Involve-Project Manager

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1 Involve-Project Manager This article will describe: What is Project Management Why is Project Management so important to community and voluntary organisations The Key Phases of Project Management: o Initiation o Planning o Risk Analysis o Execution o Closing How this could be relevant to your organisation in a skills based volunteering capacity What is Project Management? Project management is the discipline of planning, organising, and managing resources to bring about the successful completion of specific projects, goals and objectives. A project is a temporary endeavour, having a defined beginning and end (usually constrained by date, but can be it can by funding or deliverables), usually to bring about beneficial change or added value. A project is generally trying something or doing something in a new way. It may involve learning and adapting or it may involve assembling a team who have not worked together before. The work is typically broken down into manageable steps, and progress is incremental, with each new step building on the previous ones. Often the scope of the project is not completely clear at the beginning and is refined as the project progresses. Projects are how organisations manage change. The primary challenge of project management is to achieve all the project s goals and objectives whilst honouring the preconceived project constraints. The main constraints are usually scope, time, and budget. Why Is Project Management So Useful to the Community and Voluntary Sector? Many organisations understand that they need change and to develop but often they do not know how to bring it about. A project manager is trained in method and has the communications and interpersonal skills to make it happen, to influence stakeholders and gain buy-in along the way. There are many project management methodologies out there but the core principles are always the same. Simple and effective methodologies can be learned on training courses in a matter of days but getting an experienced volunteer project manager in to help you launch a

2 new project, try something new or expand upon an existing endeavour is a great way to begin to understand project management. Ideally, every organisation should adhere to one common project management methodology. Project management can be applied to any type of project from planning a marketing event, opening up a new retail outlet or creating a company s annual strategy. Planning is essential for any group in order to be effective. Project management or planning may seem like a time consuming process but time spent in the planning of any project will save time and wasted effort at later stages. Why Is Project Management Important? Project management results in more effective use of time and resources Improves control over time and resources and reduces costs It helps groups to be clear about what is going on and why Working to a plan helps group motivation and teamwork Developing a plan gives a group more confidence It prevents people losing sight of the overall purpose of the work People feel a greater sense of commitment to the work when they have been involved in the planning process Reduced risk and higher success rates mean stakeholder s needs are met Voluntary organisations often waste valuable volunteer time pursuing goals that have not been properly thought out. The result is often incomplete projects and de-motivated staff and volunteers. The Steps of Project Management Projects generally go through five phases. Within this framework, separate steps may be defined. Phase 1: Initiation In this phase the project is authorised to start. The reasons for starting the project should be clear and must be aligned with the organisation s overall goals. You must know why you are doing the project and what you expect it to accomplish. A project may be started for example because a donor has agreed to fund a specific initiative or you want to improve the results and the impact of an event you run annually. In the initiation phase the overall scope of the project is defined, the stakeholders are identified and their needs are established. Stakeholder consultation is very important at this stage particularly if the project is aimed at providing something for an outside group such as a local community, who may later take over day-to-day operations. The project manager should be appointed at this stage. Define The Goal Visualise the goal, this is the first law of successful project management. Decide and understand where you are headed. It sounds so obvious but the goal of any project must have boundaries and clear-cut objectives and an end date. Defining the goal ensures all the stakeholder s requirements are met and that everybody s expectations are the same from the get go. It also stops the team or individuals getting side tracked or going off in new directions or tangents mid-way through a project. Of course, changes do take place over the course of any project but when the boundaries are set you can deal with changes and their knock-on effects in a planned way, editing the overall plan and communicating how changes will effect deadlines, resources, budgets or even end goals.

