Powered by Squarespace
Wednesday
Jul122017

Does property matter to voluntary organisations? Yes - for better and more cost effective services

It's just a building right? A place where you do stuff... It looks after itself, mostly... I don't have to think about it... Until it goes wrong...

No?  Have your say here http://bit.ly/2ritAY3

Not convinced? Read on... No, please do.

Such were my - inaccurate - perceptions of 'property' (aka buildings and land) before I was asked to get involved in transforming online property education for the charity sector.

The horror stories are chilling.
  • Organisations which didn't pay attention to contracts (leases) and then paid a very large price when the time was up.
  • Organisations moving to new premises without thinking through what they needed and being very disappointed six months in - shades of IT projects there.
  • No one taking responsibility while the little issues build up into a catastrophe like the roof - literally - caving in.
  • Or sheer neglect of attention to detail which meant paying over the odds - money which came from donors and could have been better spent on beneficiaries.
Did you know:

  • 58% of voluntary groups  find difficulty in sourcing property funding
  • One third of charities feel that a lack of space is holding them back from delivering effective services
  • 43% have experienced unforeseen property costs
  • 45% feel that property is the biggest risk to their organisation
  • Property is, after people, the biggest way voluntary groups deliver for their cause. So rather than just panic or ignore it, how about you get involved in our survey of what charities and community groups might need from property information and advice online. It's here and it will only take you ten minutes to complete - less than the time you would spend finding an emergency plumber or swooning from an outrageous solicitors bill. Thanks. We will make this better.

    Take our survey and help improve property education (and property) http://bit.ly/2ritAY3
    Monday
    Jul032017

    Digital doesn't have to be difficult


    So what is digital? Is it IT? Shiny new technology? No, digital is “the application of information, communications and technology to raise human performance. Changing what people do in ways that enhance their ability to achieve their goals. More than a set of technologies, it is the abilities those technologies create.”

    So forget about the tech for a minute and think about what could be.
    1. Start with why. What’s the point really? Why do you want to do this? Efficiency, growth, innovation?  What will make that happen? A new website for educating an audience about your subject area or better direct interaction, a database for managing engagement and relationships and tracking outcomes or equipment and tools to make you more productive? Be very clear about the goal and the point behind it all. Is it worth the time and the money? Would you spend your own money on it (remember, grant funding has come from somewhere, it didn’t grow on trees).
    2. Know what you need. I mean really know. Start from the user perspective – talk to them about what they need and want, create user journeys (how people act and interact), imagine what could be (not just what is and always has been). Don’t assume someone just knows (especially it that someone is the boss). Craft your user journeys (how people act or might act) by talking to users, develop your requirements specification (what the tool is ‘required’ to do, functionally and technically), work out what skills, expertise and support you’ll need, what things you will need to do differently (doing things better or doing better things). Digital offers a lot of potential but best to change your processes first than fit shiny new tyres to a clapped out old car. Choose your technology and suppliers carefully – cultural fit matters but don’t exchange competence for ‘nice to work with’. Spend money getting it right first time, or waste money getting it wrong and learning from your mistakes.
    3. Make a plan. If you don’t know where you’re going and how, then how do you intend to get there? Technology can be unforgiving (and expensive to reverse), you can trial and test but that’s not an excuse for making it up as you go along. Have a destination, staging points and outline timetable, a means to evaluate success or failure and a group of people to assess whether it’s worked. You wouldn’t run your organisation by the seat of your pants would you?
    4. Appreciate change. Be aware of the Change Curve and its implications. However well you prepare and plan, you need to take people through the phases, through the disbelief, the frustration of the new (which may be more painful than the frustration of the old), the pit when things can’t get worse, the experimentation when they get better and finally acceptance and commitment. Lead the change and ride the curve – don’t just be a victim of the rollercoaster. Use your plan to help show where you should be. 
    5. Drive through better. Your ‘why’ and ‘plan’ define the map. Keep your destination clear and focused, know what success looks like and keep going. Make sure someone is driving the project and can get it to its conclusion. Mind-set and attitude matter – don’t give up, this won’t be easy. Never let anyone say “I don’t understand technology”.
    6. Make sustainability a forethought not an afterthought. How will you sustain your (funder’s and own) investment? Commit time, money (where necessary), headspace -think this through. Many great projects fail because of a lack of sustainability. Don’t start what you can’t finish – the ‘end’ of a digital project is two or three years after you’ve started to use it. Projects need time to mature.
    7. Don’t try and do it alone. Find buddies (they might be other CEOs and managers, consultants, similar minded people in your own organisation, even ‘techies’ – paid or volunteers). Plan for help and support and take it. There will be dark days and complications and you’ll need a friendly face and a helping hand (or two).
    As they said on Crimewatch, don’t have nightmares. But do think this all the way through – you’re much more likely to be successful (and to get funded).
    Thursday
    Jun152017

