Whenever we plan an event, an in-depth meeting, a social gathering, or virtual experience Reach Partners will always argue for the same thing. Every time.
This thing is the most important detail for every planned interaction. It is the life blood of our work and what drives us to do better every day. Most importantly it’s the power, the energy that fuels the work at hand.
How do you tap into this energy? How do you make it work for you? Draw the right audience? Craft the right marketing activities? Align stakeholders? Create value?
You start by defining purpose.
Even in the best of times, work can be confusing. Efforts can be duplicated, messages mixed, and (wrong) assumptions made. Signals get crossed and, inevitably, something falls through the cracks.
When we’re adjusting to chaos, those challenges are amplified. Let’s face it, these recent days of working from home with new “coworkers” and in less-than-ideal settings can make everything feel difficult. It takes more coordination and communication to make sure good work happens. In short, it takes clarity.
We should seek clarity even when our projects and work world haven’t been turned upside down. Lack of clarity at any time often leads to confusion and, subsequently, disarray.
Every company gets to the point where it needs to hire an outside vendor or consultant.
Maybe you’ve hired someone to assist with marketing materials or accounting needs. Maybe you’ve contracted with someone to help you determine future staffing opportunities or to complete a one-off project.
At Reach Partners, we often step in when a business’s internal team is too busy to complete a job or an organization needs our expertise in planning and problem-solving.
We’ve been asked to determine the best way to move 18,000 people from numerous parking lots to an event site in less than three hours. Our clients have hired us to launch a seminar series in three states and to keep a coalition of experts on task.
Every single time, we see ourselves as partners – not just vendors or consultants, but actual partners.
Huh? What’s the difference?
For us, being a partner means we’re a seamless extension of another team. We bring value and structure to a process, but we don’t take it over. Our favorite successes are when a client’s clients or colleagues don’t even know we’re part of the process.
So, how do you know when you’ve hired an actual partner – and not just somebody who completes the job?
Enjoy your partnerships!
With a 150th anniversary approaching, leaders in Otter Tail County knew they had a once-in-a lifetime opportunity to celebrate the region’s history and culture. People were excited and passionate about getting involved in the milestone event, but that enthusiasm came with a price tag.
“The more ideas there were, the more opportunities there were for things to get chaotic,” says Nick Leonard, communications and external relations director for the county.
Key stakeholders including the Otter Tail County Historical Society and the Otter Tail Lakes County Association established a planning committee for the sesquicentennial, but the group needed someone to serve as a single point person for communication and project management.
Reach Partners stepped in, helping with event strategy and support.
The committee established a budget and goals for the celebration. Anita from Reach Partners helped to keep these things on track.
“She knew when to dig deeper and ask questions, and when to challenge the group,” Leonard says. “Thanks to her, we stayed hyper-focused on our plans.”
While the committee wanted to promote the region, it decided the 150th was an opportunity to celebrate all who live, work and play in the county. The committee met monthly to identify and plan events. Major events for the celebration included a musical production written for the anniversary, an ice-themed winter gathering, and a historical reenactment of the first county commission meeting. Other events included community walking tours and historical displays.
Events were held over the span of a year and throughout the geographically expansive county, but planning started months earlier.
“There were a lot of moving parts,” Anita says. “These are people who love their county and they wanted to celebrate.”
To help the group stay on task, Anita created agendas for each meetings. She identified logistics that needed to be addressed for the major events. She also managed a micro-grant program that offered support for community projects that promoted Otter Tail County and its history.
Planning and coordinating numerous events can be stressful and time intensive, especially for staff who don’t do this regularly. Asking Reach Partners, which has the expertise and experience, to take on this role was an easy choice, Leonard says.
“Planning a big event is one of the most visible things you do as an organization. It leaves a lasting impression on people. You want to make sure it’s done well,” Leonard says.
PHOTO CREDITS: Dan Broten. All photos were taken at Otter Tail County's 150th anniversary kick-off event.
We believe we can do better together; it’s one of our values. But we also know that teams can struggle to get work done together.
