All successful technology implementation projects start with the CEO or Executive Director.  In many Human Services organizations (HSO’s), that will come as news to the CEO, and in some cases, it’s news to the IT Director (if there is one.)  But it’s an important guideline that often is the difference between success and failure.

I’ve been talking with a nonprofit HSO CEO for several months as we worked together on a local effort.  His organization is stuck in technology project, and his agency is not alone.  I could be writing about at least ten different organizations I work with, and many of you will recognize the problem.  Too many nonprofits have been there. 

The agency has been trying to implement new software for over a year, and are still in the early stages of the project.  The CEO honestly believes it’s the vendor’s fault, because that’s what his IT staff is telling him.  He’s very frustrated and even angry at times, because he did so many things right.  He set the right tone–one of efficiency gains, and cash flow improvement, he helped select a forward-thinking vendor, and he empowered his people to go make it happen.  He was very supportive every step of the way, and then he stepped back to watch the progress.

So, what went wrong?

What he did do, was great.  What he didn’t do, though, helped sink the project.  He didn’t stay involved.  He didn’t ask for routine updates on the status.  He didn’t establish a mechanism for resolving internal disputes about process improvement.  He CEO let change-averse technicians undermine the project, and he’s relying on them to explain why it’s a year behind schedule.  Not surprisingly, they blame the software company. 

CEO’s must stay engaged in technology implementations.  They don’t need to attend every meeting, or stay on top of the thousands of details, but they need to stay interested.   The CEO sends a thousand signals every day about what’s important to the company, and what’s important is what s/he is talking about and asking about.  The standard project management tool of keeping the “executive sponsor” fully informed and engaged, is critical to keeping a project on track.  That’s why the software company is not blameless here either—they clearly didn’t do a good job with expectation setting, with communication, with project management or with change management.   They didn’t even get the fit/gap analysis right.

 With leadership from the two CEO’s, both from the HSO and the software company, the situation can still be turned around.   Two wiser, more successful organizations will be the result.

Success starts at the top.

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