Nonprofit organisations often need to achieve great goals with limited resources and capacity available. This includes effectively running projects to achieve intended outcomes, and to do so on time and within budget.

Whether you’re a fieldworker on the ground, a specialist in your area, or the CEO – almost everyone in a nonprofit organisation will need to manage a project at some stage.

In the current reality of Covid-19 and the long-term effects of the public health crisis among communities, the need for good project management principles and knowledge is now needed more than ever. Especially if a lot of work needs to be done remotely and online.

However, this can be scary if you haven’t been exposed to formal project management training, and now need to respond to a problem that you had never thought about until now.

Where do you start, what do you worry about, and how can you make sure the project is successful?

These are questions that guide everything a team will do in a project, and how the project manager will adjust and shape the work to complete the project.

Here are five tips for effective project management:

1. Approach every project uniquely

A mistake you can make when preparing to start a new project is to assume that the project will be exactly the same as previous ones you’ve worked on.

While there is much of the project that can be done the same as last time, the most important principle for project management planning is that every project is different and responds uniquely to the challenge it is looking to address. Especially during crisis times with unusual requests and objectives.

You will realise that every project is different once you look at the three concepts that define what a project is. These are:

  • A project is a temporary endeavour undertaken to create a unique product and service, or conduct specific activities that aim towards a specific result.
  • Because of the temporary nature of a project, a project has a definite beginning and end.
  • A project’s end is reached when the objectives have been achieved or when the project is terminated because its objectives will not or cannot be met, or when the need for the project no longer exists.

By working out how these three concepts apply to your specific project, you will quickly see that your project will be different and unique to previous ones you’ve worked on.

Many people think that project management is just knowing what generally needs to be done and how much it will cost. Understanding how all the detailed required work fits together to address these questions is however the critical point of project management.

This exercise is done through the development of a Scope of Works document, which details how the project will look and answers the important questions detailed above.

Take the time to work out these important details and make sure that all the work done going forward matches what is agreed for the project.

2. Involve the entire team

A key focus of project management is to track, summarise and assist the actual work being done on the ground, and so, the team that you are working with is a very important part of the process.

Project Managers need to know who is doing what, to help with problem-solving, and to report back on the progress. If you don’t understand what challenges are emerging, it is difficult to manage the project.

At the same time, if the team who is expected to do the work do not understand the project and the reason why it’s being implemented, then the management of the project can be a far more difficult task.

It is therefore important to ensure that the entire team grasps, and buys into, the project and what it will look like at the end. They can provide critical insights from an implementation-view which will affect how it is planned. If the team is working remotely, the responsibility lies with you to set a schedule for the team to meet online or telephonically to keep the ball rolling.

In difficult times like now, knowing what is possible on the ground is crucial. Project management is for all, not just the person tasked to take the lead.

3. Communicate the reality

Managing the project timelines and budget is one thing, but responding to delays in tasks, resolving ongoing issues and managing any resistance to the project, is just as important.

Reviewing the work done on a regular basis is the best way to keep a team together and performing well. The reality of the real-time challenges will enable you to anticipate possible problems down the road that you can plan for earlier on.

As the Project Manager, you can only work with information that is based on the reality of the project.

Make sure all communication to and from the team supports this, and build systems to ensure information received assists the management of the project.

4. Ensure stakeholder satisfaction

Most projects are considered successful if they came in under budget, if they finished ahead of schedule, or if the project reached the agreed-too objectives.

However, there is a growing sense within the project management practice that a satisfied project team, client and user group is the gold standard of a good project. In the nonprofit sector, this is powerful due to the nature of projects which are often focused on the community in which the project is implemented.

But what does a satisfied project team, client and user group look like? This is why it’s vitally important to compile a Scope of Works document, to guide what would be the important elements for each involved stakeholder group on whether it was a success or not. What is important to note, is that getting to a level of satisfaction is a balancing act, as different stakeholders have different levels of what would be satisfactory for them.

Working this out is important, but working towards this is likely going to be the most important point of the project; regardless if it changes the original project management plans.

The number one question: What would make this project a success?

5. Practice makes perfect

As a project manager, you will therefore be expected to have systems and processes in place to bring all the pieces of the project into play, and keep all involved updated on a regular basis, plus think about the limits placed on the team due to the changing nature of work. Sounds like a lot to manage!

The biggest tip for any project management process is that any system works, as long as it makes sense for the project.

Every project is different, and the needs of communicating with stakeholders and the teams will change accordingly. As a result, the systems that make sense will change, and will become easier to figure out the more you do it.

You need to make your project management system work for you, and allow yourself to manage the project in a way that helps you support the project best.

The more you manage projects, the more you will be able to show your understanding and experience in the art of Project Management; an invaluable skill in times of great uncertainty.

Click here for an example on how to create your own Scope of Work.

Article compiled by Mark Schreuder, Programme Manager at Valcare.