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.
Woo-hoo! Congratulations. You did it. You convinced your CEO/boss/manager to move forward with that next big project. You’re excited. Giddy, even.
Once the adrenaline level drops, however, reality hits. You need to make it happen.
It’s true: you may be able to complete the project on your own. You may have the skills, experience, and time to devote to a new initiative or event.
If you don’t, however, it may be time to hire a project manager.
Hiring a project manager may feel extravagant or luxurious. But, like any investment, it makes sense to bring in someone who has the experience and professional skills to make sure your project succeeds.
Kayla Gefroh, owner of Purpose Learning Group in Fargo, describes it this way:
Imagine you’ve scheduled a trip to Spain and find out that a close friend lived there for several years. Now, imagine that you invite him/her along on your trip and they agree to take over the planning.
You give them a budget, the dates of the trip, and other important details. Your friend, having lived there previously, has a great sense of how far the budget will go. He or she tells you which airport is best to fly into and whether public transportation is reliable. Your friend suggests hotels and identifies the must-see sites.
Now, the time has come for your trip. Your friend (who is now your tour guide) has planned each day. On the first day you expect to visit an incredible tourist attraction that is outside, but it’s pouring rain. Since your friend is a great guide, he/she has a “plan B” ready. In fact, he/she even expected that rain was likely on this day and suggested alternative activities the night before – just in case.
In addition, your friend speaks Spanish!
Indeed. A great project manager has been there, done that. She’ll have backup plans to mitigate any unforeseen risks and will pack an umbrella. She’ll help you stay within your budget.
Best of all, she speaks the language!
That’s one reason Brady Helland, a project manager with Sundt Construction in Tempe, Arizona, recommends hiring a project manager.
“Project managers often have a unique ability to speak the language of both an individual contributor and the client or stakeholder,” he says.
This is an often unrecognizable and undervalued skill. “Take note of the collaboration and communication environment the next time you have a chance to work with a project manager,” he adds.
After all, project managers are skilled at being honest, fair, and flexible with team members. They know how to listen well to the needs of a client while keeping the project within scope. These skills mean that project managers can communicate in ways that get all team members working together to accomplish the same goal. They can speak to the writer, the graphic designer, the software developer, the electrician.
Combine these abilities with a project manager’s ability to simplify complex projects, and you have a winning combination – or more importantly, a solid plan for completing your project.
Even better: when projects hit obstacles or something doesn’t go quite as smoothly as planned, Brady reminds us that effective project managers have already identified possible risks (or rain on the plains on your trip to Spain). He or she is ready with possible solutions (and umbrellas!) for you to review and consider.
At Reach Partners, we are grateful for Kayla’s and Brady’s perspectives and their willingness to share.
We believe in the power of good project management. It doesn’t matter if your project is in IT, communications, construction, or an event. Every project benefits from having someone on the team who sees the big picture, someone who can effectively break it down for everyone else and keep an eye on the end goal.
Do you need a project manager? Contact us at Reach Partners and let’s talk!
As project managers, we need to be flexible and versatile. Those skills were important when we assisted Sanford Health in Fargo with the launch of its pilot concierge services.
A framework for the program was in place, but few people within the sprawling health system knew about the plan. The manager of guest services, tasked with overseeing the program in Fargo, needed help sharing the details.
Reach Partners was asked to help inform departments and staff. We then identified how to use each department’s communication touchpoints to distribute details of the new services to patients and their families.
The new concierge services were designed to meet the needs of patients beyond the medical care that happens in the hospital or clinic. For example, the concierge helps out-of-town patients and their families identify nearby hotels and transportation options.
“The patient is taken care of when he or she is in the hospital,” Anita says. “The concierge services are an added value to assist the whole family during that time.”
To bring the project to success, we needed to understand how departments communicated with patients and their families. Anita met with stakeholders who included everyone from the nurses who call patients before day surgery to the hospital’s patient advisory council to emergency room personnel.
She spent much of her time asking questions and documenting feedback.
“We needed to find the best way to get this information to patients and asking good questions was important in doing that,” she says.
After meeting with key staff and determining how best to inform patients and their families, Anita coordinated the completion of communication materials. These included updated phone scripts used for pre-scheduled surgeries, flyers for patient packets and website updates.
“She showed professionalism with her presentation and communication skills, and through this project continues to demonstrate versatility in the ways that Reach Partners can provide business support,” says Chris Hames, guest services manager at Sanford Health.
Sanford’s pilot project was a success.
Thanks, in part, to feedback gathered and information distributed by Reach Partners, the guest services manager justified adding a full-time position to staff the concierge service.
“Hi, Sean. It’s Tom, Tom Brokaw. Just checking in to see if I can start my newscast on time. Are you still on schedule up there in Fargo?”
During 25 years in television . . . and thousands of daily newscasts . . . I never received that phone call from Tom Brokaw. Still, every day my team started and ended its newscasts on time, right down to the second. So did Tom and his team.
If there’s any enduring lesson I carry from those days, it is to be on time. Always. Truth be told, being on time means more than starting on time (never underestimate the value of ending on time), but let’s start at the beginning.
