Does your organisation need a Critical Friend?

The concept of a Critical Friend is not new to the sector or Hart Square.

Wikipedia calls it:

  • “A trusted person who asks provocative questions… A critical friend takes the time to fully understand the context of the work presented and the outcomes that the person or group is working toward.”

However, in our work with our clients, this term is often used thus:

  • “Our organisation needs a critical friend to support the change we are planning this year”
  • “We see you as our critical friend, our trusted advisor on projects”

When we join an organisation, we understand the responsibility given to us to perform this role. We respect the trust it takes to offer us this role. We appreciate the need to add value in this role.

But what exactly is a Critical Friend in a non-profit change project?

Below is a simple guide to how Hart Square provides value through healthy challenge in the projects we deliver. These are some of our Critical Friend services if you like:

Business cases

It can at times be difficult to convince people to commit to change, especially to a change budget. Our business case development defines and then challenges the technology status quo. We help amplify the need for investment, so it is heard above the many reasons not to change.

Requirements Gathering and Process Reviews

Whether identifying requirements for a new system or improvements to your processes, we ask the difficult questions in workshops with your teams.

These are not simple listing exercises. Our workshops involve questioning why things remain the way they do, so a tender may include what is truly needed from new systems, beyond what is desired.

Partner selection

We do not select partners for you. We simply don’t. Our role in selection is to put in place a proven, well-structured process for you to follow and be equitable in your decision-making. Encouraging balanced views of partner engagement and your own selection criteria so you make bold, secure and successful procurement choices.

Project Preparation Services

Often, the need here is to challenge the view that preparation can start later or lighter than proposed. It takes commitment to plan and prepare for change. Our team focuses on working with your internal leads to mobilise the organisation for change.

Implementation Services

System implementation is a mountain climb. Along that dizzying path, with your technology partner, we challenge any desire to take dangerous short cuts or ignore risks. We provide an ongoing side-by-side guide to get you up and back down the Go Live Mountain.

Post Implementation Services, Support Services

Projects still risk stopping or slowing down on Go Live day. In reality, change still needs governing and stabilising after systems have launched. Our team helps you challenge any impulse to stand still so you can truly drive continuous improvement.


The examples given above are naturally using our own services as a context of course, but the intention is wider; to show you the value of having a critical friend to guide and challenge you in any change programme.

Across all our services, we are always professional in the way we provide a healthy challenge to our clients. We are not your staff. We are not your governors. We will happily be your organisation’s Critical Friend if you need us. Get in touch to find out more.

Getting set up for success; planning for a post Go-Live world

At Hart Square, we have the great pleasure of working with our clients across the non-profit sector, delivering transformative technology projects which will support and enhance the experience of members, fundraisers, and beneficiaries as well as their employees.

As we say regularly though, implementing new technology isn’t the objective of these projects, nor indeed is the go-live of some new technology the end of the project. What happens after go-live is critical to your overall success so I want to set out just some of the ways you can plan for a post go-live world, to ensure you get the best out of your investment.

Keyways to ensure any non-profit organisation is set for success include consideration of the following:

  • planning well in advance
  • developing local champions within the project team
  • looking beyond the first go live with a long-term technology roadmap

Planning and preparation is critical; as soon as the discovery phase of your new technology implementation has been completed, start looking ahead to both the go-live and what is beyond; that is crucial. It is vitally important to start thinking about what business as usual will look like once the system has been launched and the technology partner steps back into a support role.

Team capacity and skillset

A first consideration is the capability of the team in place, which means analysing both their capacity and their skillset. Key members of the team are likely to have been either seconded to the project or to be working on the project alongside their day jobs. They may well be expected to drop back into their full-time role in one of the business teams, so will take their knowledge with them as well as not being available to support and encourage other staff as the system beds in.

For some of you, it may be an option for those key people to take on full-time roles supporting the organisation’s use and enhancement of the solution, creating a vacancy behind them for you to recruit into. For others, it may mean you need to identify new individuals who will manage internal support in the longer term, and that may involve a training needs assessment to be delivered before the go-live.

On the subject of training, identifying ‘super-users’ across different departments in the organisation, and agreeing on a comprehensive detailed training plan which initiates early in the implementation, will allow those business experts to be confident in the technology and how they can gain the greatest benefit from it. With that knowledge and confidence, they’ll prove invaluable rolling out and bedding the system in, including being a key channel for ideas around new working processes, system enhancements and so on.

Aligned with this, is identifying those individuals who are best placed to champion the project internally and to maximise the benefits of the project after go-live.

Realising the benefits of your investment

As I mentioned earlier, implementing new technology is rarely the core objective of your project, you’re looking to bring about change and deliver benefits to your communities and employees. At the outset then you need to be agreeing on the benefits you’re seeking to achieve, assigning responsibilities for ensuring these are kept in focus, and tracking their realisation. While there may be some benefits associated with simply making modern technology available, the majority will be about what that enables so prioritising benefits realisation is a critical next step after your go-live, but is a project of its own to plan for upfront.

It is important to have that plan in place not only to ensure benefits are realised, but to back the plan up by developing champions of the project who can support the plan across the organisation, and ensuring that the communications plan delivers positive messaging to ensure the project momentum is not lost.

Resourcing beyond go-live

Technology solution implementations can be painful at times, especially where you’re replacing longstanding but outdated systems, and trying to drive change through your organisation alongside it. One of your significant risks is that by the time you do put the first phase of the new solution live, your team (and your organisation as a whole) is tired, grateful just to have “got the system over the line” or “finished the project at last”. The risk here is that the go-live becomes the end game of your change programme when it’s not supposed to be anything of the sort.

By ensuring a smaller, flexible project team is retained in place for post go-live to start to realise the benefits and to track any post go-live issues, you’re setting yourself up to carry on with your roadmap to success. You can ensure the issues you will raise are managed and dealt with swiftly, the new system has a governance structure around it to gatekeep new ideas, and your communications plan is in place to continue to promote the project and its benefits.

Your success will largely come about long after the first go-live; this is just the first step on the roadmap, and it is likely that there will be future phases where you really accelerate your new ways of working, once you all understand what the new technology is capable of.

Ensuring you have put a comprehensive roadmap in place with tangible milestones, your organisation can flourish after go-live. Crucially by having champions across the business you can ensure high adoption rates of the solution and seek buy-in of all users. Backing this up by delivering a detailed training programme will build confidence in the system and allow you to maximise business benefits as your teams get to grips with the new technology.


Are you looking to plan for a post go-live world?
Get in touch to find out how we can help you get set up for success.