Project Management Essentials for Project Success

A project is an activity with a specific goal in mind and a clear beginning and end. Unlike ongoing services and operations, a project will end, ideally, with the accomplishment of the stated goal. Identifying clear goals and establishing a project plan is critical to effective utilization of resources. It is important that the following questions are asked for every project by the staff team, led by the executive director.

An article in describes very well the role of the project leader, and in many cases, this would be one of your professional staff team members or you as the chief staff executive. The project leader is the first ingredient of a successful project. In the quote below, this leader is the “team’s No.1 cheerleader and chief encourager”:

Every project needs a leader who supports the process, the team and client. They are the team’s No.1 cheerleader and chief encourager, but at the same time, not afraid to call out the team when they drop the ball; they bring balance to the project and team. Leading them well means to serve them by taking responsibility for how you as a project manager are going to make your team’s life better today. Be the person that moves mountains for them. Be the one that greases the wheels. Be the one to move all the barriers that could get in their way.”

The Stages of Project Management and Questions to Answer

In a project, we see these as the essential stages of project management and the questions to ask during each of these stages:

Identify the Problem

  • What problem or gap needs to be addressed?

  • What is the project to be completed?

  • State a clear desired outcome

Develop the Plan

  • How will the desired outcome be reached?

  • Consider management, budget, resources, timeline, potential risks

  • Gather resources (people, technology, information)

  • Set clear expectations including responsibilities and communication plan

Execute the Plan

  • Put the plan into motion

  • Meet and discuss often to make sure initiatives stay on track

Monitor the Plan

  • Track progress using performance measures

Wrap-Up and Report Out

  • Communicate outcome

  • Document successes and challenges

Maximizing Project Effectiveness

Nonprofits are taxed with the unique situation of utilizing volunteers in project execution. While the motivation and quality of work can be exceptional, it is important for associations to respect the distinct considerations that come along with engaging volunteers.

  • Maintaining motivation is key. Help volunteers tap into the “why” of what they are supposed to do to keep them inspired. We not only want to give volunteers a “job” to do but we need to better understand what is in it for them as well. Motivation leads to retention. And volunteer satisfaction leads to recruitment, as more individuals will want to volunteer given the great experience.

  • Take advantage of specific skills and interests that volunteers offer. This will lead to higher quality of work, and a higher sense of fulfillment on their part. The key is to understand the gaps in what staff can provide and filling those gaps with volunteers. Volunteer gap management is a great tool and one that should be employed. But, it must be clear that the volunteer is serving a specific role and that governance should never cross into management. Therefore, it is recommended to steer away from using board members in this capacity.

  • Respect schedules and other commitments to reduce overload. It is important to state upfront the desired time commitment by a volunteer. By providing this information in the beginning, along with what is required and what they will gain from the experience, it allows individuals to make the decision as to whether the opportunity is a good fit for them. Respect the established boundaries throughout the project.

Technology in Project Management

Managing a project can be daunting and overwhelming when it comes to tracking progress and more importantly, reporting on the progress made. There are many cloud-based services that help you to easily track and manage projects within your organization. A spreadsheet is no longer is sufficient given the complexity of the projects and the number of staff and volunteers that are involved.

One caveat is to avoid complex solutions that require more time managing the system than managing the project. Basecamp,, and many other project management tools are available. When evaluating a solution, consider the following:

  1. Does it provide the features that you are seeking?
  2. Is it easy to us by both your professional staff team and the volunteers?
  3. Does it meet your budget?
  4. Does it provide practical and real-time status updates? Can your team and volunteers easily update their status?
  5. Does it all you to set reminders for team members?
  6. Does it allow for uploads of documents and reports that are due in the project?

Regardless of the solution you choose, it might be worth trying out one or more of these systems to determine which one would be the best fit. Many provide 30-90-day free trials that make it easy to test drive. Use them in smaller projects and identify functionality gaps to determine if you can do without them or need to move on to another system.

Importance of Project Management

A board member said to me, “I don’t know what is in progress in the organization, what I am supposed to be doing, let alone knowing what everyone else on the board is doing. It is frustrating and I am thinking of stepping off the board.” We don’t want frustration to build when roles are not clear and projects are not defined.

Project Management is integral in:

  • Execution… after the board meeting
  • Alignment between the board and staff
  • Making progress on the strategic plan
  • Creating harmony across teams
  • Developing a culture of “getting things done”
  • Instilling a sense of accomplishment for your staff and volunteers

Whatever the project, large or small, it takes a structured approach to ensure that it is efficient, provides role clarity, and can be achieved in the timeframe set. Employing project management is critical in project success.