Managing Nonprofit Technology Projects - Washington DC
Aspiration and Community IT Innovators (CITI) hosted the third Nonprofit Technology Project Management event in Washington DC on the 22nd and 23rd of July.
Managing Nonprofit Technology Projects DC examined the tools and best practices that help nonprofits deliver successful technology solutions - whether it be websites, packaged software implementations, or custom applications.
You can check out the event agenda and the list of excellent facilitators. As with all Aspiration events, participants were encouraged to add sessions to the agenda. Also see press coverage from Projects at Work.
Interactive sessions and demos allowed participants to compare processes, tools, successes, and lessons learned. Discussion topics included team collaboration, project planning, software selection, migration, and project rollout, and mapping out software tools – from project management packages to collaborative communication to issue tracking and more – that support successful technology projects.
Feel free to join the MNTP discussion list, which we use to discuss MNTP-related topics.
Aspiration’s skill in facilitating practitioner knowledge combined with CITI's experience in managing nonprofit technology projects contributed to an informal, collaborative, and information-rich event.
What Are They Saying?
The feedback from our previous MNTP events was roundly enthusiastic. Just a few of the comments from participants:
- "The event was very energizing, and renewed my enthusiasm for tackling some complex issues"
- "This gathering will inform everything I do in IT from here on."
- "I used to be super intimidated - now I feel more empowered about what I do know and how to find answers to what I don't"
- "It was a fun, casual, open, responsive learning environment for non-techies"
- "I learned that I'm not alone, and I can learn from a rich community of people facing similar challenges"
- "I was impressed with all that happened - it was amazing"
What are the Goals?
MNTP DC had three primary goals:
- To strengthen the community of practice among those who identify themselves as nonprofit technology project managers
- To enhance the knowledge and capacity of technology project managers within a rich, sharing environment
- To map out the range of tools and best practices being employed in nonprofit technology project management
Participants exchanged project management tools and techniques that they can apply to the management of many projects, and discuss project management processes – from project initiation to project planning, project execution, monitoring and control, to project closure – in the context of stories and experiences. Participants inventoried resources and best practices for nonprofit IT project management, ranging from templates to trainings, and shared useful software packages as they are used in actual nonprofits.
Significant time was spent discussing appropriate practices and processes for defining requirements in nonprofit software projects to inform the "build, buy, or rent" decisions that vex nonprofit technology managers on a regular basis.
MNTP DC was focused on the growing community of nonprofit technology project managers, aiming to provide support to those practicing as project managers, while also recruiting and offering support to those new to (or bewildered by) this craft, and creating a space for the “accidental project managers” to share their stories, discover their allies, and grow into more “intentional” project managers. A significant part of the event was built around mentoring relationships; experienced individuals with knowledge and stories to share collaborated with participants who wanted to learn more.
Participants were encouraged to bring real-world projects to MNTP, and vet them with some real-time project management, coaching, and assessment.
What was on the Agenda?
The agenda was designed specifically to ensure participants interact with and learn from each other, while also providing solid grounding in essential topics. The following workshops were included in the proceedings:
- Nonprofit Technology Project Management 101: For those who self-identify as new to the discipline, this session provided an overview of nonprofit technology project management. Essential topics, truths, and tools were presented, with the second half of the session employing a question-driven format.
- Anatomy of a Well-Managed Technology Project: Drawing from case studies good, bad and ugly, this session focused on key aspects of successful project management. The primary take-away was guidelines on how project managers can maintain control of their projects.
- Designing and Redesigning Web Sites: Any nonprofit that has published a web site understands the frustrating nature of the process. This session considered how best to take on the task of casting organizational identity on the web while also serving target audiences and delivering value to web visitors accordingly.
- What Should a Web Site Cost? One of the most vexing questions in any project is “what are appropriate costs for technology and labor?” This session utilized anecdotal data and participant input to explore costing for different types of web sites, from simple “brochure-ware” sites to custom, database-backed applications and points in between.
- Mapping Communication Tools to Tasks: There are a range of ways to collaborate with partners and stakeholders in any project. But which tools work best for which types of collaboration? This session will sort out appropriate times to employ email, instant messaging and chat, wikis, phone calls, file sharing, forums and other tools.
- Using Wikis for Effective Collaboration: Over the past several years, wikis have demonstrated their value as a key tool in certain project management processes. This session mapped out best practices and techniques for successfully utilizing wiki technology for project collaboration. Also discussed was when not to use wikis, and when more structured information sharing tools are advisable.
- Managing Nonprofit Software Development Projects: While a best practice for nonprofits technologists is to try and utilize existing tools and services, there are invariably times when the appropriate tools and applications don’t exist. But software development is not a core competency of most nonprofits, and too often nonprofit software development efforts spiral out of control or end in less-than-complete realization of vision. This session will explore how best to get from concept to running code with out losing focus on mission.
- Managing Consultants and Dealing with Vendors: This peer sharing workshop invited participants to compare their processes and tactics for managing critical project relationships that fall outside of organizational boundaries.
- Horrific Tales of Miserable Project Management Failure: Nothing is more instructive than the mistakes of others. Participants will be invited to swap stories and cautionary tales of the many speed bumps, pot holes, and multi-vehicles pile-ups on the road to project management success.
- A Whirlwind Discussion of Project Management Software Utilities: This fast-paced session allowed participants to share the various project management utilities available, including time tracking, task management, source code control, and more.
- Software Share: Basecamp, MS Project, DreamTeam and more – Nonprofit practitioners provided a variety of 10-15 minute software demos to allow participants to see the packages in real-life situations and compare the strengths and weaknesses.
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