Teamwork sounds good in theory. The more, the merrier, right? And yet, when it comes to accomplishing tasks, it often seems easier to do it alone.
The problem is that teams often neglect to clarify and define roles, ensuring that their work is an uphill (or circular!) battle. Without clear roles and communication, a project slows. A lack of clarity creates redundancies and conflict; it encourages passive-aggressive behavior and wastes time.
To set the stage for a successful project, you first need to be clear on roles. To do this, answer two basic questions: what and who. A team needs to understand what skills are needed and who brings them: Who needs to provide input or make recommendations? Who is authorized to make decisions? Who is responsible for carrying those decisions out?
Understanding the answers to these questions will eliminate unnecessary frustration, friction, and unproductive competition between members of a team. If your role or somebody else’s role isn’t clear to you, it’s not clear to others.
As global business consultant Tamara Erikson wrote in the Harvard Business Review: “Collaboration improves when the roles of individual team members are clearly defined and well understood.”
Here’s how to do it:
What Is a Role?
A role is the part or position a team member plays in a particular operation or process. Some roles are formal; many are not. Formal roles include those whose name or title describes “what” they’re responsible for. For example, a project manager or a writer may fall into this category.
Teams often have people who do not have formal titles but have skills, experience, or knowledge that contribute to the outcome of our projects. Naming these roles can become complex and yet, it’s necessary or people will fill default roles.
Unless they’re told otherwise, people will assume a role because of interests, skills, personality type, motivations, or attitude. An extrovert may become the team’s catalyst to propel a team with energy and positivity, while someone with high analytical skill will provide insights and check possibilities against realities.
These are the realities that make teams valuable. But be sure everyone understands “who” needs to do and know “what.”
Tools for Defining Roles
Our top tool for defining roles is a RACI chart.
While organizational charts show hierarchies and decision-makers, a RACI chart shows roles so much better. It’s a valuable tool when working with clients, vendors, in coalitions, or when volunteering on a board.
A RACI chart is a matrix that assigns roles and responsibilities in categories of tasks. This sets expectations for people working together.
To make a RACI chart, begin by creating a row of team members across the top. List all needed tasks, milestones, or decisions on the left side.
Now indicate who is responsible, accountable, consulted, and informed in the intersecting cells.
Many examples of this tool exist online. One of my favorites is this Lord of the Rings example (the article on RACI charts is great, too).
If you are striving to empower others to get their work done, it may be a very helpful tool to use at the beginning of a project at work or as a volunteer.
We find the best use is to create a RACI chart with the team. This allows the group to grow a deeper understanding of the project tasks. The more clearly understand who needs to complete a task, whose expertise is needed, and who has the final say on decisions.
Like any tool, use it, manipulate, or modify in the way that works for your team.
We’re going to let you in on a project management secret. The hardest part of any project isn’t achieving the actual outcomes – it’s managing the expectations and needs of the people who are involved.
Surprised? Probably not.
After all, if you’ve ever worked on a project, you know that one person can easily promote a plan – or derail it. That’s why identifying your stakeholders and determining how best to keep them informed is critical to the success of any project.
Stakeholder analysis is a useful tool that helps you understand stakeholders’ expectations throughout the project lifecycle. Once you understand expectations, you can communicate in a way that creates enthusiasm, trust, and excitement. These are the emotional responses you need to build the good will that will help you usher a project to the finish line.
As Mannon Deguire put it in “Greatness, A Place Beyond Stakeholders’ Expectations:” “Projects are about hope. They need to be exciting because it is the excitement that energizes the system and gives us the energy to do the work and spend the time and money to accomplish a project.”
So, how do you start?
First, take a moment to write down everyone who is a potential stakeholder.
Then take time to answer these questions for each stakeholder category:
Once you’ve completed the analysis, you’ll be able to build a plan for communication or stakeholder engagement. The plan can include key messages for each stakeholder or stakeholder group and additional details, such as the way those messages will be delivered (email, meeting, report, or phone call) and how often (weekly, daily, or project start and end).
