Stealing ideas from commerce

by Stuart on 4 March 2011

These days, charities are expected to behave more and more like businesses.  Certainly the big charities effectively are businesses, some of them multi-million pound turnover businesses.  And all charities have to operate effectively, in order to attract funding (let's be blunt) and to deliver to their clients.

So what about nicking good ideas that have been tried out in the commercial world?  I, for one, am all for that.  I have no problem at all letting the guys with the money try out new processes, then taking a look at them to see if they can transfer to our sector.

Clearly this is not on where intellectual property is concerned.  But the sort of things I'm thinking about are ways of working.  And there's nothing new with this idea.  Look at supermarkets.  As soon as one has an idea, the others follow suit pretty quickly.

An example.  At a recent course a student asked "Can you use Agile for charity projects?"  And my answer was "You can certainly use the principles".

For those who don't know what Agile is, read on.  For those who do, I'm about to simplify it horribly – please don't be offended.

Agile comes from the software development area.  Imagine a huge project delivering lots of whizzy features to your customer.  The project plan tells us that the product will be delivered in a year, finished.  But the customer is itching to use the new software, and some bits of it are much more important to her than others.

So Agile says deliver the product in usable chunks, the most important first, and bring all the bells and whistles along later.  In that way the customer gets something much earlier than if you used traditional project management techniques, and what's more, the people writing the code concentrate on smaller chunks so it's easier for them to do.

(There's a lot, lot more to Agile, but that's my take on the guts of the idea)

Now I hope you can see that it's possible to apply the principles to some charity projects.  It's not suitable for every one, but it's certainly worth thinking about.  Can you break your project down into chunks, and deliver the whole in useful bits spread out over time?  If so, then you might want to consider an Agile approach.

To learn more you'll need to read up on it, and there are some great books out there.  My advice is to try a library first (while they're still around) because the books are quite pricey.

And the moral of this story?  Stuff never stays still.  There are always new ideas out there, and some of them are good.

DIsclaimer.  The word "stealing" in the title is not advocating theft in any way at all.  It's just me trying to shock you into reading this entry.  Don't send the lawyers around!

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