up during the initial implementation, but had to be de-prioritized in order to stick to the original budget or schedule. Now is the time to establish your budget for either a defined phase 2 project or ongoing ad hoc support, and to prioritize items on this backlog.

Phase 2 is also prime time for making sure your team is on track to adopt and maintain your new system or website. Internal process changes go hand-in-hand with new technology. Even the most advanced, customized system will be useless (quite literally!)  if the team isn’t using it. Following up with your teams or departments after training and rollout to ensure everyone is comfortable with, and using, the new system is crucial. System adoption is the first marker of a project’s success. Keep the momentum going and don’t stop checking in with your teams after launch!

3)    Expect growth and change and prepare for resistance

The best partnerships lead to growth. Likewise a technology project is never just about a new piece of software or a new website, it’s a transformative change for your organization.

Change management goes hand-in-hand with new technology

Implementing a new system means changing the way your organization works. Whether it’s following new fundraising workflows in Salesforce or learning how to post content to your website in a new CMS, the team will need to learn and adopt new practices. Change is hard, especially for busy teams, and you’ll need a strategy for rolling out the changes successfully.

Identifying “early adopters” on your team to attend the first round of training, and then evangelize the new system to others and assist during later trainings, is a great way to get team members invested in the success of the project.

Explaining the “why” along with the “how” can help teams understand the needs driving process changes, and how the change benefits them. Will your marketing team be able to generate engagement reports from Salesforce, rather than manually exporting and aggregating metrics from various sources? Bring the team together for training on reports and show them how Salesforce will save them time. Will your website allow members to update their own profiles and payment information? Schedule a demo for the membership department.

Be ready to learn!

Part of your technology partner’s role in your project is to understand how you currently do things, why, and what you’d like to improve. As your consultants work to understand this, they’ll ask questions and challenge assumptions your team may have about the way things are done. It’s all part of the process of distilling your objectives and finding the best solution, and being open to new perspectives will serve your team well.

Finding time for training can be one of the biggest challenges of scheduling a project. It’s important to carve out time internally for your team to attend training sessions and then to apply what they’ve learned by using the system. Devoting time to training can be a big ask when the day-to-day work of the organization must go on, but remember, it’s a worthwhile investment in the long-term success of the project.

Successful project partnerships are ongoing

All of your technology projects should begin with the goal of a long-term partnership in mind. After all, the objective of the project might be to implement Salesforce or to launch a new website, but the goal of the project is really something else, for example streamline your business processes, increase your membership, extend the reach of your web presence, etc. Maintaining and iterating on your new system is essential to ensure that it evolves right along with your organization. A good partner will be there to help for the long haul and to raise a glass of bubbly to your successes along the way!