Whether it is a project such as creating a new website, launching a new membership structure, or updating your decades of data in your database, these projects can involve many people and many steps.
It is common for these projects to be stretched out over months, or even years! When progress stalls too much, you need to explore new solutions so that your nonprofit can grow and operate at its fullest potential.
One effective process commonly used in the tech sector is the “agile method.” Even if your nonprofit is not in technology, this project management method can add more energy and results to your project, so that your nonprofit can finish up what it started!
Let’s dive into the following topics for this article:
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What is the Agile Method?
In 2001, expert founders and software developers of tech companies wrote The Agile Manifesto to design “organizational models based on people, collaboration, and building the types of organizational communities in which we would want to work.”
This methodology was a response and result of all the lessons learned from successful and failed software projects in the 1990s, and is adopted by many tech companies today.
At AssoConnect, we use the agile method for our all-in-one online software for nonprofits. This is why we know about it, and why we think this is a useful project management style for nonprofits!
Goals of the Agile Method
The goal of the agile method is to deliver a product quickly, in order to receive user feedback as soon as possible. For your nonprofit, the “product” can be your organization’s new website, a smartphone app, or online fundraising tool.
The agile method is not about creating the “perfect version” before releasing it to the public!
Instead, the project goal is to release a “minimum viable product” (MVP) as soon as possible. The MVP fulfills only the minimum needs of your target audience or user, because before investing more time and resources, you need feedback to know which part of the product to improve first.
By knowing your customer's needs, you end up creating a product that truly aligns with your customer. As a nonprofit, you wouldn’t label anyone as a “customer,” but you can view the users of your “product” as your source of feedback. If it’s a website, your customer would be your target audience such as new donors, volunteers, and members.
The 4 Values of the Agile Method
The creators of the agile method value flexibility and customer success, as stated in the manifesto. Although they value process as well, the creators say that the “items on the left are valued more than the items on the right.”
- Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
The agile method favors direct communication between individuals, to remove opportunities for misunderstanding or misinterpretation. There should be minimal steps and hurdles between team members working together on the project.
- Working software over comprehensive documentation
The key indicator for success is whether the product works and meets the customer’s needs. It is important to document the procedure and steps, but the product matters more.
- Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
This is a central point to the agile method! Customers usually know their own needs better than the software developer, so this collaboration is important to determine next steps for the product.
- Responding to change over following a plan
Updates and change are inevitable and encouraged in the agile method. With each round of feedback, the product can respond better to customers’ needs. The plan is secondary to being flexible and responsive.
Bert is ready to apply the
agile method to his project
The 12 Principles of the Agile Method
The principles behind the agile method help provide more context for the four values that we just talked about. By understanding these principles, you can adapt the agile method to your project management style at your nonprofit.
1. Focus on customer satisfaction
Your customers need to be involved throughout your project. Nonprofit organizations don’t really have customers to sell to, but you can consider other stakeholders to be your “customers.” For example, if you’re upgrading your donor database, your staff using the database would be the “customers” for your product!
Are you launching a website for your sports club members? Invite them to test your website, and send a survey to collect their opinions and feedback. This way, you’ll have the feedback you need to make the first improvements on the website.
2. Welcome changes
“Agile” means to be able to move quickly and easily. This principle is right there in the name of the method!
When using the agile method, you have to expect that there will be changes. You can establish this culture of flexibility for your team early on in the project.
Adapting to changes doesn’t mean redoing everything anytime you receive negative feedback! You would need to analyze and prioritize the feedback, and determine which changes are worth making.
3. Deliver changes in a couple weeks or months
Each work cycle before launching the product changes is called a "sprint,” like a short race at full speed.
At the beginning, the team determines the “sprint goal” based on the feedback received from customers. Everyone prioritizes this goal and works at a fast speed, so there are no hurdles from any one team member. The project can move forward quickly without waiting for someone to complete their task!
4. Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project.
Communication is key in the agile method.
There should be plenty of direct communication within the project team.
To prevent your developers from being drowned out by requests, the product or project manager allows you to channel the exchanges.
5. Involve motivated people in the project
Team motivation is essential to the success of a project.
The driving force of the project shouldn’t come from an external source, or from you if you’re managing the project.