Experience has taught us that projects are about communication, communication and communication. As long as you can inform your stakeholders in a timely, appropriate manner, they’ll remain happy and your project is likely to succeed.
Every day of the year, we are grateful for our partners and the work we do with them. This time of year, however, gives us even more excuses to reflect on what brings meaning to our work.
Over the years, we’ve been fortunate to help amazing organizations host events and complete special projects. We are grateful for the relationships we’ve built and honored to use our skills to bring value to those who connect with us.
This Thanksgiving we’d like to share a few projects that we are particularly grateful for being involved with. (And we certainly had many wonderful ones to choose from.)
Thank you, all, for being a part of Reach Partners!
Training for Better Communication
Mental Health America of North Dakota wanted to change how sensitive stories about suicide are shared. We helped plan and oversee a conference for news media and organizational spokespeople so they could learn the best way to present information on suicide.
More about the North Dakota Suicide Communications Summit.
Guiding Strategy for Event Planning
Organizations often reach out to us when they want to plan an event to market their brand. Here’s how we worked with two organizations – and how they came to different conclusions after we guided them through the planning process. Spoiler alert: Sometimes NOT hosting an event is the best way forward.
More about strategic event planning.
Partnering with The Fargo Project
When the City of Fargo partnered with a renowned artist to turn a stormwater basin into an ecological commons, the public entity needed someone to coordinate communication among its stakeholders and help with events and volunteer coordination. We stepped into this role.
More about our role with The Fargo Project.
Scouting Locations for a Commercial
We are always eager to tap our connections and networks. That’s what we did when a local marketing agency needed to identify locations for a team of out-of-town videographers to film backdrops for a commercial – fast!
More about how we found the locations.
And so many more wonderful projects and partnerships.
You likely think every project kicks off when the action begins.
In actuality, every project begins long before then.
In fact, every project starts in the same way – with a charter, whether it’s formal or informal.
With a . . . what?
If you’ve never heard about this project management work horse, it’s not surprising. A charter is one of the most important aspects of any project, but it’s also one of the least talked about deliverables.
Here’s what you need to know:
The charter is a reference document that outlines the essence of a project. It’s a road map of sorts that provides a shared understanding of the project while giving authority to the project manager to apply resources to get things done. Simply, it’s a place to gather all the basic information about your project in one place.
There is no universal formula for a charter. Not every charter has to be as formal as a contract (although it could be). But we find that it helps to document in writing the expectations, scope, objectives and deliverables required to make something happen.
After all, a charter shares the big picture of the project. It provides the basis for making decisions and communicates the project scope to the team or other stakeholders.
The components of a project charter include the expectations, scope that defines the project, objectives and deliverables and time needed to justify the project. A formal charter may note high level issues and risks, list resources, milestones and budget.
Some things to include in your next project’s charter:
Background, Purpose, Problem or Opportunity: Why are you doing the project? Why does the project fit the organization’s needs? What benefits are achieved through this project? What problem are you trying to solve? What opportunity is addressed through this project?
Goals or Objectives: What are you going to achieve and when? State what project success means and how to measure success. Use S.M.A.R.T. (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Timebound) goals.
Scope: Describe the boundaries of the project: the requirements, features, functions, or key characteristics of the product or service. State what is critical for the project to be successful. What actions will you and your team take to complete the project? Sometimes it’s helpful to outline what is not included in the project scope. List the deliverables plus the final result.
Stakeholders: Identify everybody who is affected by the results or involved in the work. Know who can make decisions and has power or influence over resources.
Milestones: Include the event dates beyond the start and target end that are important.
Resources: Identify the budget, team members, materials, or tools needed for the project. With a solid project charter in place, you and those you work with will have a clearer understanding of where you’re heading and how you’re going to get there.
In any profession, there’s a list of terms that make sense to insiders but may be confusing to those outside the field.
Project management is no different.
While we pride ourselves on making things clear and easy to follow, project managers have their own vocabulary. If you understand the lingo, you’ll better be able to ask questions and follow the conversation. You’ll confidently know that you’re on the same page as everyone else.