3 Phase 2: Planning Actions / Work Breakdown Structure Before doing anything, make a complete and detailed breakdown of all the separate activities within the entire project and then put them in sequence. There are Excel templates or specific project management software (gantt charts) specifically designed for scheduling projects, some of which are available online and free of charge. For each task estimate the length of time it will take, what it will cost and who will do it. It is imperative to put a person s name beside every single activity at the planning stage! It is important to involve the people who will implement the plan in the planning process and those who will be most affected by the project. These individuals will also be most expert in defining the goals and the tasks and activities that need to take place to reach those goals. Good estimation skills on how long tasks will take are crucial for successful project management. Poor estimation is the reason why many projects fail or leave managers and stakeholders disappointed. Creating a complete work breakdown structure (WBS) may seem like an arduous process but it is a true eye opener and it really helps you to realistically scope your project. It makes you think about and plan every stage in detail and it will ensure you do not forget about vital actions, even for the phases that lie well into the future. Creating a WBS also removes a lot of the stress often involved in rolling out big projects. Once the scheduled plan is complete and broken down into bits, you can then simply focus on executing the tasks at a hand, week by week and even day by day. You are now taking what initially seemed like a large and daunting project in bite size pieces. Planning the WBS will help you understand: What exactly is involved in each step and phase of the project How long each step will take in hours (effort) and days (duration) Exactly what resources and skills you need from staff, volunteers, suppliers or partners The true cost and realistic timeline of your project Create a Written Document Of Your Project Plan In one single document list the goals, the key stakeholders and describe each separate phase of the project in full detail, and don t forget to add in a risk analysis chart. Writing up the project at the outset is an excellent exercise in helping to fully understand the extent and range of tasks necessary to complete each of the steps and reach the final goals. You will be amazed what this simple document will do for you. Creating a document to share and work from, helps you communicate and share the details of your plan to many interested parties. It breed familiarity, true understanding and confidence, which help to create buy-in. It prompts strategic thinking, improved decision-making and stimulates participation and teamwork. The document is like an agreement and it can be reviewed and signed off by the entire group. Phase 3: Risk Analysis Contingency To make a plan resilient you must add in a margin for error. Allow for unexpected events that will cause the project to go over. Typically, the rule of thumb is to allow for 15% extra time for every kind of project. The second method is to do a risk analysis. There is a simple and useful method that can be applied for this. Highlighting potential risks means you have thought about potential risks and have a plan to counteract them should any of them occur. It also makes the team aware of any major concerns at the outset. You may just find that this exercise in

4 itself is enough to prevent them from happening because the team tend to come together and are conscious in ensuring they don t. A Project Needs One Leader The project manger s role is a real job with real duties. The job is to ensure there are people to complete all actions in the plan and those people have the time to do so. Successful project management is where stakeholders expectations are initially set and then managed over the life of the project. When unexpected events happen e.g. somebody leaves the team or you underestimate the costs, a revised plan may need to be implemented by varying one of the following four criteria: The delivery date The overall quantity of output The quality of the work The budget However, what happens if your stakeholders do not agree with the revised plan? You can suck it up and everyone has to work harder a difficult situation! Sometimes you can add more resources or budget but for the most part these options are not feasible. Whatever you do, do not agree to impossible asks. Only deal in reality! A successful project manager is not always popular but his team and managers will soon realise that they will receive what has been realistically committed. Phase 4: Execution Use Appropriate Leadership Styles A successful project manager will understand that different leadership styles are required to motivate and manage different types of individuals. Some contributors will jump to it, with little intervention whilst others need more encouragement, support or training. Regular formulaic meetings plus strong influencing and varying management techniques are all necessary to motivate team members and deliver successful projects. However if too many individuals involved are weak, needing support and training, this is a risk. A project manager will need to build contingency into the plan so it does not affect timelines or goals. Monitoring and Controlling Know what is going on and tell people what s going on! A project is a live and moving object, a project manager s job is to know what is going on in all corners, he or she must continually update the plan, manage and provide status updates and communicate back to the team and stakeholders. It is much easier to break bad news if you have been keeping everybody up to date along the way. Shock tactics instil a lack of confidence. A volunteer project manager can show you the ropes with regard to hosting regular short and effective meetings that drive a project forward. It is also good practice to produce written project status reports at regular agreed intervals to ensure all stakeholders are kept up to date. Managing Change Change is inevitable and often the project may be asked to take on new tasks or change existing ones after the scope has initially been defined. Managing change is essential to project success. Scope creep is a common reason why projects fail! A defined process should be put in place to approve change and the right people should be identified and involved to authorise change. The project manager must assess the impact of the proposed changes on the 3 constraints: scope, time and budget. Changes to the project plan should be defined and these changes approved. If a change means the project will take longer to

5 complete or will require more people or a bigger budget, this must be understood and approved before the change can be accepted and implemented. Phase 5: Closing Wrap Up and the Post-mortem There comes a point in time when the project is officially complete. A proper wrap up or handover is vital so the organisation can take onboard key learning points. Many projects are annual events, if the wrap up does not take place or is not documented, somebody, maybe even you, will go through the same pain all over again the following year: Gather feedback from as many stakeholders as possible Write down all the good and the bad aspects and what you might do better Compare your estimated plan with what actually happened and use all this information to build next year s plan Many organisations bring volunteer Project Managers on as board members or as steering committee members because they are trained to introduce change and make things happen. They look at new challenges and situations holistically. Asking the right questions upfront, they prompt and teach organisations to naturally scope out projects from the outset instead of jumping straight to action. Most community and voluntary organisations are based on democratic processes, building consensus is therefore vital for getting new initiatives off the ground. Project managers communicate and influence with transparency. They bring together their knowledge, skills, personal characteristics and attitudes when focusing on delivering a project. They teach organisations and boards how to leave behind ad hoc management habits and define clear objectives and how to understand a project s feasibility with regard to budget, time and resources.

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