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Project Planning to Start Your Year Off Right

Do you remember those days at the beginning of each school year when you would sharpen your pencils, buy a new Trapper Keeper, and place your required school supplies in your backpack? You were ready and eager to start off the school year on the right path. As we get older and more engrossed in our routines and work, we become less enchanted by the thought of starting anew. I will even venture to say that many of us might dislike (or even fear) change. 

I can speculate that some of this trepidation comes from feeling overwhelmed with many tasks on your plate. In addition to some of your expected work of grant applications and reports, drafting annual appeal letters, researching funders, and other fundraising tasks, you might also have more on your plate this year. Do you have a new strategic plan you need to implement? A capital campaign to launch? A new and improved online tool to which you need to transfer gigabytes of programmatic or financial data? All of our day to day tasks can leave your head spinning. How do we get past this?
Step 1: Remind yourself that you are a project manager. Yes, you are! Here are the signs.
  1. You manage multiple tasks, deadlines, stakeholders, personnel.
  2. You are responsible for overseeing a process that has a definitive beginning and end point.
  3. Your oversight is critical to the success of the endeavor.
  4. As a project manager, you see synergies and connections between tasks, and can have input into developing processes that work!
Step 2: Prioritize, prioritize, prioritize. You should think critically about all of the tasks on your plate and determine what can be addressed in the short-term, mid-term and long-term. I imagine that most of this prioritization is deadline- (and leadership) driven, so work backward to see if there are items you can start planning now that will impact your work in the coming months. Prioritization helps to make a large task more digestible.
Step 3: Determine the resources you need for success. Depending on the size and number of projects on your plate (I do consider the completion of a grant application or report to be a distinct project), you may need additional resources. These resources may include human capital, technology or equipment for you to be set up for success. Thinking through this step will also help you determine the items that you need to address versus those tasks that you can readily hand off.
Step 4: Create your 2017 plan. Whether you use an Excel spreadsheet or project management/ grants management software to track upcoming deadlines and deliverables, I like to map out each element from the deadline and moving backward, allocating resources as needed. Here's a list of some suggestions of information to include: Project name, starting date, deadline for each task, resources needed, comments/considerations and also potential risks or issues that may arise.
Step 5: Review and repeat. This plan should be reviewed weekly, if not daily. Make sure your plan is active, and you update it as needed. View this as your grown-up version of a Trapper Keeper (minus the stars and balloons).
What will you do to get a jumpstart on your projects?
Rachel Werner is the Owner and CEO of RBW Strategy, LLC and provides grants and project management consulting support to nonprofits, government and business entities.