Managing your public engagement project
A project can be described as anything that has a finite lifecycle, and requires its own standalone plan. Projects can be any size, from a one-off workshop to a national series of events and accompanying resources. Whatever the scope, careful project management entails the planning, organising, mobilisation, control and monitoring of resources and procedures to achieve specific objectives.
There are a plethora of different approaches to project management such as traditional approaches, which revolve around a sequence of steps planning, execution and closing; PRINCE2 (PRojects IN Controlled Environments) or the LogFrame methodology commonly used in the public and international development sectors respectively; and systems approaches, which place greater emphasis on participatory project design and the allowance for unexpected and emergent outcomes in how projects are managed and facilitated.
The following section covers some of the basics of traditional approaches to project management.
- The basics of project management
- To maintain a good quality project three key constraints, often referred to as the ‘Project Management Triangle’, need to be constantly managed:
Cost - the budgeted amount available to run the project
Time - the amount of time available to complete a project, and
Scope - what must be done to achieve the desired end result(s) of the project
Each side of the triangle represents one of these three constraints, which are often in competition with each other e.g. if the scope of the project is increased, this will often result in an increase in the time and funds required to run the project. Balancing these constraints usually requires care and attention at the various stages of projects: Start-up, Delivery, Closure and Review.
- 1. Setting aims and objectives
- Before starting any project you need to have a clear idea about what your goal or ‘vision’ is, so it is very important to define the:
~ Need for the project and how it relates to what is currently happening in Public Engagement (PE) - this should have formed the basis of your successful funding application!
~ Aims of the project - what are the reasons for the project, and what do you want to achieve (the general intentions of the project)?
~ Objectives of the project – what do you need to do to achieve your aims? Using SMART objectives (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound) will help you to evaluate and reflect on how successfully you are achieving these aims during the lifetime of the project.
~ Roles, responsibilities, needs and expectations of all project stakeholders.
2. Producing a project plan
- In these initial stages it is extremely important to produce a detailed project plan. This will ensure that the project is delivered successfully e.g. on time, on budget and achieving the aims of the project. There are a number of useful project planning checklists and templates that are freely available online, to find out more about what to include in a detailed project plan here (PDF 337kb).
3. Establishing project roles
- Careful management of all project partners and stakeholders is vital. Whilst partners roles will emerge as a project develops, it is good practice to establish a framework for working with project partners from the outset. Typical roles you might consider creating on larger projects include:
Project Executive - ultimately responsible for the project (has the final say in terms of how a project will run e.g. principal funding applicant). Often the Chair of the Project Board.
Project Manager - The person overseeing the delivery of the project, including day-to-day control and management. (The Project Manager may also be the Project Executive, but if the principal funding applicant does not intend to oversee the day to day running, ensure you have a named project manager).
Project Board - a successful project should have a project board, although, if it is a small project, it may be comprised of the same people as the project team. It has overall responsibility and authority for the direction and management of the project, and is made up of a number of key people from within the organisation/s, and appointed stakeholder representatives and suppliers.
Project Team - responsible for the day-to-day running of the project. The team should include representatives for the: Users (people who will be benefiting from the project), Suppliers (people supplying the skills and expertise to help deliver the project), and the Project Manager.
Advisory Group - further specialist expertise may be required to help guide the content and context of the project, so it might be appropriate to set up a group of suitable advisors.
- There needs to be an element of flexibility when executing a project. A project proposal is a statement of intent, but in reality you may be required to roll with the changes – so have a ‘Plan B’!
1. Managing stakeholders and communication
- A successful project requires regular communication with all project stakeholders, in order to continue to meet their needs and manage expectations. There should be a clear communication plan from the start. This will identify what the different stakeholders need to know; the best way of informing them and how often this will happen. The circulation of short interim reports are a useful way to communicate successes, risks, issues, change requests, and updates on project deliverables, timeline and budget.
2. Monitoring and controlling risk
- In order to achieve your aims and objectives, you need to continuously monitor and control a project. To do so its important that you have identified the potential risks to a project from the outset, these are typically managed through something called a risk register. You may choose to revisit the register at project meetings.
Remember any changes to the project may have cost, time, scope and quality implications. Ensure that all changes are communicated to the rest of the team.
3. Using evaluation as a reflective process
- Evaluation is a great way to help you manage a project and highlight where changes are required. It will help to check that you are meeting your objectives (and sticking to your ‘vision’); making progress at regular intervals; meeting expectations and needs of all stakeholders; and most importantly – enjoying yourself!
- A project should be formally closed down and signed off by the Project Board and the funder. To do this a final report will need to be completed with the help of the Project Team, and then circulated to the Project Board and funder. The final handover of any information or materials to operational staff should also be completed if required. The results, any recommendations and learning from the project should also be disseminated to appropriate organisations/networks.
- A post project review, with your partners, enables you to assess the benefits, successes, any issues and failures, and if the aims and objectives of the project were met within the timescales and on budget! This review may lead to further PE projects!