Saturday, October 9, 2010

Launch Day

This week marked the end of my 100-day plan and the launch of our new IT Strategy. We started with an international food day[1], followed by announcing our new structure, and then a half-day of team building exercises offsite. It was a full and exciting week.

I'd like to take the next half-dozen or so Blog entries and talk about our strategy and how it has unfolded. I'll start with questions, and the importance of thinking through what you are trying to answer before you talk about your vision and what you are going to do. It was Rilke who taught me the value of learning to love the questions.[2]

Questions to Frame an IT Strategy

Strategy is about setting a destination and having a clear vision about what that destination looks like. One of the ways to frame a strategy is to think about the questions that we cannot answer today, or find difficult to answer, that our implemented strategy will make easier to answer. Here a dozen questions I've heard or thought about that in three years I envision IFRC using technology to answer[3]:

1. How can we double or triple our impact on the lives of vulnerable people in all regions of our work without doubling or tripling our staff or budget?

2. How can we deliver new programs in disaster relief, preparedness, and health for less cost and greater reach?

3. How can we remove steps and approvals from our business processes to speed the delivery and lower the costs of our internal and external services?

4. How can we report the impact of our programs more quickly, with better data, as well as more transparently to our stakeholders?

5. How can we reach people with the technology they have already adopted? (e.g., mobile phones)

6. How do we include the survivors of disaster as members of the team, participating in the assessment and delivery of relief services?

7. How can staff in all offices and other stakeholders readily find each other based on expertise and interests?

8. How can all our National Societies reach more of their donors for less cost to raise money? How can they leverage online fundraising applications and be able to raise funds via cell phones and the web?

9. In how many member-locations do we operate for each sector of program delivery and each area of fundraising? How many offices are there in the Federation? How many have improved their operations and use of technology?

10. How can National Societies afford current technology and learn how to use it? How can we level the playing field more for the “haves” and “have-nots” among our National Societies?

11. How can we collaborate more with other INGOs and other partners sharing basic commodity IT services like help desk and procurement?

12. How do we motivate the greater use of technology, with a converging set of standards to increase our ability to Move Forward Together?

These questions suggest technology goals that are achievable if we can imagine solutions together and commit to an exciting shared vision that inspires us to invest in new ways of working as a nonprofit.

Questions and Projects

Framing the questions is also a good way to start thinking about technology projects. As with strategy, challenge your business project sponsors to think about the questions that they cannot answer today, or find difficult to answer, that the application will make easier to answer. Coming up with the 10-20 questions to answer will help focus the project. It will also provide a more interesting and relevant acceptance test. If the new system can answer the questions, you’ve arrived.

Keep an open and inquisitive mind. It’s the most important thing we learn from our children.

[1] See my 2008 International Food Day entry for some thoughts on the importance of this event.
[2] Ranier Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet.
[3] For a more complete list of questions, send me a note.