While many project management approaches vary, the components are essentially the same. A project generally has four phases: Initiation, Planning, Implementation, and Evaluation. Within each of these, there are specific areas to attend to and document. But they all contribute to the biggest benefit of using a project management approach—the overall increase in clarity when it comes to communication, organization, reporting, and teamwork.
There are a wealth of resources and courses available online but they are not all consistent. The field of project management continues to grow and develop and is used heavily in the construction and IT worlds, as well as throughout government. When I was with the BC Public Service Agency, I was responsible for the BC government’s project management training program, which followed the Project Management Institute’s approach—this is what we will explore below.
In our Leadership 2020 residencies, we use the terms “project” and “pursuit” interchangeably. But in the world of project management, the term project is very specific. This definition, from Stephen
Vanden Broucke is straightforward:
“A systematic, goal-oriented, temporary and one-time endeavour to create a unique product or service within clearly specified time, cost and quality constraints.”
Our Camino for Alzheimer’s Awareness meets these criteria. Our goals are to first raise awareness about Alzheimer’s and raise funds for the BC Alzheimers Society. The project (including daily blog posts) will last a period of two months and we are definitely only planning to do this once! The product is also unique (others have done similar things, but no one incorporated a blog and, as far as we can tell, no one has included a person with Alzheimer’s in their walk). We have a clearly specified time—beginning on September 21 and ending when my husband reaches Santiago approximately two months later—and we have budgeted for the walk based on our prior Camino experiences. (We are covering our expenses for the walk—all funds raised are to go to the Alzheimer Society—and we are doing this under the “Anything for Alzheimer’s” umbrella which identifies quality expectations.)
Part of the initiation phase is to probe—something we discuss a lot in our residencies. At this point, we analyze the value of the proposition and identify key stakeholders and considerations necessary to ensure the success of the project. The process of probing helps to determine whether to proceed or to save the idea for another time. (That said, while obtaining feedback is important in the initiation phase, it is equally important throughout the project and should be sought at every opportunity.)
We initiated our project last November. We approached the Alzheimer Society with our idea and they referred us to their provincial funding coordinator. They also gave us some helpful information about how to approach the fundraising element, clarity on their role and responsibilities, and some important timelines. We could have proceeded on our own without their support, but it would have been a much more complex process. We then began talking with those closest to us to explore their reaction. Key for us, of course, was my sister-in-law, Kathy, on whose behalf we are doing this. If she wasn’t keen, the project would have ended. Our daughter asked how our going away for two months would actually help Kathy, and suggested we invite her to join us for a portion of the walk. After considering other feedback and questions, we decided to act on her suggestion and made plans for Kathy to join us for a segment of the walk (which very much affected the response we get when we tell people about our project).
I learned the value of a project charter when I was working with the BC Public Service Agency. At one point during a project I was working on, one of my stakeholders was about to back out of a commitment they had previously agreed to in the project charter. Because the item was documented and had been signed off on by both parties, all my boss had to do was point this out to them and we were quickly back on track.
This is a great example of why a project charter could be considered as a precursor to any project (even before planning or making the business case). A charter can be shorter than a fully developed plan and essentially serves to gain agreement in principle from those whose approval is essential to the project moving forward. It sets a clear, positive precedent early on about how things will be documented and agreed upon. (You can find links to project charter templates here and here.)
For our (more informal) project, a project charter wasn’t appropriate. But while we didn’t have a written document like a charter, we did discuss our rationale and all of the elements of a project charter with the provincial funding coordinator at the Alzheimer Society. In many ways, the information we posted on our blog and on our fundraising page was, in fact, our project charter. During this process, it became clear that our project has two key goals: a) walking a Camino that will be about 50 km for Kathy, 900 for me, and 1500 for Geoff, and b) building awareness and raising funds.
Within the Project Management world, the Project Plan is the definitive document. For some, putting a project plan together can be a painful process. But it is through this process that potential problems are identified (and avoided). Completing a project plan (much larger and more detailed than a charter) requires that the project manager think through all of the details of the project and obtain input and approval for all aspects.
You from examples like this and this that project plans also serve as monitoring and control documents. The project plan is something that will be reviewed by the decision makers throughout the life of the project and will help to ensure the timelines and budgets are on target and that potential risks are mitigated.
My husband and I are both planners and we like to be organized. After we had written up our key pages on our blog and on the Alzheimer’s site, we sat down and made an extensive list of the things we would need to do and the timeframes for accomplishing them. We identified areas where things could go wrong (e.g., the risk of injury or illness) and developed a plan for addressing such things. We also put together a calendar to serve as a timeline with key dates identified. Since then, we’ve been reviewing both the lists and the calendar regularly to help keep ourselves on track.
Identifying the scope of a project can be an art. When people are excited about a project, they may want to expand the scope; when not so excited they may often want to reduce the scope. In this way, having a scope statement can help manage expectations and serve as an early warning sign about buy-in and commitment levels.
A scope statement lists the project goals, tasks, costs, deliverables, roles and responsibilities, and deadlines. In each of these areas, it is important to try to be as clear as possible. (Scope creep can pose a significant risk, but under-estimating the scope of a project can be just as dangerous.) This scope statement template is quite extensive but still gives a good idea of the full range of areas that could (or should) be addressed. And make sure that any changes to the project scope get approval and sign-off from all decision-makers.
