Bracketing Projects Thoughtfully
By Michael K. Thompson
Management of big projects can be challenging, but the reward is always great if planned well in advance. Two key questions to ask along the way are these:
How will this support the mission of the organization?
How do we prepare for contingencies along the way?
In each case there is something simple we can do early in the process to set ourselves up for success later. We "bracket" our efforts by starting with the end in mind.
Where Are We Going Again?
Our first step in any big project is planning the outcomes–the results! What will this accomplish for the organization? How will we recognize success? What will be the benefit to members?
If we cannot answer these questions then it may not be worth doing this project at all! It is better to have the right mission and fall short, then to successfully move forward in the wrong direction.
Be sure to have 2 or 3 clear and specific goals that can then be translated into evaluation questions for later. You may use these questions for a member survey or just among the planning committee. Either way you are looking to confirm that the goals of the organization are being met.
This also creates a mindset to facilitate every step. Whether in your own mind or with the group, ask again and again, "Does this support the right results?"
Houston, We Have a Problem?
A space mission is a capital example of a project where communications systems are critical. Even on earth, these need to be put in place early so that we can take action later. Who is your team both internally and externally? How will you contact them when a problem arises? What contingencies do we anticipate?
Some action steps that we take to be prepared include the following:
Create an email listserv, wiki, or some other way for everyone to share ideas.
Maintain a centralized document for the project that everyone can use as a standard check for other documentation.
Make a quick list of office AND cell phone numbers to contact people at every stage.
Walk through the events coming up regularly so that eveeryone is on the same page.
If all else fails and the unexpected happens, someone needs to take the lead and stop the motion. Thirty seconds to gather and brief one another can be invaluable to getting back on track. Fall back on the planning you have already put in place, but be adaptable to the conditions that show up along the way.
In the end the members, and the organization as a whole, will be well served if you know from the beginning how you will get the right results.