Chapter 5 - Critical Success Factors
Understand and be comfortable with the technology
Many of the grantees had previous experience using the technology of interest in their projects. However, overall they had limited experience employing the tool to meet their own knowledge sharing program objectives. This new use presented a challenge for all of the teams. According to the participants, they found they had to think in new ways and plan differently. Because of limited funding and limited access to expertise, many of the project teams had to select the software/technology that was most readily available and affordable. In a majority of the projects, this turned out to be okay, as their needs were straightforward. However, in some cases, as the teams began to work with their new systems and discovered limitations with the tools, they had to look for other options.
Understand the changes in process introduced by technology
Although the project lead and his partners had experience delivering seminars and lectures in person, when they decided to venture into the world of Webinars, they realized they would need to adjust their delivery techniques. The use of Webinars meant they would lose face-to-face contact. They would lose the ability to read audience reaction and not be able to feed off other people’s energy. The project lead knew in order for the Webinars to deliver the intended value he would have to make sure his use of the technology was seamless. The presenters made sure they were not only familiar with the operation of the technology and were comfortable using it, but that they were also able to troubleshoot minor problems and provide rudimentary assistance to their students.
In one project the collaborators were experienced trainers in their individual areas. What was new to them was the concept of distance training via technology without face-to-face contact with their audience. To reduce the anxiety associated with this new approach and to become familiar with the technology, they held several live training workshops. These sessions allowed them to gain familiarity with the tools but also to gather feedback on their training materials enabling them to tailor it for “virtual” training. They then conducted their first remote training session with a select group of participants to ensure the “kinks” were worked out before moving on to a wider audience. The grantees also found they needed to spend a certain percentage of their time experimenting with the chosen technology prior to going live to ensure that they were comfortable with using the medium and that they were able to provide a certain degree of technical assistance to its users to prevent frustration on their user’s part. They discovered they needed to be more than users, but implementers, trainers, and troubleshooters as well.
Technology Awareness Reviews
Technology awareness activities help to identify what technologies make sense to use given a specific problem. These activities are used to educate people about the capabilities of the technology so they can begin to think creatively about transforming the way the agency operates. Becoming aware of the capabilities of specific technologies helps to inform analysis of alternative solutions and helps narrow investment choices to those that will work best for your organization
Source: Making Smart IT Choices
Focus on the goal – be flexible with everything else
When originally planning, the Cooperative Weed Management Areas team assumed they would be able to use the interactive learning management system licensed to a University partner to deliver training sessions. However, after developing the project plan and reviewing the software available at the University, they realized that the software, while free, introduced limitations on the ability of the team to deliver training as originally planned. The original goal was to deliver training to people in or as close to their home facilities as possible. The software available through the university required that participants would have to travel to specially equipped university extension facilities to participate in training sessions. This not only defeated the goal of eliminating travel but would also limit the geographic reach to a very small segment of their intended audience. Because the project team decided to evaluate the selected technology early on in the project and because they had a clear project purpose in mind, they were able to correct mid-course and select another Web-based technology that met their needs.
Cooperative Weed Management Areas
Familiarize yourself with the various types of technology available to you. If there is no one on your team, then reach out to others to help.
Conduct current practice research and technology awareness reviews to assess whether the technology you plan on using has been used in similar projects before.
Expose yourself to the technology being used prior to the beginning of the project, whether as an observer or active participant.
Have an experienced information technology person as part of your team. If your organization does not have an IT person, look toward your partners or local academic institutions for possible resources.
Practice with the new system – technology and work practices - prior to going “live.” Consider prototypes, dry-runs and benchmarks as a way to test if the technology will work for your application. Assume you won’t get it right the first time and that you will need to design and redesign a few times before getting it ”right.”
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