Product Ideas from User Research Programme – Interaction 001

This blog series will capture our interactions with the target users of the FundImpact platform to understand their requirements and pain points. These interactions will help us in shaping the vision of the platform. We are thankful to all the stakeholders who have generously given time from their busy schedule and have shared their indispensable insights on managing various operations in Social purpose organizations.

These interactions will culminate into a definitive User Research and will be instrumental in creating a comprehensive Product Roadmap for FundImpact. At the onset of this User Research, we are validating our product ideas with the stakeholders and understanding their pain points in managing specific workflows through digital tools. Some of the key outcomes of these interactions are 1) the product ideas shared by stakeholders, 2) how they prioritize and value these features, and 3) complexity of the features (till what extent they would like to automate operations/workflows).

In our first interactions we interviewed the Director of Operations of a very large Social Purpose Organization in India. The organization has several direct implementation programmes in the agriculture sector and are geared towards uplifting livelihoods of farmers in the country.

Below is a  brief of our interaction with the participant (categorized based on product ideas).

Partnership Management

An insight we gained from the interaction is on how the product has to serve the end-to-end workflow of a particular project or process. It becomes all the more important for large scale organizations with huge volume of such processes. Any manual or offline procedure would break the workflow and bring a lot of operational overheads and discrepancies.

The participant emphasized about Partnership Management. The feature involves onboarding a donor for a project, capturing project deliverables and compliances and ensuring that the project is tracked and adheres to these arrangements as agreed in the MoU. some of the features that were discussed during the interview are

Monitoring Project Deliverables: Tracking project deliverables as promised to the partner/ donor. Such as quarterly report submissions, monthly submission of Utilization Certificates. As the organization gets involved in dozens of such projects, the tracking deliverables become extremely challenging for a project manager. Some of the project deliverables to be tracked are mentioned below

  • Funds Disbursement Schedule: To track schedule for raising grant, to send Utilization Certificate on time.
  • Report Submission: Submission of project update reports to intended stakeholders.

Leads Management: A prerequisite for efficient tracking of projects is onboarding of the Donors/Stakeholders. This is particularly important from a CRM perspective, where each stakeholder detail is captured and maintained at the central database. The donor or other stakeholders go through a well define workflow for onboarding (just like sles channel for acquiring customers/realizing sales).

Budget Negotiation: The participant didn’t mention Budget Negotiation for finalizing a project deal as a priority feature. The budget negotiations don’t have SOP and are often too complex to be performed using digital tools.

MoU Tool

An interesting idea came from the conversation was on MoU templates. These templates will ensure that the project is initiated as per the SOPs of the organization and the requisite details are captured well in advance. This MoU tool can be considered as a simplified version of Partnership management as it offers a simple checklist for Project Managers to verify compliances/steps in initiating a project. Some of the details that can be captured are:

  • Fund Disbursement Schedule
  • Duration of Project
  • Activities and their schedules
  • Budget Heads: Capturing constraints on budget heads (in terms of reappropriations, adjustments, etc)
  • Team members: Who are assigned from the organization for this project

Activity Tracker

It was evident from our conversation that the organization has independent milestones and workflows for tracking Funds and Project Activities. In our product concept, we have assumed that the fund flows will be contingent upon completion of project activities in the scheduled time period. However, the participant explained the practical challenges of ground in linking funds schedule with activities schedule. This also gives rise to flexibility between Financial Reporting and Project Reporting.

Standardizing Activities: The organization is interested in templatizing their Activities, as they are common across the projects, such as Training, Information Dissemination, Skill Building, etc. This would be an industrious approach for capturing and tracking project, where each activity has a standard code and has associated details such as duration of activity, funding requirement, Input/Outputs operations, etc.

Approach for Impact Assessment: While creating a project, the manager can pick up activities to be performed using these activity codes (which are standardized) and add project specific details. This would be extremely helpful in creating a larger impact assessment framework for the organization.

End Date vs Impact Date: A useful insight shared by the participant was on when an activity materializes. The activity end date may be when the farmers are given a particular seed variety, but the impact date would be six months down the line when the crop is harvested. These dates are crucial for creating a impact assessment framework on the platform.

Activity Plan: The participant also talked about creating an Activity plan to schedule the activities throughout the duration of the project. The activity plans can be monthly or quarterly. They are rarely six monthly or annually for this organization. Activity Plan needs to be mapped to a particular Geography or Target Beneficiary, and project manager should be able to capture actual vs target numbers..

Theory of Change: Taking our conversation forward on the Impact Assessment, the participant emphasized on creating a tool that will help the project manager create a Theory of Change. This feature will facilitate the Project manager to create input parameters and their measurable outcomes.(like in our previous example of End Date vs Impact Date, the input activity is distribution of seeds, and the outcome is the yield from these seeds). The organization can be master records for Input and outputs for the Activities.

Impact Framework: The participant acknowledges that impact frameworks such Sustainable Development Goals are too broad to be connected directly with the Project Deliverables. In such a case the MoU Tool, Activity Plan and Theory of Change are good enough measures for assessing successful execution and the impact of the Project.

Other Features

  • Knowledge Management: Given the large operations of the organization, it was evident that the organization is looking for a centralized repository of all project resources (media files, documents, collaterals, reports, etc.). Various stakeholders within the organization should be able to search and access these resources project-wise.
  • Means of Verification: The above mentioned document repository will help in audits of the project. The relevant documents will be captured in a timely manner and stored in the project repository for later retrieval.
  • Employee Management: Another learning from this interaction was on how scale of the organization creates management overheads in some operations. The participant  emphasized a robust User Access Control to manage various permissions and roles across the projects. The admin should be able to allocate employees to their respective projects and not be given access to other departments or sectors of the organization.
  • On PM Tool: The participant stated that there isn’t any grave need for a project management tool at the moment to manage and track day to operational work or assigning tasks.

The above inputs on new product ideas and validations on our existing knowledge on the Product vision is extremely valuable in creating a comprehensive product roadmap. We are incorporating a variety of stakeholders in our study to ensure the the product serves a broad spectrum of users.

Stakeholder: #####
Role: Chief Development Officer
Organization: #######
Sector: Agriculture, Livelihoods
Scale of Org/Operations: Large Scale

Conversation Details
Date: 29-May-2020
Venue: Virtual Meeting over Google Hangout
Participants from FundImpact: Himanshu Thakur, Sunandan Mada, Amresh Yadav

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