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Don’t forget the prep: How to structurally prepare yourself for tech projects

7 December 2018

Undertaking a new project is never simple, we know it requires time and effort to take a great idea and turn it into a successful outcome. Given that, it is all the more vital to allow time for reflection, preparation and thought, especially in today’s fast-paced environment where technology has changed everything, from how we work and interact to the way we consume information.

Given the challenges of development and implementation of technology, at Lightful we try to ensure there is the time for structured preparation with all the great charities we work with. It’s more important than ever. Put simply, sometimes the best first step is a step back.

So how do you structurally prepare for tech projects? We’ve found a two-step approach involving scoping and undertaking solution design has been helpful; here’s how:

  1. Start with scoping:

Scoping a project is a key first step, as it is a way of ensuring all stakeholders are authentically listened to and that the end solutions support both their needs and plans for the future. Taking inspiration from creators of user-centred, and in particular human-centred design (HCD), scoping is essentially about defining what people want and need and establishing the desired end-product to fit with the goals you are hoping to achieve.

Luckily understanding the basics of scoping and human-centred design (HCD) has become widely accessible to everyone with many online courses available for free. Certainly, I personally know of at least one charity – Acumen – where I used to work, which offers free online courses in conjunction with the creators of HCD  (and, incidentally, the mouse!) – IDEO. It is made freely available to anyone working in the charity sector.

The importance of scoping in the structural preparation for charities undertaking a new tech project is increasingly seen as an important step across the sector. For instance, the Big Lottery Fund’s innovative £15m Digital Fund, which launched in October 2018, required newer organisations to use user-centred design in order to be eligible to be awarded a grant of up to £500k grant to build digital tools that deliver more impact.

  1. Then move on to solution design:

Solution Design then builds on what has been learned through scoping to build and iterate ‘wireframes’ and ‘clickable prototypes’ with user groups. This can be a really enjoyable part of the process as it can be highly rewarding to see how people’s actions relate to their comments and see what they do with the proposed designs and not just what they say about them.

Ultimately for any project to succeed, it must be widely adopted and so it is critical to have a phase of validation with the people who will use the technology, be they staff, volunteers or service users. Every hour spent on this saves many more hours of development time.

It is at this solution design phase that any technical solutions architects involved in a project are able to offer more honest and robust feedback on shaping the ‘art of the possible’. As a result, you will also be able to create functional specification documentation and design architecture that can be costed appropriately. This step can help take a project from just being a well-thought idea that perhaps equivocates on cost to one that encourages confidence in adoption and creates greater certainty for senior stakeholders, boards, and funders, who will appreciate being able to align outcomes delivered across multiple phases of work.

Alex Day, who serves as the director at the match-funding platform The Big Give believes undertaking this work is critical to success. He said:

For us, engaging with customers is critical throughout a tech project but particularly in the scoping stage. It helps validate or challenge any pre-existing assumptions that inevitably exist within the project team.

Going into your project fully prepared

It is vital that rapid advances in technology benefit the sector that deserves it the most. Getting it right will mean we strengthen relationships with supporters and deliver greater impact for all beneficiaries. Personally, we’ve found that a lot of common sense, interspersed with robust technical work, means that Scoping and Solution Design can really help make technology work for social good.

Building costed, technical specifications by listening, testing and iterating is surely the right way to start, and sharpen our sector’s chances of success; so remember, don’t forget the prep!

Image: Jeffrey Lin on Unsplash

Vinay Nair

CEO and co-founder, Lightful

Vinay Nair is CEO and co-founder of Lightful, a technology company for social good, helping good people and great causes better realise their purpose and ambitions. Lightful’s social media management platform helps charities raise more awareness and funds for their work. Alongside this, Lightful Labs is a full-service, creative technology consultancy working with great charities across multiple cause areas transform their approach to digital.