At some point every Christian leader will end up being called upon to lead some kind of project but find that they have few project management skills. The projects may be short and quick such as putting together and running a special service or church anniversary weekend. At the other end of the spectrum they might be large and challenging. In a church situation this may mean be being responsible for some kind of building work.
The lack of project management training or experience of many Christian leaders can be an enormous stress factor for them. Whilst natural organisational ability is enormously helpful, in itself it is no guarantee of any project being both successful and low stress.
This article lists 7 key tips to help you negotiate the journey of bringing your project to a successful conclusion and reducing your stress on the way.
1) Be absolutely clear about what is to be achieved.
The factor that causes more project failure than any other, is, not knowing with clarity, what is the goal of the project. If you don’t know this, how can you deliver the outcome? How will you know when the project is finished? The first principle of project management is knowing with clarity what is to be achieved.
Think through all the aspects that need to be addressed or will be affected. Identify what you need to achieve for each of these.
Take time to work this out with everyone who has a say – the stakeholders. Write it down and agree it with signatures. You may think this to be overkill but if nothing else it is about protecting relationships. Memories fade and misunderstandings arise. These lead to disputes which can be terribly damaging for the individuals as well as the organisation or church involved. If it’s written down and agreed many such problems can be avoided.
Writing down your agreement it is a golden rule. I have seen friendships destroyed because agreements were not written down.
2) Be absolutely clear about how the project goal is to be achieved.
What you want to achieve and how you will achieve it are two related but very different things. They can be easily confused, which is important for larger, more costly projects or when there may be several options available. A trivial illustration: your church garden is in need of a make over. The goal is to have an attractive and tidy garden that is easy to maintain. How many ways might there be of achieving that?
The second key principle of project management is to know how you will achieve the goal before you start. Workout the solution to the need and be clear and precise. Be careful not to get caught in tramline-thinking that forces you to the “obvious” solution. It may not be the best solution. Think it through creatively. You may need to call upon others with expertise to help.
Remember again that golden rule for survivable relationships: write the solution down and get the stakeholders to agree it.
3) Estimate the work to be done and build your plan
Now comes the most obvious part project management task: setting out the plan.
Having decided what the project goal is and how it will be achieved the next steps are:
- Break the project down into all the jobs (tasks) that need to be done.
- Workout how much effort, resource and money is needed for each task and how long each will take
- Identify who will do the work. Sometimes the work may be contracted out. E.g building work.
- Determine how the tasks relate to each other. Some can only start when others have finished. E.g a building foundation can only be constructed when the ground works are completed. Some tasks can run independently of others.
- Draw up a diagram that links the tasks in their sequence. Set the start date and using the task durations determine the total time the project will take and when it should finish.
4) Workout what could go wrong and how to deal with it
Projects go wrong. That is a fact of life, a stressful one at that.
One of the secrets of excellent project management is identifying things that could go wrong and preparing for them before they do go wrong. It’s called risk management and it’s a major tool in reducing the project manager’s stress levels.
Having made your first plan, stop and workout what might possibly go wrong with the project and what the consequences might be. Identify how likely it is that each risk will arise. For the most probable risks with the highest impacts, simply workout in advance how the project can avoid, minimise or deal with the issue if it happens. Then revise your plan building in the actions.
Repeatedly review risks throughout the duration of the project. You will never get them all but you can reduce the likelihood of things going wrong and with that your stress levels will be lower.
5) Know exactly what it will cost week by week
Cost management is a vital project management skill. It is an obvious recommendation to know what your project will cost in total, but this is not enough. The smart project manager knows how his costs build up and what he expects to have spent each week. This is closely allied to how much effort will be expended each week of the project.
These enable him to have the following vital metrics with which he can compare progress and steer the project.
1) Total Budget
2) Cumulative spend to date on a week by week basis
3) Forecast spend to complete the project
The combined values of 2) and 3) should be the same as 1). If not then the project is under or over spending. Either way the project manager needs to understand why and take any action required to maintain course.
