I have worked on both government and volunteer Civic Tech projects. All the successful ones have these three things going for them:
Strategy is a Destination and Route to Get There
If you drive somewhere you need to first know where you are driving to, and then you decide how you will get there. Many folks in tech summarize this using the objectives and key results framework. For example as a runner my objective might be to set a new personal record half marathon time. I would then get there through a training plan that includes intervals, long runs, and tempo runs. The path is not rigid: I might have to adjust for injuries, illness, and other setbacks. However I know if I roughly follow this plan, I am likely to reach my destination.
Proficiency is the Ability to Do What You Need
If strategy is your GPS, proficiency is your driver’s license. Without mastery of the skills you need, you will never succeed at your plan. Do not try to drive a manual transmission car if you only have experience with automatic.
Resources are the People and Things You Need
Resources are the fuel your projects burns to make it go. If you do not have enough resources your project is going to be a death march. Scrappy managers may attempt to get around resource challenges by using new strategies, but most of them are not Billy Beane.
The best thing you can do is familiarize yourself with the needs of a typical software project. These include:
- Two software engineers.
- A designer.
- A product manager.
- Laptops, broadband Internet, and cloud servers.
- At least six full time weeks to deliver a prototype.
Resource problems are the easiest to solve: add money or time. If you cannot do either of these things, there is likely nothing you can do to surmount them. Go to sleep knowing it will fail, but it’s not your fault.
- A Civic Technologists Practice Guide covers many fundamentals of working on Civic Tech projects.
- 18F’s State Software Budgeting Handbook explains many fundamentals of software projects and how to budget for them in government.
- This long read on VaccincateCA does a good job of chronicling many of the obstacles faced when developing a Civic Tech project.