Is An Agile Approach Appropriate for Nonprofits?

Is An Agile Approach Appropriate for Nonprofits?

By: Eugene Fram             Free Digital Image

Many nonprofit organizations are going to have to transform themselves. They are required to adapt to shrinking donor funding sources related to the new tax law, shrinking state and local revenue sources and increased costs, often to serve larger groups of clients. One new potential approach to meet these challenges can be adapted from Agile Project Delivery Approaches. * Nonprofits may find they are venues for making faster decisions to seizing opportunities and reducing costs. Agile Project Delivery (APD) helps address these challenges by disciplined proven practices and through continuous stakeholder feedback.

Agile projects are based on four basic concepts: *

People over Process and Tools:

Nonprofit boards are often tied to the processes and tools with which they have become familiar—regular meetings with packed agendas and procrastinating strategic issues until the annual board retreat.

This “legacy format,” with its extreme risk approach,  will not be helpful where the nonprofit has to face such external changes as the new Federal tax format and increased costs for staff and other operating requirements.

Agile is an entrepreneurial outlook in which failure can be accepted—but not too often! Unlike the business entrepreneur, the nonprofit board member can’t seek more venture capital when too many failures take place.

For example, let’s assume, a nonprofit wants to offer a new program for clients, and a donor has agreed fund an Agile project in order to determine its potential. Perhaps a six-month salary for a consultant to complete the effort? Instead of developing a detailed plan for the project, the consultant proposes to conduct a series of small experiments to determine the viability of the effort. He/s would likely start with potential clients or those making decisions for them. As long as the experiments provide continual positive results, the consultant’s work is advanced through final development. The focus is on the impacts of the people involved not on the processes and tools utilized.

Working Prototypes over Excessive Documentation

Assuming the consultant encounters continuing success from the experiments, the project can first develop a prototype program to further assess risks or continue to final a final program, depending on the feedback from the series of experiments. The initial round(s) will probably yield imperfect information ** that should improve as additional experiments are successfully completed.

Customer Collaboration over Rigid Contracts

As noted above, the contract with the consultant is only viable as long as the results of the experiments are positive and she/h can obtain honest collaborative information from all stakeholders who may be involved.   The consulting relationship must be one that encompasses, “trusts but verify.” If a staff person is used instead of a consultant, his/h work needs to be regularly supervised.

Responding to Change over Following the Plan

It is not unusual for nonprofit boards to follow a decades long established plan in terms of meetings and with the same format for the strategic plan for decades. The strategic plan is then placed on the shelf to be revisited the following year, usually at the annual board retreat. An ADP exercise can help break the cycle and bring flexibility into the decision processes and mitigate risks. This is required where speed is needed when rapid unanticipated transformative changes are roiling the nonprofit environment.




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