Somewhere in North America, a nonprofit organization was ready to scale up.  Their mission was compelling.  The staff was smart and hard-working, and turnover was low.  Community and public support for their programs was growing.  Leadership had identified the need to replace their legacy CRM and online engagement software.  They had a reasonable budget for the project.  And they were petrified that they would choose the wrong system.  (Names have been changed to protect the indecisive.)

Invest in Fixes or Replacement?

Over the past several years, it became clear to the team that their legacy systems were not cutting it.  How could they tell?   The need for weird workarounds, frequent glitches, and the inability to make important changes to their digital assets all added up to a lot of wasted time and a low return on investment.  The staff explored the option of staying put and upgrading the current systems, but they’d just be buying (not much) time.  It was decided – a move was in their future.

Hooray – We’re Moving (and I’m getting my own room)

At first, excitement filled the air.  We’re getting new systems!  Imagine all the cool things we can do!  And we’ll never need to (insert weird workaround here) again!  The non-alcoholic cider was flowing.  A work group was assembled, and a short list of potential replacement systems was drafted.  The initial demos were scheduled over a four-week period.  The team was confident they’d make a choice within a few weeks.

Riding the Demo Rollercoaster

At the end of the month, the group felt lost.  The demos didn’t all go smoothly, and there was a gap between their use cases and what they saw on the demos, although the software vendors assured them that their systems could deliver.  The data team had identified their favorite system, but it didn’t provide some ‘must haves’ for the fundraisers.  The features of each system were starting to blur together (wait – which one has the cool Facebook Ad integration?).  More demos were held, and some members of the team changed their top choices.  Two months later, the group was deep in second-guessing, and additional systems were suggested for consideration.  Leadership wanted to know what was taking so long.

From Chaos to Confidence

When I came on the scene, the work group was exhausted and frustrated.  The team had been swirling around for a few months, and they were just about ready to draw a name out of a hat and leave it up to the fates.  I do not advise this.

We took a step back and revisited their original charge:  find a replacement system.  Not a perfect system, because that doesn’t exist.   Once we reviewed their current pain points (since it had been a while) and overlaid the functionality of their top four choices, the fog began to clear.  We struck three systems off the list right away, leaving just two to consider.  Next, it was time to go deep and get answers to important questions from the software vendors.  We created a detailed document with questions and must-have use cases and sent it off to the sales people.  Once we received their responses, the work group had the information they needed to have a final meeting and reach consensus.

What Was Behind the Panic?

This is a very common situation for accidental techies to find themselves in.  There’s typically an interior monologue powering the swirling, and our own doubts and fears come out to jerk us around:

  • My job is on the line if I make the wrong choice.
  • I’m not a technical person – what do I know?
  • I bet I’m missing some important information but I’m not sure what it is.
  • There’s a perfect system out there and I’ll know it when I see it.

At the end of the day, the team was able to get back on track and make an informed decision, but it took a little outside perspective sprinkled with practical wisdom to infuse their group with the confidence they needed to land.  That’s why it can be helpful to work with someone who has been there.  I’m not advocating that you turn the decision-making over to someone else.  Partnering with a wingman who can flag critical issues and keep things moving can help your organization stop the swirling and move your digital programs into the right software.  Want to trust your technology decisions?  Get in touch.