When I was a teen I had a terrible accident at Wet-n-Wild.  I was there with my youth group and found a cool waterfall with a shallow kiddy pool on one side and a ledge where you could hide-out on the other.  I was chilling on the ledge when some other kids from the group showed up.  All in one motion I decided to impress them by jumping through the waterfall in full swan dive formation.

My swan dive came to a bitter end seconds later when my head made contact with the concrete bottom of the pool.  Disoriented, I came up for air and wondered why everyone was screaming and running out of the kiddy pool.  Then I looked down and understood.  The pool had immediately turned crimson red.  I was bleeding like a stuck pig.

One emergency room visit and a bunch of stitches later I was as good as new.  The doctor let me know it was almost a miracle that I had not broken my neck.  

In retrospect, it wasn’t my swan dive that was the problem.  It was the depth of the pool I dove into, and my lack of understanding that led to a busted noggin.



This incident reminds me of the way some nonprofits approach major technology initiatives.  They spend all their time planning the dive and forget to prepare the pool they will land in.  What do I mean by this?  I mean all the thought and work goes into selecting the product and the features, and very little time is spent making sure the end users will accept the change.  The result is basically the same. A beautiful dive that ends with a broken cranium.

So what can your organization do to avoid this mistake? Here are several helpful tips:

  1. Get early buy in from end users.  Clarifying statement: early buy in does not mean you should allow them to select the solution.  It doesn’t even mean they should be in that discussion.  It does mean that you keep them informed early that change is coming, and make a strong effort to document their needs and desires for new software.

  2. Spend significant time in planning.  This is kind of like my Dad’s “measure twice, cut once” rule.  Some organizations spend less than 15% of their project time planning and managing technology projects.  In our experience, this should be closer to 30%, and is always time well spent.  If you can uncover pitfalls and speed bumps before development or implementation begins, you will always save time and money in the long run, and you can insure the end product will be usable.

  3. Don’t coddle the naysayers.  Nonprofits struggle with this. We like to be “nice”.  It will be to your advantage if you approach internal communication with a firm resolve.  Let your end users know that change is coming, and the success of their job performance will include their ability to adopt the new technology and make it work. Whatever you do, never, ever, nurture a culture of whining. Adoption of new technology should not be optional.

  4. Provide deep levels of user training early.  We like to get end-users involved in training for their job-specific use cases well before the project is live.  If possible, we even like to get their participation in completing the project. This saves the organization money  and virtually insures a deep level of proficiency with the tools at go-time.

  5. Don’t hold out for perfection before you go live. Instead, incorporate a healthy budget for changes and improvements after go-live.  We’ve found that user feedback intensifies after the project is finished.  If you aren’t prepared to act on the changers your users require, you could have a post-go live failure to adopt.  It’s healthy to plan to spend between 25% and 40% of your implementation budget on changes and improvements over the first year.
Thirty-four years later, I still have a scar in my hairline.  That swan dive just about did me in.  Likewise, the scars and pain of failed tech projects can leave your organization crippled.  Take my advice.  Make sure you know where you are going to land before you jump.

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About the Author

Dan Pennell is the founder and CEO of WMtek. A primary focus for Dan is consulting with NPO's to identify organizational challenges and implement solutions, especially in the area of business workflow and enterprise-wide technological deployment. If you are interested in bringing Dan to your organization for consultation please fill out the form below and we will be in touch with you shortly. Thanks!