6) “Sail” your project
Project management is a bit like sailing a yacht. The captain sets his course and steers the craft but must constantly monitor and take account of his metrics – the location, changing conditions and progress. Responding to and sometimes pre-empting situations, he makes the necessary alterations to the trim of the boat and its course.
The things that the project manager monitors are:
- The rate of spend against his budget, which he needs to know on a week by week basis,.
- How much work is still to be done? The captain is seldom interested in how far his boat has come but how far there is left to go. Conditions change and although he may have been at sea for 3 days, he may not have travelled the distance he had planned.
- The emerging risks; those identified as likely to arise and any new ones that may be emerging.
Dependent upon the outcome of these things the project manager will adjusts the plan to keep on track. It may be that he can change the sequence of the tasks but he may have no choice but to re-plan the project for a later and more expensive completion.
What is most important is to engage in this as an active process and to monitor the effort and the money required to finish the project, responding to deviations from plan by “changing the trim” of the project.
7) Take control of change; don’t let it take control of you
One certainty in any project is that things change, this is axiomatic when it comes to project management. The situation may change, new information may come to light, risks emerge, the target solution doesn’t do the job as expected, the “customer” may realise something he had forgotten, the unforeseeable happens. By definition a change is anything that was not included in the agreed goals, solution, costings and plan. If they were not written and properly agreed the project manager has little ground on which stand when change is required or occurs.
If left unmanaged change will blow the project way off course and the project manager might not even realise until it is too late. This is why written and agreed plans are important. They provide a definition of the project deliverables, cost and timing. Nothing should be allowed to change these things without the impact and cost being assessed and the solution agreed.
For instance, the project’s end client may request some enhancement to the deliverable. This could be easily accommodated at a cost. If the change request is not properly considered and agreed but just included the customer may have a surprise when the project over runs and costs more. Had he understood the implications he may have decided not to go ahead with the change. More insidiously, the team working on the project may happily incorporate lots of small changes. No single change is costly in itself – but a whole bundle of them? Well that is a different matter; together they may be enough to cause the project to run out of money before it’s completed.
One oversight in many plans that causes problems are undeclared assumptions. These are things that were anticipated but not declared. Often change affects these and because they were about things which were uncertain anyway and because they were not written down disagreements arise. Another golden rule is always declare your assumptions at the outset and include them in your solution statement and plans.
It is essential to keep change under control; that means reviewed and agreed before it’s allowed to happen. For obvious reasons this is another great stress reduction strategy.
If you are in the process of planning or starting a project right now, “take 5” and ponder these 7 key project management tips. How can you apply them to your project.
If you are running a project and these tips make you hold your head in your hands, “Don’t panic”. Remember Paul’s injunction in Philippians 4:
The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (ESV)
This statement is a vital and continual guide for any Christian project manager.
The next steps are:
- Take control of change so your project doesn’t run away from you.
- Make sure you have an accurate schedule and budget for the project as defined.
- Begin monitoring the project against that plan and budget.
- Assess the risks for the project as defined and set up action plans to address the risks
- Review the project deliverables with the stakeholders and make sure you are delivering what they expect. If not work out the changes necessary and agree those with stake holders.
- Re-plan the project if necessary.
The Christian Project Manager’s Guide
Claybury International has now published the “Project Management for Christian Leaders“. It guides the inexperienced Christian leader through project management from concept to delivery, leading the project team and exploring the issue of keeping your strategies and plans in line with God’s purposes. It starts with a simple pictorial approach to getting your project started and peels back the layers, explaining key methods to help you plan and manage your project.
You can also browse Christian-Leadreship.org to learn about some of the other leadership skills and outlooks that you need to be an effective Christian project manager.
If you feel that you need some help with your project then contact Claybury International at firstname.lastname@example.org or call +44 (0)1462 600143.
Image: Kevin Dooley Flickr.com