It’s tempting to be flexible with start times. After all, who doesn’t feel obligated to wait for a latecomer or open to letting a crowd socialize a few more minutes.
And yet, the effort it takes to be prompt pays off every single time.
As project managers, we call and lead meetings because there is a project or process underway. We need everyone around the table engaged. For a meeting to have value, everyone in the room needs to feel empowered to give advice, insight, direction, feedback, criticism. As event managers, we may be in charge of the flow for the day. Whether someone’s in a meeting or at an event, they need to feel valued.
By starting promptly, you immediately send a message that the gathering is worthwhile and that you value the people who are attending. By starting on time, you immediately tell everyone in the room: “You are important. Let’s not waste your time.”
The single most consistent way I know to demonstrate how I value someone is to pay attention to her. When a meeting or event starts on time, you can see how a person’s body language responds. You will observe satisfied nods, eye contact, and a more energetic posture.
This stands in stark contrast to the body language shown during meetings or events that don’t start on time. In these scenarios, people drift in and settle into a chair before getting up again to refill their water or coffee. As the appointed start time slides by, they look at their phones (or watches) and start to engage in something else.
It’s like watching a balloon deflate. Pfffffftttttt. Flat. Uninspired. Unworthy.
Starting on time is the ultimate strong opening move. It sets the tone that you are in control and have expectations. It’s a rah-rah step: “Let’s go, team! You are here because this is work or a topic we care about together.”
Starting a meeting on time has the additional benefit of assuring those around you that you are a good steward of resources. After all, if you value time, more than likely you also are careful steward of financial and human resources.
At Reach Partners, we often stand side-by-side with volunteers or client staff as they gather to take that next meaningful step. When people walk into a room and immediately sense direction and purpose, they engage. When they engage right away, the process is more efficient and smoother; the experience is more joyful, the final outcome better.
Think about it in these terms. If your office has motion-sensitive lighting, the lights turn off when there’s no noticeable activity in the conference room. The same thing happens in a meeting. If there’s no momentum, if nothing has started, attendees shut down.
Trust me, once someone in a meeting shuts down, it takes more than an arm wave in the air to get their attention again. It might even take more than doughnuts.
Leave people sitting too long and they will inevitably do the thing we feared the most in television: they will tune you out . . . and it’s awfully hard to get them to tune back in.
Every great project and event starts with great strategy.
This is why we carefully guide our clients to identify their intent: What do they want to accomplish? How will success be defined? Once goals are determined, we identify constraints, such as time, financial resources, human resources. We think through possible risks and barriers.
We expect that good strategy will save time, money and mental energy. And, of course, everything will proceed smoothly.
Except sometimes it doesn’t.
Surprisingly, one of the biggest threats to a successful project isn’t poor strategy or poor planning: it’s the seemingly harmless fuzzy bunny.
Fuzzy bunnies are well-meaning distractions that keep you from focusing on what needs to be addressed.
Speaking of fuzzy bunnies, when I hear the phrase I picture a small rabbit that my dad found in a field nest and brought to our house one Easter. My cousin Maggie, at age 3 or 4, was visiting. She wore a red print dress with a white overlay and she carefully cuddled that little bunny in her tiny hands. So cute. So adorable.
And so off on a tangent.
The point is that fuzzy bunnies are cute and good and cuddly. The latest, new idea is pretty darn cute, too (or at least some individual or group you are working with will think so). That is a problem when the great idea derails a project or doesn’t align with the strategy.
Fuzzy bunnies come from anywhere. Sometimes it’s the visionary folks who thrive on the big picture who can’t help themselves. They enjoy coming up with lots and lots of ideas and they’re pretty good at it, too. Sometimes it’s the more detail-oriented members of a group who fixate on ideas that won’t actually move the project forward.
We’ve worked with clients who wanted to spend precious meeting time discussing menu items that were too expensive for the budget. We’ve guided teams who kept contributing “great ideas” for programs well beyond the time they could be implemented.
Yes, when managing a project you need to be flexible and nimble. But there’s a difference between changing plans because there isn’t a staff member available and changing plans because a new idea popped up.
Bad ideas, of course, are easy to dismiss. But the good ones?
That’s when we turn to the strategy document. If good strategy work has been done, it is relatively easy to determine whether an idea should be explored or set aside.
A strategy document can be simple or complex, but it can’t be placed on a shelf. Its true value appears when it is kept close at hand throughout the entire project. It can be used to review all new ideas, all new solutions to determine whether the idea is helpful or a fuzzy bunny.
Should you entertain the idea of serving lobster on the lunch buffet? Check the budget in your strategy document. Should you rent a billboard because it’s a good deal? Review your strategy document.
It’s powerful and rewarding to see real and tangible experiences rise up from strong strategy. Even more so, it’s exciting to see strategy used to combat the fuzzy bunnies that rear their crazy heads in midst of shaping a project or event.
Let’s keep the fuzzy bunnies where they belong.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Blog adapted from 12/2/14 post.
