Project management tips for non-profits

In Yellowknife, we have many non-profit organizations trying to accomplish a variety of projects. Sometimes it can overwhelm an organization, but it doesn’t have to, and good project management can be the difference between success and disaster.

With nearly 20 years of varying project experience, I have discovered effective project management is the same no matter the “type” of project. It’s also largely the same in a for-profit company and non-profit organization.

Let’s start by providing a little clarification on what a project is. Projects have a specified beginning and end, as well as clear and achievable objectives relevant to Time, Cost, Scope and Quality. Ultimately, a project creates a unique product, service or a deliverable result, unlike operations, which are continually in progress. An example of a simple project could be creating a website or Facebook page to collect donations. On the other hand, a project like the future Betty House would be multi-faceted and very complex.

I’ve delivered various projects from multi-million dollar infrastructure developments for the mining industry to numerous housing projects for the NWT Housing Corp. to cart paths and artificial greens for the Yellowknife Golf Course to the entire site set up, operations and tear down for the Long John Jamboree.

Now that we understand what a project is, what is project management? When you take knowledge, skills, tools and techniques and apply them to meet the project requirements, you are now managing a project. It doesn’t have to be difficult, honestly, on the most part it’s fun!

You may not think so, but even the smallest project will benefit from developing a simple plan before getting started. Here are some observations and tips on the basics of project management for non-profits unfamiliar with the project-management process.

• Projects need a plan that identifies goals, defines scope and assigns tasks with measurable outcome criteria. Non-profits are eligible for free or low-cost project management software. Tech Soup at www.techsoupcanada.ca is an example.

• The project must further the strategic goals of the organization, which means it should tie-in with some organizational objectives.

• Projects need a schedule with task details, dependencies, assignments and periodic reviews and reporting. This can be as simple as setting up an Excel Spreadsheet listing who will do what and when.

• How much the project costs really does matter and may be the deciding criteria for whether it is undertaken. Therefore a cost/benefit analysis is a MUST! You can do a simple one by outlining on a Word document the “benefit” of a particular item or service and then identify the “cost” of having that benefit, both in dollars and time spent to realize it. You can then present this to your Board or Committee for discussion and approval.

• No matter how elaborate or simple a project, tools for planning, costing, scheduling and resource management will be required. Some of these tools are Microsoft Project 2010, some form of spreadsheet and, ideally, access to database storage such as the new “clouds” so that all members of your Board or Committee can access and share information.

• Effective communication with key stakeholders is essential. This can mean using old classics like phone calls and emails to communicate when need be, but don’t be afraid to branch out and make use of social media. It’s simple to use and has minimal cost.

• Risks must be identified and managed. Don’t go overboard; identify the most likely and greatest impact risks and outline the preventative measures. You can do this by using a technique that’s an oldie but a goodie called a SWOT Analysis. Take the time to identify your organization’s Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats.

• Projects change during execution. Expect to have to change the plan to accommodate changes in the environment or organization. This is especially important for non-profits where board representation can change often but projects may be multi-year. Be flexible!

And there you have it. All the best with your organization’s project!

Cory Vanthuyne is a Consultant specializing in Project Management, a member of the Project Management Institute and owner of CORVAN Consultants Ltd.

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