John Dawes recently shared some great insights on how to make sure your app development project pays off in spades. While some of you planning to submit project ideas for the 501cTECH Technology Innovation Awards (TIA), may submit app ideas, we know the bulk of the project plans will span many different platforms and purpose. As such, we thought it might be useful to take a step back and share some very basic reminders about project planning in general.
When a project falls in our professional “sweet spot,” we all tend to be more relaxed about mapping out and closely following a set process. But when projects fall into areas that might be newer to us—and we as nonprofit employees know all to well what it’s like to take on responsibilities for which we aren’t formally trained—it’s truly critical that the responsibility be shared, the steps deliberate and clear communication remain a constant. Like most everything in life, project management can seem incredibly overwhelming when looking at the multitude of tasks as a whole, but it becomes far more do-able and less daunting when broken down into a few simple concepts, excerpted from a wise general project management blog post written a few years back by Kelly B. Short.
Define the Project
Undoubtedly this is the single most important task to get right as most everything else depends upon it. Projects that are not well thought out, have unrealistic goals, or are not clearly time bound, are prone to failure. Speaking of clarity, a project, by the way, is defined as, “a temporary endeavor having a defined beginning and end, undertaken to meet particular goals and objectives.”
A Temporary Endeavor
Projects are an activity performed to achieve a specific goal. Activities that support on-going production and operations of the business are not projects. However, a new phase or stage of an ongoing project and the act of planning and executing it to become part of an ongoing work IS a project.
A Defined Beginning and End
Projects must be time bound with a beginning and end date that realistically allows enough time to perform the work effort required of the project but not too long so as to lose focus, funding, and control. If you simply aren’t sure what’s realistic then consult an objective, trustworthy collaborator to guestimate, get buy-in from the team, and set check-points to re-evaluate.
Meet Particular Goals and Objectives
A project must have a goal or objective, the more clearly defined and measurable, the greater the project success. A clear project goal or objective reduces ambiguity and holds project team members accountable for their actions.
With a clear project definition in hand it’s time to get into the weeds.
Set and Assign Tasks
Work backwards from the goals and strategy to set the specific tactics to reach your goal. Again, consult colleagues and trustworthy third parties to help you think about all of the sub-tasks each main step will require. Keep asking yourself if they can be broken down further. Recognize and allow for the fact that as the project gets underway, some tasks will be refined, as well the dependent tasks, and new ones added. Once the tasks have been identified assign each one to a responsible party who becomes accountable for completing that task. If the task is a team effort, assign a lead so there’s no ambiguity.
Track Status and Keep it Real
A project that is defined and assigned can fail simply because assumptions are then made that the work is being done. Setting the team up on a shared project management tool (there are oodles out there and many are cheap or free like Base Camp) so progress can be reported in real time is a great idea, unless no one on your team will use it in reality. A basic spreadsheet is totally fine as long as it’s readily accessible in a shared space for updates. In addition, it’s critical that team members regularly meet (in person, via video, whatever it takes) to check in on progress, issues, circumstances beyond their control, etc. Projects have to be flexible to allow for the reality of change and regular, clear communication will mitigate any issues changes might present.
Your day job is hard enough, and your colleagues feel the same way. A new technology project, or any new project worth doing, requires challenging and thoughtful work. As such, it’s just too important to skimp on the set up process and risk failure by not keeping the lines of communication open, simple and grounded firmly in the context of everything else nonprofit “doers” do.
If you have an idea for a technology project that you’d like to implement at your organization, apply for a Technology Innovation Award for a chance to get it funded!