As organizations and businesses seek to market their brand, they often consider hosting events. Both On the Minds of Moms, a parenting magazine, and Onsharp, a digital marketing agency, asked Reach Partners to help them determine what resources they needed to successfully host an event and to help imagine what the event would look like.
The two organizations had different missions and goals, but Reach Partners used the same process to help each business determine the best route forward.
Reach began by asking each business to identify the stakeholders, the people who needed to be involved in the initial discussions. We then facilitated meetings with the stakeholders.
“It was about asking questions and a lot of listening,” Anita says.
Among other details, Reach Partners asked both businesses to consider five W’s and one H: Who would be involved? Who would attend? What did the event look like? When did they want the event held? Where might it be held? Why did they want an event? How would it look and feel?
Reach Partners then developed a strategic guide and preliminary budget for an event that matched the organization’s needs.
“We didn’t tell them what they should do, but helped them determine their goals and objectives,” Anita says.
After receiving recommendations from Reach Partners, Minds of Moms decided to move forward with the event plan and brought its magazine to life with a one-day gathering.
After Onsharp received its recommendations, it decided to not host a full-fledged event. That said, the process was a success.
“Choosing Reach Partners to help us plan our event strategy was a great decision. They guided us through a process that helped us define success, articulate goals, define a budget and identify a venue. It was exactly the information we needed to make a decision about our next steps. We completed the process much more quickly and effectively than we could have done on our own. And, we had fun along the way,” says Kirsten Jensen, who was Onsharp’s director of marketing at the time.
One thing is certain when you work on any project: decisions need to be made.
Almost equally certain is that someone will mention the need to build consensus. After all, agreement from more people means better outcomes, right?
Thanks to collective points of view, experiences, and knowledge, a team may be better than any individual at providing different perspectives, brainstorming, and evaluating risks. Yet, group dynamics also can cause errors and indecision, which can affect a project’s schedule, budget, or even overall effectiveness.
Not all groups or decisions benefit from group decision-making. But when group decision-making is needed, consensus is one way to go.
Contrary to common belief, consensus does not mean that everyone agrees. It is not the same as unanimity. Consensus means that everyone in the group agrees that they can support and live with the final decision – even if (especially if!) it is not their first choice.
So, when should you seek consensus?
Your team members trust each other and are committed to the project. Consensus-building is possible among team members who share similar levels of expertise, maturity, and knowledge, especially if they assume equal amounts of risk in the project. The group doesn’t have to agree, but should share the attitude that “we’re all in this together.” If there’s a power imbalance within the group, or there are any number of new members, consensus may not be possible. (It may be more of a consensus arm twist.) You may need to consider different models for decision-making if your project team isn’t cohesive or represents varying levels of experience.
You have a skilled facilitator. Consensus-building does not happen on its own. It requires an experienced individual who manage the conversation and group participation to useful outcomes. It’s helpful if this person is a neutral party. Think of a facilitator as a referee (minus the running) who is guided by practice, reminds everyone of the ground rules and intervenes when someone breaks them. This individual holds the process accountable.
Your facilitator is prepared. Again, consensus-building doesn’t happen on its own. More often than not, the facilitator will need to prepare themselves and the group for consensus-building activities. Prepare a solid agenda, select activities appropriate for the time allowed and the make-up of the group, and get ready for work. Recognize that consensus-building means listening, discussing, and evaluating.
You’ve collected adequate information. Good decisions can’t be made without good information. And, let’s face it, sometimes there’s insufficient information. Consensus works best when the facilitator and/or project manager is able to collect and communicate options or alternatives. Consensus is more likely when data can be gathered so that the group can properly assess project needs, project scope and risks.
Your team has time. If you’re racing against the clock, this is not the time to build group cohesion and work toward consensus. Consensus-building requires time: time to prepare, time to facilitate, time to discuss, time to weigh and eliminate options.
Once you’ve decided that your situation is ideal for consensus-building, the process can still be challenging. Be willing to reach into your toolkit. Use a consensus-building tool to get a team to support a decision:
Building consensus is time-consuming and sometimes uncomfortable, but it’s worth the effort in the right situation.
In what kinds of projects will you try to gain consensus?
We all know that projects take time and effort. Whether planning an event, constructing a building, or installing public art, we expect to spend hours on the project timeline, project budget, and project deliverables.
What sometimes gets forgotten (or even lost!) in the discussion are the people involved or affected by the project, i.e. the stakeholders.
Stakeholders have a degree of buy-in, ownership, or influence over the final product. They’re the people who bring their own biases and expectations to the table. They’re the people who will sing the project’s praises or complain bitterly about the outcome.
In short, they’re the people who will determine the success of the project – and they might not even be involved in the daily work.
So how do you keep them engaged and pleased with the final outcome?
At Reach Partners, we spend a lot of energy connecting and communicating with the people whose opinions can make a project sink or soar. Also known as stakeholder management, this process takes a lot of effort. That hard work pays off as projects keep moving forward and succeed.
Here are some tips we’ve found helpful:
Frequent touch points and empathetic listening are key to building trust; trust leads to happier stakeholders.
Effort spent nurturing these relationships is energy well-spent.