I’d recently finished a demanding freelance engagement and realised I had a chance to do what I always wanted - some volunteering. I’d found IT4Communities which helps charities, community groups and social enterprises access free IT support from IT professional volunteers. Luckily a chance came up that matched my own interest in working with and for disabled people.
The project context was a merger of 3 disability organisations:
The organisations were some way down the road of realising an ambitious plan to merge to form Disability Rights UK and needed a solid modern IT platform. So far so good but my experience from working with Local Authorities is that it’s easier said than done…
Our project brief was:
The involvement and participation of staff was also crucial: two well attended panels helped to steer the process of selecting new IT systems essential to a modern charity.
I had become part of something that was extremely well planned, well supported and well funded taking place over 3 years (2009-2012). As the engagement progressed I learned I was one of 30 ‘pro bonos’ or volunteers from different professions helping make the merger happen.
This is what we did:
Implementation (as of early 2012) is now well underway. The challenge continues for Disability Rights UK to put it all together, align everything behind a public face, work very closely with their membership and use innovative technology.
I discovered that working as an external project manager can throw up a dissonance about roles: you behave as if you are in the organisation, but you aren’t. This feels risky. I was able to explore the importance of roles and boundaries. I was given permission to do what I needed to do, quickly and clearly, to keep the project to time.
I have a lot of project and operational IT experience, and learned (I hope successfully) to own the project, to advise and guide, but to not be possessive about the tasks which predominantly must be done by the people inside the organisation.
We had to work at great speed: the license for the existing finance system was due to expire and while we did research the market, we worked very rapidly from long list to shortlist for a new finance system and a new customer database. This was also an advantage, and drove the project forward. I am aware of organisations taking more than a year to select systems. Disability Rights UK did it in 3 months.
Some suppliers were simply not able to respond to the deadlines and the time scales, so effectively eliminated themselves from the process.
While the project was extremely well scoped, the interface to any new website could have been discussed more. Modern customer databases (CRM’s) have large web facing elements including self service and private social networks. Deciding how these 2 things (website and customer database) fit together is a challenge.
This project team felt really easy to work with, as if we’d been together and in role for ages, and I had to remind myself at times that we were a ‘scratch team’ and that most of us were new to the organisation and new to the project. Why this team worked so well is difficult to define, but the following points might help to explain it:
Good skills and experience
Good support and clear decision making
Good project definition
What did I get out of the project? I think this experience will make me a better project manager. I was given a chance to meet and work with exciting organisations and people, given blush-worthy thanks and praise, updated my skills and experience - and a good feeling.
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