Along the way, we have had several “helpful suggestions” about how we could improve our project—hosting pre-walk fundraising events, doing public presentations, inviting others to join us for our walk. But all of those were outside of our scope. We had already significantly increased our scope during the initiation phase, by inviting Kathy and her husband Bob to join us for a portion of the walk. This scope change made sense in relation to our vision and goals. And while the above suggestions could have also improved our outcome, the return on investment in relation to our time and energy was not justified and, thus, outside of scope. Thinking about scope early on made that decision easier than it may have otherwise been.
Risk management is a field of expertise unto itself—emerging largely out of sectors related to finance and law enforcement and first responders. Risk management is usually composed of a combination of the following five steps:
- Identify potential “threats” (i.e. factors or barriers that might impact success)
- Assess vulnerability
- Determine the risk (i.e. the expected likelihood and consequences of the threat)
- Identify ways to reduce those risks
- Prioritize risk reduction measures.
For us, there are many things that could go wrong—flight cancellations or delays, illness or injury, technological problems with our social media and fundraising pages. Having walked a number of Caminos in the past, we have been able to assess each risk as it has presented itself in order to determine whether it is real or imagined. We have also learned ways of reducing risk—giving ourselves extra time (in case we encounter flight problems), training (to reduce the risk of injury), developing practice websites (to get familiar with social media platforms). That said, part of managing risks is to expect the unexpected. We have learned this from experience. For example, since we will be travelling with someone who has Alzheimer’s, part of our risk mitigation strategy involves bringing our sense of humour with us on the trip.
When we think of project resources, we often focus on budgetary resources. Your project plan will identify the source(s) of funding and the project’s budget, but there are other resources to consider. Your project plan should also identify the technical resources (e.g. programs or platforms, technical expertise, training) and the human resources (e.g. team members, stakeholders, partners, customers) that will be necessary. The scope statement for the project will be key to gaining clarity in these areas. You should also consider (and note) whether resources are internal or external to the project team—if and when they are external, the project plan needs to clearly articulate the decision-making process for allocating and adjusting those resources.
While we have complete control over our budget for this walk, but we do not have control over the budget for Kathy and Bob (even though we are responsible for their travel arrangements). Fortunately, this has not proved to be a problem. That have been fundraising expenses we had not anticipated, but there are external resources available through the Alzheimer Society. With regard to technical resources, we have the equipment we need, but we know that wifi access will be outside of our control while we’re travelling (and we don’t want to rely on our phone data). For us, the easy resources to manage are the human resources—we are able to be fully dedicated to this initiative and we have the flexibility to accommodate and unanticipated needs.
Many project plans include a Gantt chart. A Gantt chart is a good visual tool for determining whether the project is on target and whether or not key milestones will be achieved on schedule. As with many other project management tools, there are many Gantt chart templates available online (and most are pretty similar). They list all the tasks and activities and have a timeline attached to each. Think of a Gantt chart as a living document that will be updated regularly as changes are required and as new information emerges.
We have created a calendar dedicated to our project and it has all of our key dates identified. By looking at this calendar, we have been able to tell that many of the activities are ones that can only be done close to our departure date. As a result, we have identified and completed all the tasks that could be done in advance (e.g. setting up our social media sites, acquiring the necessary clothing and equipment) in order to help us create the time and space for all those tasks that are coming later on.
If your project plan is sound, implementation can look easy. That being said, most projects invariably require adjustments along the way. (Good thing we incorporated some risk management into our plan.) When it comes to implementations, the project plan should make clear what things are non-negotiable and where there is room for adjustment. As issues and or concerns arise, the project plan can be helpful in determining the next steps. Sometimes projects have to be “pushed back” early in the implementation phase, but if you have confidence in your project plan, staying the course during delays and adjustments (and other hiccups) will be much, much easier.
For us, implementation will begin when we start walking. (And I suspect there will be times when we will question the wisdom of this plan.) Our days will involve walking an average of 25 kilometres and writing a daily blog that shares our experiences and identifies parallels between this kind of walk and the experiences of people with Alzheimer’s. Knowing that we will be tired at the end of each day, we have prepared some blog content in advance. And based on past experiences, we know that our plan will need to be adjusted along the way. So we have identified alternatives (such as different routes and other accommodation options). But we also know the non-negotiables (such as arrival and departure dates).
Since a project is (by definition) a unique event, why bother evaluating? Because even though each project may be unique, there is always transferable learning. In the past, each training program I developed was a project in and of itself. But even though each program was different, the lessons learned from developing one could often be applied to the next. You’ll also need to dedicate time to evaluation because your decision-makers or funders usually require some documentation related to outcomes and/or impact. How close did you come to meeting your goals? How do you measure success? How can the lessons learned apply to future projects?
We have used information from our previous walks to inform how we approach this one. At the end of each walk we have completed in the past, we took the time to review what worked, what didn’t, and how we might adjust accordingly for the next one. While we don’t anticipate doing another fundraising activity like this one, reflecting on the experience and our learning will likely inspire (or help) others who want to do something similar in the future.
A Final Word
Project management may feel like a big job but it can also become an art. Most of us do it intuitively every day (even though we may not realize it or document and track our progress). Many tools to support good project management are readily available on the internet and there is a wide range of courses and apprenticeships available both in-person and online.
Over the past few months, we have often said to ourselves how much we just wish we could just go and get started and not worry about all the preparation. (And some people do skip preparing and just jump right in!) But we have learned that our preparation is a benefit in and of itself. There is a substantial part of this undertaking that is completely new for us and planning with intention has already benefitted us. I’m confident and excited about the weeks ahead and encourage you to follow along as we continue this adventure.
Leadership 2020 Hosting Team