    Digital defiance - why people must stop saying I can't do that and learn how

     “It's time to get with the Program. Not knowing about IT could cost you the biggest opportunity of your working life.”

    Language is powerful. The words we use influence our ability and our motivation and as a consequence our actions.  To quote Aristotle, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then is not an act, but a habit.” Saying “I can't” all the time or “I don't know” becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy and there are few more dangerous areas to do this than IT and ‘digital’.

    As individuals, the biggest leaps in your capability were as infants learning to walk and learning to talk. If you underestimate the amount of effort, character and support those learnings required then ask a stroke victim (or anyone who has suffered a severe brain injury). They will remind you just how hard it is to relearn what we take for granted.

    IT, digital or whatever you want to call it isn't difficult. It’s not the domain of the ‘young uns’. There’s growing evidence that the story of the digital native (those born and living solely within the era of smart technology) is somewhat of a myth. Everyone learns, grows in confidence and skills, and becomes more natural – providing they focus and apply themselves.

    No one expects you to know everything about IT (or everything about anything else for that matter). Yes, you need to learn (and to be a little selective about what you focus on) but stop saying you're stupid or ignorant about IT. It's not big or clever and it's not a legitimate excuse anymore. You may think you have bigger priorities but you're running out of excuses. Every time you say “I can’t” or “I’m stupid when it comes to IT”, your brain reinforces that and the power of neuroscience makes you that bit more stupid and incapable. Guess where that ends?

    Getting someone to book your travel or manage your diary may be acceptable for an exec. Inability to fill in a form on a website or enter or retrieve information from a basic database isn't. Dismissing your IT infrastructure (or email server) as ‘the boxes in the corner’ is a concern. Not all systems are designed as well as they should be and for sure, many techs don't explain things well but this isn’t a world you can avoid. The dinosaurs died out because they didn’t adapt and there is a whole cohort of senior leaders heading the same way. Start with a purpose and learn. Take wise counsel. But stop burying your head in the sand and pretending it will all go away because it won’t. And let’s be honest, in most cases, you are not as stupid at IT as you are pretending so why keep pretending? Confidence? Disillusionment? Apathy?

    CEOs and other leaders don't know, or need to know, the fine detail of what goes on under the bonnet of Internet security (or even their email servers). Yet they need to know the key risks and how they affect their organisation because it’s the CEO (or even Secretary of State) in the firing line when crises happens and because the consequences can be devastating. As more and more systems, organisations and government become ‘digital by default’, we need everyone to learn more than the location of the ‘off’ button and the phone number of the nearest geek and take responsibility. Gone is the world where we could afford to palm things off on others, for them to do all we couldn’t be bothered to learn and pretended didn’t matter.

    Inability to read the bottom line of your accounts before you go bust will get you fired (from a job) or evicted (for not paying your rent or mortgage). Tragically, the inability to engage in the basics of IT is still worn as a badge of honour. If you call yourself a leader or a professional then stop talking yourself down and up your game. It’s your language letting you down as much as your tech skills. The latter will take time, the former you can fix today and get your team and colleagues to hold you accountable to.