The Project Management Institute regularly updates A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge. This publication describes the industry’s best practices, plus it provides a common vocabulary for consistency.
Here are 10 terms that often fall in everyday conversation about projects and project management. Know these and you’ll be versed in how to talk to a project manager.
Charter: This document authorizes the existence of a project and provides the project manager with the authority to apply organizational resources to project activities.
Deliverable: Any unique and verifiable product, result, or the capability to perform a service that is required to produce to complete a process, phase, or project.
Project: Temporary efforts with a clear start and finish. Projects are not ongoing. Projects have an end result – something created or completed.
Project Management: The applications of knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques to project activities to meet the project requirements.
Requirement: A condition or capability that is required to be present in a product, service, or result.
Resource: Skilled human resources, equipment, services, supplies, commodities, materials, budgets, or funds.
Risk: An uncertain event or a condition that, if it occurs, has a positive or negative effect on one or more project objectives.
Scope: The sum of the products, services, and results to be provided as a project.
Stakeholder: An individual, group. or organization that may affect, or may be affected by, or perceive to be affected by decisions, activity, or outcome of a project.
Stakeholder Engagement (or Management) Plan: Processes, procedures, tools and techniques to effectively engage stakeholders in project decisions and execution based on the analysis of needs, interests, and potential impact.
Work Breakdown Structure: A step-by-step summary of the work the project team needs to complete to accomplish the project objectives and create the required deliverables.
Even if “project manager” isn’t part of your title or job description, you likely will have to oversee a project at some point in your career. After all, projects occur at every level of all organizations, industries and professions.
Maybe you’ve been asked to organize a day-long staff retreat or a special anniversary celebration. Or maybe you’ve been asked to coordinate art and text for a marketing campaign.
For projects both complex and simple, a practical and solid plan can make everything flow more smoothly – AND make you look brilliant. (And who doesn’t want that?)
In short, everyone can benefit from a few project management skills.
Whether you’re new to project management or are looking for a few tools to effectively run your own projects, we recommend starting with these five tips.
1. Identify the project objectives.
Every project begins with two questions: What is your understanding of the task? and What will the deliverable look like? Don’t even think about starting a project until you answer those. Jot the answers into a document. This is the start of your project charter, a go-to document that lists the project basics from goals and scope to budget and timeline. This helps you communicate with stakeholders and measure progress. Use it!
2. Develop action steps.
“Begin at the beginning," advised the King as he prompted Alice in Wonderland to tell about her adventures. That’s good advice for managing a project too. Start by listing the first three steps. Categorize each task. Continue this process until you’ve listed every action step needed to get the work done. This work breakdown structure is basically a glorified (and very detailed!) to-do list. It will help you identify where team members and other resources are needed.
3. Get organized.
Maybe you've never won any “most organized” awards. Now is the time to do better. Capture ideas, requests and actions using one notebook, sticky notes, or an Excel document. Experiment using digital tools like Trello to keep you and resources in one place. The type of tool you use is less important than being confident that you know what is required, the action steps needed, and most important, how to communicate them to the team. What tools work for you?
4. Identify risks.
For project managers, a risk is anything that she doesn't have control over. For example, could less funding come through than estimated? Might a timeline be crunched because of a scheduled vacation? What if an event sells out quickly or a new product is so popular that supply can't keep up with demand?
Take a few minutes to list all of the risks that may affect your project. (Go ahead – put them in the project charter.) Think about both positive and negative events that you can't control. Once you've identified the risks, you can work on finding solutions or contingency actions to mitigate them. Trust us. You will never regret taking the time to think through potential risks and brainstorming ways to turn them into opportunities.
5. Communicate. Communicate. Communicate.
As your project moves forward, be sure to track and communicate project progress. Be sure you know who your team and stakeholders are. Think about what information they need and how frequently they need it – and the best way to reach them. Tools for sharing your progress include communication plans, meeting agendas and project reports. Communicate frequently road blocks, successes, failures, resource needs, meetings, and action steps. You can never over-communicate.
These five steps will get any project heading in the right direction. And you’ll know you’ve done everything you can to make it successful.