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Project Management: Starting Your Project (for Change)

Now that you’ve acquired your project, it’s time to start the process of planning and executing. First, you already have a budget and a scope of work from your project proposal. Hopefully you also have a general timeline and a sense of staff allocation because you checked your organizational capacity before taking on the project! So, what next?

A good first step is fleshing out that timeline a little bit more. I find it really useful to talk with my co-workers and break down activities, define them, and sequence them. Sometimes just writing out what’s involved in each of the steps helps you realize that you need to start one part of a project earlier than you previously thought. And this doesn’t need some fancy tool either -- often using tiered bullet points will organize the tasks just as well.

Example Checklist for Deliverables: Write a Theory of Change

  • Read through interviews with stakeholders
  • Brainstorm with staff
    • Schedule a meeting
    • Create an agenda
  • Write a rough draft
  • Engage advisory committee and additional stakeholders
    • Schedule a call
    • Share the rough draft
    • Create an agenda for the call
    • Synthesize feedback from the call
  • Revise draft
    • Incorporate additional feedback from the call
    • Resend the draft for input
  • Finalize draft

Once you’ve broken down the tasks more, creating a visual timeline is a really handy reference for the entire project going forward. There are many timeline templates available for free online. I often use this Google spreadsheet template, but there are a variety out there that can suit your specific needs. I have also found Gantt charts to be very useful. Gantt charts are like timelines, and they are a visual way of displaying the interconnectivity and due dates of tasks. I found this great Excel Gantt chart template here recently from a blogger.

Pay special attention too, when you’re creating your timeline, to the tasks that are dependent on each other. Some tasks need to happen before others and those are the tasks where small delays can slow down the entire project.

Identify Stakeholders
There are so many people involved in large, important projects that create real change in the world and a lot of people who have a “stake” in how these projects unfold. When starting a project, it’s important to identify who these stakeholders are. It will help you both with the satisfaction of those sponsoring the project, and help with creating a better quality product through collaboration and true incorporation of voice.

Here are some questions to ask to determine who might be a stakeholder and what type of stakeholder they are:
R(esponsible) – Who is responsible for actually doing the work?
A(ccountable) – Who has authority to approve changes?
C(onsulted) – Who has much-needed input about the work?
I(Informed) – Who needs to be kept informed about the work?

And it’s in a memorizable, distinct acronym too! 

Stakeholder Analysis Chart . Low Stake / High Interest - Keep satisfied and involved. High Stake / High interest - Keep happy. Low Stake / Low interest - Monitor them.  High Stake / Low Interest - Keep them informed. Taking this information into account, you may wish to do a simple analysis on the interest level and the “stake”/importance of stakeholders in your project to figure out the best ways to keep them involved. An example chart is to your right. 

When we at LLC start projects, we put particular emphasis on who needs to be consulted about the work we’re doing. We often create advisory committees to ensure we’re creating channels for stakeholder input so that we can utilize the vast resources and experiences of those closest to the problems. Also, keep in mind too that part of creating real change is getting voices involved that may not normally be at the table. Make sure you pay attention to everyone who is going to be impacted, as they likely have something very valuable to contribute.

Communication plays a large part in the organizational process and can have huge implications for client/sponsor satisfaction and the overall success of the project. Delineating with the client and with the team how everyone will communicate is an important part of figuring out the flow of information. Calls or video conferences or face-to-face meetings? How regularly? How will people collaborate? Google docs or Wiki?

Now it’s time to assemble your team and talk with your client. One of the next important things is having a kick-off meeting. Usually there is one done externally with the client, but there may also need to be an internal kick-off meeting to help determine items like, a) where the documents will be stored, b) how the team will communicate - chat, phone, email, etc., c) what’s the overall timeline, and d) how each staff member (or consultant) fits into the project and what they’re responsible for. We will also involve our administrative staff on the new project so that we can discuss invoice dates and how the project is structured financially. Some of our projects will be billed when a particular deliverable is done and so keeping cashflow in mind, and good communication between project managers and administration, is key.

Checklists? Check!
Finally, one of the best self-organizational tactics I can mention for the whole beginning of a project is creating a system of checklists. If you’re like us, we immediately add our new projects to all our documents and platforms. We add an hours category to Harvest and add the project to Basecamp. There’s a lot to keep track of and we start new projects all the time. Just creating a checklist to make sure you’ve done everything you need is a valuable asset.

Here’s an example of one of my checklists for starting the project:

Finalize timeline
Add project to overall timeline template
Update deliverables document (this document has all the deliverables for the whole organization)
Add project to Harvest
Add project to Basecamp
Analyze stakeholders
Schedule a kick-off meeting with the team

Schedule a kick-off meeting with the client/sponsor


This article is part of a series on project management systems for nonprofits. Here are the first and the second articles.