If you select people who are personally motivated to deliver a great result, you can count on them to do what they promised.
6. Face-to-face conversation is most efficient and effective
This suggestion from software developers is really enlightening. It shows that even digital projects require emotional intelligence and effective in-person communication.
When you communicate face-to-face, you encourage mutual understanding - and avoid misunderstandings that are common in email communication.
7. Working software is the primary measure of progress
Remember how the goal isn’t perfection? Your goal is to provide a working product to constantly tweak and make improvements on.
8. Adopt a constant and sustainable rhythm for the whole project team
Agility does not mean chaos or exhaustion for anyone working on the project or for the customer. Sustainability is key!
The goal is to find a rhythm to work consistently over time, so aim for a pace that can be maintained long-term. Don’t schedule impossible deadlines that force your team to work around the clock! As a project manager, you need to prevent your team from burning out.
9. Continuously monitor design and technical quality
Have you ever visited a website where the content was fine, but the layout and images were horribly outdated? Or you couldn’t find the information you needed?
Good design helps make the experience more positive for the user. Good technical quality also ensures that everything works as needed.
10. Keep it simple
This value of simplicity is central to our team of software developers at AssoConnect!
Divide the project into smaller chunks, so that each stage is as simple as possible. Each sprint should have one goal so the team is united to successfully complete one chunk of the project.
11. Self-organized teams produce the best work
If you have assembled a self-motivated team, it makes sense that the team will also find the best method of organizing itself. This internal source of motivation and organization will also reflect on the progress of the project!
If you’re a nonprofit manager, you may want to delegate project management to the team, because they know more about the project’s needs than you do.
12. Reflect on how to become more effective, then tune and adjust accordingly
Continuous improvement and adjustment are essential in the agile method. This self-reflection should happen regularly, perhaps at weekly or monthly intervals depending on your project’s pace.
Gathering the team together at the end of a sprint is an effective way to discuss what worked and what didn't. This can set up steps for improving the next sprint.
How to Use the Agile Method at Your Nonprofit
The agile method means constantly revisiting the basic needs of the product, and adjusting the project as needed.
Here are some steps that you can apply for your project at your nonprofit:
Step 1: Define Your Minimum Viable Product
Our technical team explained agile method simply by asking us some questions:
"If you only have an hour to get ready in the morning before you come to work, what would you do?"
"If you only have 30 minutes, what would you do?"
"Now, let's say you only have 3 minutes to get ready. What would you do?"
This is a quick way of explaining how to define your Minimum Viable Product. In the agile method, you have to find the most basic need to meet.
You should identify the stakeholders to ask these questions to, because you need to understand the people you’re designing the product for.
You can formulate the need using this template:
“I want the customer to be able to … in order to …”
Step 2: Break down the MVP
Let's continue the example of morning preparation. The MVP is to get dressed to avoid arriving at the office in pajamas.
In this case, the MVP is broken down into a couple steps:
- Put on a shirt and pants
- Put on shoes and coat
Using the agile method, it's the same approach! You have to break down the steps, and find a logical order to implement them.
We recommend using a tool like Trello to organize these different steps, which will help you to prioritize them and track their progress.
Step 4: Assemble a Cross-Functional Team
One common bottleneck for projects happens when the teams work separately. In the nonprofit world, you might work in the development team focused on fundraising and donor cultivation. However, you need a lot of support from the operations and communications teams.
You could assemble a team with representatives from each branch of the organization, and ask them to dedicate 1-2 days on the project, and collectively outline specific tasks and timelines for the sprints.
Step 5: Develop the Sprints
Now that the simplest steps have been defined and prioritized, it is time to develop them.
You can create a timeline of how long each sprint is, and what each sprint will accomplish.
Shorter tasks are easier to manage, and you maximize team productivity when your whole team unites together to prioritize the sprint.
By shifting everyone’s priorities to match, you minimize waiting time between team members and delays from bottlenecks in the project.
We love it when projects are managed efficiently and effectively. Nonprofit organizations should apply methodologies that software developers use, if it will help boost the pace of a project! Keep in mind that agility is a state of mind when you manage a project. This style of prioritizing flexibility, simplicity, and face-to-face communication is useful even outside of the tech sector.
Your nonprofit can benefit from this agile style of working too!
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