When Nonprofit Tech Projects Stall, Part 2: How to Move Forward

Losing traction on a project? You might actually be able to turn things around.

Imagine this. You’re the lead on a major tech project that’s been underway for a while – like a CRM implementation. 

All of a sudden, things stop. Decisions aren’t being made. Your Director’s not committing to a contract. All that work, basically frozen in time. 

My director putting the kabosh on my projects. (Also, Elsa.)

If you’ve been following this series, then you know why this happens: unclear goals and roles are just some of the possible culprits.

But knowing why it happens doesn’t solve the issue. How can we get these projects back on track?

Like I said before, it’s complicated.

Part of the answer will depend on your org, your leadership, and the culture surrounding this project. Basically, a bunch of things we can’t control.

But that doesn’t mean we can’t try to turn the tide! Sometimes, it just takes the right intervention. Or several.

5 Things You Can Do When Your Tech Project Stalls

Always look ahead, gang!

p.s. This post is part of a two-part series. If you haven’t read part 1, you’ll want to start here!

1. If goals are no longer clear → revisit them.

Goals keep us grounded, by serving as our compass. They keep us from making the wrong decision or entertaining offerings that don’t serve our needs. 

If you find your project losing steam or your stakeholders losing focus, have a second conversation about what you’re all trying to accomplish. At the end of the day, what will this project do to serve the mission?

2. If you’re lacking structure →  clarify a process.

Structure can sound like such an obvious solution after-the-fact, but tough to identify in the moment. If your sense is that this project is too fluid, ask yourself these questions:

• Is there a deadline for coming to a decision? If not, start there.

• What are the milestones & their deadlines? Maybe your research wraps up on one date, so that your stakeholders can review it all on a subsequent date.

• Who are all the people involved in this decision?

• How frequently does everyone check in together on the status?

• What role does each person play? Make sure everyone is clear on those roles and where there may be overlap.

• What are the expectations for your Director? Make sure you’re both on the same page about how they fit into this project, both during implementation and rollout.

3. If you suspect you’re missing some context → have an(other) honest conversation with your Director.

This is where it gets tricky. If your Director is pressing the brakes on this project, due to concerns you aren’t aware of, then it’s impossible for you to do the job.

But depending on what those concerns are – or your boss – it may be difficult to approach them about it! If you find that to be the case, remember that:

  • Your Director asked you to take this on. Having this conversation is part of delivering on that request.
  • Even if you haven’t signed a contract yet, project delays cost your org time. Which is also money.
  • Your Director might not be aware of how much they’re blocking your progress. So refrain from casting any judgment! Approach this from a place of curiosity and efficiency: what do you need to know to keep this thing moving?

4. If you’re lacking stakeholder buy-in → meet stakeholders where they’re at.

Your leadership needs to be on board for this to work. Tech adoption culture oddly trickles down in this way. 

And sure: you won’t win over everyone with this project.

But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try! There are lots of reasons why people resist tech implementations: anxiety about the learning curve, reluctance to change the way they work, or even skepticism about the benefits.

Sometimes, just listening to someone’s concerns goes a long way in changing how both parties approach a project. So weave those naysayers into your plans. See if you can figure out what they need to get on board.

You may not need everyone on your side. But better to get as many people there as possible.

5. If it’s bad timing → let it go.

You’re probably thinking Wait, what?! I thought we were trying NOT to throw in the towel.

But letting go of a project isn’t giving up! It’s giving it a chance to thrive another time.

I’ve had proposals take years to come to life. And it’s not because what I suggested changed! It’s because the dominoes needed to fall a certain way for those ideas to make sense to my leaders. 

Frustration is valid and expected. But don’t let that sour your project, for yourself or anyone else. That’s never a battle worth fighting, and it’s guaranteed to come back to haunt you should the circumstances ever change. 

In conclusion….we can only do our best.

Know your intent. If your goal is to genuinely serve your org, then lead with that at every step of this project.  If experience is any indicator, it will help make the politics and frustrating wrinkles feel a lot less personal.

And who knows? One day, that project might finally get the green light again.

Share your thoughts!