    For those who remain digitally defiant, the next ten years will look more and more unpleasant for you and you'll continue to do a disservice to the people you lead and everyone around you. It’s time to stop, look around and smell the coffee.
    Monday
    Oct172016

    A trustee perspective on social media

    What if you had another easy way to listen in on the performance of your charity, understand key stakeholders, raise awareness and manage reputation? Well, the tools are literally at your fingertips through social media.

    http://www.charitiesmanagement.com/Magazine-No110/sub-9824/page-6.php

    Saturday
    May282016

    But I only wanted a database? It’s a bit more complicated than that…

    Be careful what you ask for. The prescription might be more than you anticipated.


    "Good morning, I would like a database please! And can I have it to take away as I'm in rather a hurry."
     
    “Very well Sir. Our takeaway databases come in 3 sizes: 
     
    Ultimately frustrating, 
    Soon to be chaotic, Complete and utter disaster....”



    The means to justify the ends
     
    Does your organisational report card read like this?

    “Works hard, lacks focus, can't demonstrate progress.”

    Do you remember the days when you could buy a database off the shelf and all you needed to worry about was whether it differentiated home and work phone numbers?

    In these days of increasing transparency, performance management, complex stakeholder relationships and on demand reporting, your data needs far more TLC (tender loving care – you don’t see that in a data dictionary very often). To give it that TLC, data needs a good home and that home is your database. 

    “Now sir. What's your data for?”
    “I don't know, I just collect it....”

    If only there was a better way… Well there is, but be careful what you wish for...

    The ingredients of a good database (and how to make it come to pass)
     
    Business analysis and process re-engineering – the secret to a successful database lies with a good business analysis. Mapping and then optimising processes, understanding why you do what you do and whether it’s the right thing to do and the right way to do it. Too often rushed, this is the firm foundation to your project. Dig deep and understand the basic pathways of how you use data to reach decisions and be a better organisation.

    Planning – a database will take time, capacity and commitment. So you need to plan. Decide who will lead, what external support you need and who else does what. Create deadlines, a project schedule of what gets done when and by who. Fail to plan and you plan to fail they say. They’re right. You really can’t wing this unless you want the project to run on for years. 

    Data model and information architecture – what are you collecting, why are you collecting it, how does each piece/set of data relate to each other, what do you want to get out at the end of the day/month/year. Think of this as optimising data collection (inputs), data management (what you do with it) and reporting (outputs). The latter will undoubtedly be streamlined and made easier and yes, you are going to have to review those forms you’ve been using for the last ten years and work out exactly why you ask that question in box 23. After all, you don’t want all your data disappearing into a black hole.
     
    Technical requirements – variously called technical specification, functional specification, requirements analysis. It’s what the system must do – specifying the technical detail of the tool and the functional operation. A set of functions and characteristics of the technology which supports you to record data, store it, process it and re-purpose it. Make sure your requirements are SMART and especially specific. After all, without this how does your supplier or developer know what you want (slap on the wrist for anyone who says “because I mentioned it in a meeting three months ago”)? How do you measure the success of the system against its intended success criteria? How do you know you got what you paid for? What do you mean, you don’t do that?

    Cleaning data – oh the drama! Do we really have six different phone numbers, four email addresses and three house addresses for Mrs Miggins? Which is our most up to date? Is Mrs Miggins the same as Ms Miggins or Mrs Miggggins? You’re going to have to tidy up and clean your data before it goes into your new system otherwise you’ll just pollute the shiny new tool. No, the database won’t do it for you. You put garbage in, you get shinier garbage out but it’s still garbage. This will undoubtedly take a lot longer than you expect so start early and be conscientious. Don’t just dump it on a junior who can’t say no.

