Technology Vision Published 2006-05-08

In my last post, I talked about two technology projects and concerns regarding their implementation. Thanks to Miguel Guhlin, I am spurred on to describe my vision for a successful technology project.

To begin, I am not going to go into depth about the nuts and bolts of project management. There are many resources that discuss the processes of requirements gathering, developing a solution, testing, and implementation. My concern is more on the softer side of technology projects - creating an environment for the project to succeed.

What is Success?
The first challenge must be for us to describe what we feel constitutes success on the project. I am not concerned with identifying metrics by which success can be measured, though such an activity is useful. I am more concerned that we recognize that the project is designed to facilitate collaboration, or promote the exchange of ideas, or just encourage questioning. The goal is to provide a loose definition of success that will act as an educational framework by which we can later discuss how well the technology is being utilized.

Create a Beta Program
It is common for technology to be pre-released to a set of select customers in what is known as a beta version. The purpose of this release is to identify and correct any bugs before releasing to the general public. Certainly, such a debugging program has the advantage of working out most of the technical problems that could sour common users to the whole project. Beta programs also allow the creation of a community of users with experience working with the technology BEFORE the release to the general public. This community will be invaluable to the project for offering support to users, demonstrating ways of successfully utilizing the technology and simply publicizing the project.

"Always On" Training (and Support)
The importance of training to the success of a project cannot be overstated. This training should include the technical side of the project so users feel comfortable with the technology. It should also communicate a vision for how the technology can be incorporated into the curriculum and provide focus on how to successfully use the technology to enhance learning. During this training, teaching methodologies, not necessarily familiar to all teachers, can be introduced. All training should be offered both in traditional face-to-face format and asynchronous online format. Because users can return to the training material, it is useful to organize (or index) this instruction in multiple ways so that it becomes the basis for your support program.

User Community
A place where teachers can share experiences using the technology offers many rewards. It provides a support community where teachers can find answers to problems experienced by others. A user community encourages the sharing of ideas on how to successfully use the technology from which a set of best practices will emerge. In general, a user community encourages the successful use of the technology.

Celebrate Success
Finally, identify ways of celebrating the innovative and successful use of the technology to enhance learning. There are many ways to promote success stories, everything ranging from campus (or district) wide newsletters to announcements at department or grade level meetings. The idea is to offer recognition to those who are doing great things with the technology and promote their success to those who may be a bit apprehensive with the technology.

These are the five components to developing an environment that will foster a project's success. These five components have a basis in change management theory. Specifically, they address what I consider the key strategic points to effecting change: develop a purpose or vision, create a core community for change, share the vision, empower teachers to succeed, and celebrate short-term wins (adapted from John Kotter's theories on change).

I am interested in what others are doing to ensure a technology project's success. What is your vision or recipe for success?