By: Kimberley Nash, Association Manager – TouchPoint AMC
This is Part 2 at an in-depth look at how Project Management Principles apply to your Not-For-Profit. To catch up, please read Part 1 here.
Project management processes are intended to improve project outcomes. As we discussed in Part I of our Project Management in Not-for-Profit Associations article, even if a NFP cannot justify adopting the formal methodology. There are still project management practices and tools that a NFP can incorporate into their planning, processes, and tracking that will be helpful in increasing the likelihood that a project will be successful. Let’s look at the components of a project and how they would be used by a NFP.
What project management skills and practices can be used in a NFP?
A formal project plan is a detailed document covering the project’s purpose, business justification, scope, definition of success, deliverables, timelines, budget, stakeholders, risk management, change management, communications and quality assurance plans, and project staff and their roles. Recognizing the potential limitations of a NFP’s staff skills, resources, and culture, a NFP can implement a modified project plan containing simplified versions of the following elements:
1) An outline of defined project parameters. This would include the scope statement, which is a clear definition of the project’s sponsor, purposes, objectives, and definition of success. This will be the primary reference for managing stakeholder expectations and preventing scope creep. Other parameters include deliverables, due date, budget, and project team. In a NFP, the project team is usually a committee; standing committees may be best suited to manage recurring projects like seminars or newsletters, while ad hoc committees may be struck to manage unique projects such as an executive search, a research project, or the creation of a new educational resource. Either type of committee will need to have its authority and reporting requirements clearly defined.
2) A stakeholder register defining all people and entities involved in or affected by the project. In a NFP, the register may be as simple as “Members + Committee/Project Team + Board”, but depending on the nature of the project and the structure of the NFP, it may also expand to include staff, government, regulators, vendors, or the public.
3) A RACI chart (“Responsible/Accountable/Consulted/Informed”) that defines who is responsible for decisions and approvals and who needs to be kept informed. Given NFPs’ collective work style, it would be efficient to assign decision-making and approval authority to one or two key contacts on the committee. These representatives would also be responsible for reporting to the Board.
4) A Gantt chart or detailed flowchart breaking down project elements into tasks, and detailing key dates, milestones, time estimates, and human resources to complete project tasks. Task planning should accommodate holidays, weekends, team members’ vacation, and other dates that would fall within the project timeline, as well as noting any buffer or slack within the overall timeline. A Gantt chart is updateable should circumstances require it, and if it is set up correctly, changing one date will update the dates of all follow-on tasks, allowing the planner to see how one adjustment will affect the entire project’s timing. This is frequently the most referred-to document in the project since it is visual, updateable, and captures relevant dates and persons responsible for each task, so it should be easy to interpret and should be kept current throughout the duration of the project.
5) A risk register identifies potential risks and barriers to project success. It then allows a team to plan risk mitigation tactics to ensure the timely completion of the project, and to manage stakeholders’ expectations.
6) A list of project documents, including cost, procurement, change tracking, and other forms to be used during the course of the project and stored when it is over.
7) A list of scheduled meetings (including project kickoff) and communications.
Things To Consider
If a NFP decides to adopt project management practices, the process and its benefits will need to be clearly laid out to all organizational stakeholders to ensure that they “buy in” to the practices before they start working on a project themselves. Engaging with volunteers and staff who are process-driven to help the organization develop document templates and forms can help turn them into ambassadors for the process as it is implemented.
Finally, project management and/or collaboration software can be a great asset to project planning and management. There are a number of software suites that range from highly detailed project management solutions to collaboration software that facilitates task work and tracking by team members, or somewhere in between. These suites are useful for either all or some parts of project management, and NFPs can use them effectively once they decide which project management practices to adopt. For a NFP just starting to implement project management practices, there are many free sample forms and templates online. Trying them out will give a NFP experience in using the resources and the opportunity to decide if they want to invest in paid software.
Some final thoughts
While setting up all the project management processes and forms/documents can take time and effort, there is value for a NFP to develop common processes and documentation that can be used for all their projects. Since NFPs will see turnover of Board members and other volunteers, it is helpful to maintain common practices that will offer consistency and can be transferred between teams as they change over the years. Also, by maintaining records of these practices, an NFP can continuously improve its project work by learning what works for their specific culture and adapt accordingly.
There you go! There is certainly a place for project management practices in NFPs, even ones with limited resources. We encourage you to look into tools and practices that your organization can adopt to improve the outcomes of your projects. Good luck!