Project Management, or My Brain is Too Full to Think of a Clever Title

I'm at one of the sessions I probably most need: "Project Management: Making Life Easier," by Shelby Radcliffe. Project: A job that is done once. Shelby argues that we are all project managers. For those of us who work in fundraising operations, our natural tendency to create checklists, and even to put things we've already done on the list -- just so we can check it off -- is what has led us to our career choice in the first place.

The best projects work because of the quality of the planning. Investment of time in planning saves time overall. Project leadership involves: motivation, negotiation, team building, communication and decision-making. Consider, of these, which are your strong suits, and what do do to compensate for your weaknesses. Similarly, consider the project plan from project design to planning to testing to implementation, and consider which parts you are least likely to be good at. For me, it's definitely finalizing and maintaining the end result -- I love the planning, but grow bored toward the end of the process. Once it's been figured out, I'm ready to move on to the next thing.

Shelby is highlighting some of the common challenges in project management. Clarify issues of authority through negotiating your role. This is common for prospect researchers, who often have stellar management skills, but lack authority in the organization. Deal with confusion through defining roles. Address scope creep through project agreements. Change can be handled through mid-project redesign. Shelby does not recommend, "Who Moved My Cheese?" It's good to realize that if you are a project manager, you are probably comfortable with change, but most people are not. Morale can be bolstered by identifying success markers -- break the project up into milestones that can be celebrated along the way.

When deciding how much a project needs to be planned and documented, consider time, resources, partners, visibility, stakeholders. Bucknell, where Shelby works, uses what she calls the "Starbucks method": dividing projects into tall, grande and venti. Each project requires a different level of documentation. This helps to prevent her team from becoming overwhelmed by project management requirements. Shelby requires a project plan in writing for every project. Projects are much more difficult to change once they are underway, so doing thorough documentation up front can prevent major problems down the road.

Communication is also a key. Shelby points out that folks in the research world are very much relationship managers, but not with donors -- with our colleagues. We can also be a key bridge between the introverted I.T. staff and the relationship-oriented development staff. Also, the less fun it is to communicate... the more important it is.

Time planning -- however long you think a project will take -- double it. And, if you need five hours to do a project, block out five hours on your calendar. The key to time planning is to be "aggressive and appropriate."

We talked a bit about reminding project team members without nagging. Give context for the reminder, work through the supervisor if you need to, send out regular progress updates to create positive competitive pressure, use flattery where applicable.

Evaluate every project. You'll learn: how to replicate what worked in a similar project, team dynamics, strengths and weaknesses of yourself and other team members. You'll have something to brag about. People who come after you will thank you.

Resources for project management: Project Management Institute, which has also published a big old book. Consider working with I.T. and other departments to come up with a common framework for project management at your institution. Talk to someone who works in construction management (college campus -- talk to your facilities department) or your I.T. department -- you are likely to find solid expertise here.

Someone asked a question about using software. Shelby says, it depends on how much this is a piece of your job. Maybe it's a tool you use personally, but don't expect others to use. Consider using a blog to communicate about your project.