Ideas, suggestions and general thoughts about project management for development.

Become a better planner

b2ap3_thumbnail_Planner.pngManaging the expectations of beneficiaries, donors and maintaining stakeholder relationships is important to the long term success of any project. Planning can be the difference between success and failure. Whether you are managing a small project or a multi-year program, planning is a critical element for successful project.

Here are 3 quick tips on how you can become a better planner.

  • Strengths and weaknesses. Figure out where your strengths are and where your weakness may lie. As a project manager you don’t need to develop all the project plans, work on those that you know you have expertise and delegate or ask others with more experience to do the plans where your skills are not too strong. For example, you may be good at decomposing the project using  a Work Breakdown Structure (WBS), but you may now know much about using a scheduling software to find our the project critical path.
  • Plan with SMART goals in mind. Set some reachable short term goals. How many milestones do you want to make this month? How many beneficiaries do you want to reach? How many events will you present this month? Set a goal and reach it. Work the project details on short term goals; don’t spend too much time of defining the tasks for objectives that are still months or even years away in your project plan. Projects are built on assumptions, and assumptions tend to change.
  • See the big picture. Make sure your plan is aligned to the end goals of the project, that you will connect your plan with the expected results and not just the achievement of activities. Monitor progress of you plan and make changes as needed.
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How to Conduct Effective Project Meetings

b2ap3_thumbnail_meetings_20140423-162305_1.pngAs part of the role of the project manager is to make sure that the project is progressing as expected and that any issues are being addressed. Project meetings are one of the most common ways of doing this; here are some tips that will help making effective project meetings.  All project meetings should have an agenda. The creation of the agenda can be as simple as writing it in an email and sending it to the meeting participants.  On the first team meeting make sure everyone understands the agenda format. Once everyone understands the purpose and the regular flow, the standard agenda model can be reused every time.

  • For a large group of people attending the meetings, it is very helpful to have a meeting facilitator; in some cases it would be preferable to have somebody outside the project who has facilitating skills. For the regular ongoing status meetings, the facilitator is usually the project manager.
  • Ensure the participants know ahead of time what they need to bring to the meeting or any advance preparation that needs to take place. Make it a rule that only the people that need to be there are invited. Inviting other people not involved in the agenda topics to be discussed may distract and mitigate the effectiveness of the meeting.
  • Make it a practice that the meeting should start on time, with some allowance for those that may be coming from another meeting.
  • The first item on the meeting is that the project manager should explain the purpose and the expected outcome of the meeting, and make sure that to follow the agenda and watch · the time to make sure everything gets covered.
  • A team member should be in charge of document any action items assigned during the meeting. The documents will become the meeting minutes that will be circulated to all participants after the meeting.
  • The meeting minutes should recap all outstanding action items toward the end of the meeting, including who is responsible, what is expected, and when the action item is due. The meeting minutes should also recap any decisions that were made and that will be followed in the next project meeting.

 Keep The Meetings Focused

To keep a focus on the meeting keep the time to discuss general status, issues, scope and risks. These are the key components to check on the overall project health and should be of interest to all team members. Allow some space for some problem solving, but making sure that the problems are of interest to most of the team members. The most common complaint in project meetings is that they take too long. Long meetings are usually caused by too much problem solving that is not relevant to all of the meeting participants. A good practice to simply stick to the time allocated to the meeting. For example, if a meeting is taking too much time and still cannot complete all the items on the agenda, then end the meeting and take any other outstanding issues offline or to a separate meeting that focuses on these items with the people that are most interested.

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