    Integration with other technology – “So they fill in a form on our website, it gets emailed to the admin team who print it out and type it into an Excel spreadsheet. Then they email it around the organisation at the end of the week.” Oh. My. (Substitute relevant exclamation/deity here!) Now you should have picked this up in Business Analysis whilst you were optimising processes but if not now is the time to make sure your database integrates with other tools and the requirements of how you operate. With communication tools (bulk email, texting), with your website, for remote access, for security purposes. After all, you wouldn’t drive a Ferrari down a farm track towing a caravan – yes, that is an analogy for how your systems talk to (or rather ignore) each other. 

    The change project – “They all said they want it so it will just work.” Oh no it won’t. “It’s much better than the last one we had.” It still needs to be managed. A database project is a change project. You need to engage users, to carry out a well planned and deliberate and effective implementation, to manage the transition. You need to address the three areas of emotional drivers, intellectual (rational) drivers and showing the way (ideally in baby steps). There’s a reason the ‘Change Curve’ mirrors the ‘Seven Stages of Grief’. Fail to plan and manage change and you’ll fall headlong down that curve and stay at the bottom. Plenty of database projects end in grief.

    Training – “But everything’s intuitive these days!” Not quite. Your database is (I hope) a powerful tool. It has the capability to do great things with data (reducing those 2 to 3 days a month your admin person spent pulling together the management report). It needs to be used correctly and that requires training. Everyone will need to learn the right way to use it and how to use it well - effectively and efficiently - otherwise they will start to hate it. Then they will start to hate you. Then they will stop being effective at anything. See also ‘Death Spiral of Organisations – Going Bust Quickly But Not Quietly’. 

    Testing – “But it should just work.” Yes, and the sun should shine in Summer but some of us carry an umbrella just in case. You will have customised the system for you. Your organisation will have very specific ways of working. Your data will have been imported into its new home. You need to check this all works the way it was intended to work before letting too many users on it and finding it’s broken (only a bit broken but still broken). Testing comes in two flavours: system admin testing (the geeks who try to break it early) and user acceptance testing (a select group of staff who follow a test script to prove it works and then spend a bit more time messing with it trying to prove it doesn’t). If it passes the test then you can let it off its leash. If it doesn’t then fix it and test again. Rinse, repeat. 

    With ongoing support – The most excellently planned, brilliantly implemented database project (you did do everything I recommended above didn’t you?) is destined for failure without ongoing support. You need commitment from the organisational leaders, someone to do things and a reasonable ‘guard dog’ to make sure commitments and accountabilities are upheld. Decide where you need expert help and get it. Remember, a database is for several years not just the backend of this financial year. Like Peter the Polar Bear, if you don’t look after your environment you get diminishing returns.

    A good reason – well, yes, hopefully you had a good reason before you started. This is the foundation of the database – why you need one. A database should be ‘purpose driven’ not knee jerk. It should meet specific needs. It should, in and of itself when well used, be worthy of outcomes. Buying one in a hurry to empty the budget before the end of the financial year is the action of a fool. You wouldn’t do that, would you?

    Policies
    – oh the rules and regulations. Databases are a real opportunity for bureaucrats and detail obsessed administrators. Can’t live with them? You certainly can’t live without them! Keep it light touch. Set principles and intended outcomes alongside some specific rules and protocols. It’s important that you have a standard naming convention for e.g.  ‘University of’ but remember that the more rules you have, the more joy your users will take in ignoring them or breaking them. And don’t forget that data protection, privacy and security impose certain legal responsibilities.

    Establish new ways of working – heard the one about the new database that was implemented on top of the old processes? Of course you have. You need to make the database relevant to users but relevant to the ‘new world’ not what you used to do because it was comfortable. Some things may be harder and more time consuming but there will be clear business benefits for a large proportion of staff (if not, you got something badly wrong in the analysis at the beginning). 

    In summary, you only need to worry about five things in a database project:
    • People – the who
    • Technology – the what
    • Processes – the how
    • Data – another what
    • Change – another how
    Seriously, how hard can it be? Anyone would think you needed help and a consultant… 

    Dr Simon Davey is available to help negotiate leaders and organisations through the seven stages of grief - I mean change - and to provide counselling for those who messed up the first time.