03 July 2016

Project Steps Guidelines

Are you wondering what is the secret to project success? Include these baby steps in your strategy towards a high-quality youth project. 

1. Project initiation
'The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step'. (Lao Tzu)

a. Make a brainstorming meeting. In a safe and stimulating environment let your ideas find place on your list. The longer it is the bigger are the chances to find THE ONE. 
b. Leave time to reflect upon the list of issues you want to approach with your project and choose the most suitable idea(s). Take into consideration your strengths and your weaknesses in dealing with that specific matter, as well as the opportunities and threats that might come up. You can try SWOT analysis.
c. Define the issue, making some research: Were there any other attempts in the past to approach the issue? What were them, how did they work, what results did they have? Go to the issue’s roots to find the possible causes and then think of their particular effects. You can try the problem and solution tree method. 
d. Build a clear and coherent statement of your project main goal. Outline the purpose of your project and general target groups for your approach. If you can't explain it to a six year old, you don't understand it yourself.

2. Project planning
‘Alice: Which way should I go? Cat: That depends on where you are going. Alice: I don't know. Cat: Then it doesn’t matter’. (L. Carroll)

a. Create a specific and unique folder for all the documents and materials related to the project. Digital tools (such as Google Drive) can be extremely efficient to share information with all the people involved in the project. Make backup copies. Be eco-responsible and make hard copies only for important documents.
b. Make regular planning meetings with specific schedule and topic. Don’t forget to record minutes for each one of them and store all in the shared-folder. 
c. Make a transparent HR plan and form the team. Clearly define roles and state them officially in contracts agreed upon with each of the group members. If your organization doesn’t have expertise in a field, don’t be afraid to collaborate with external relevant entities that can add value to your project. Develop partnerships. If you need support staff, give opportunities for youths to make an internship or volunteer.
d. Set SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-framed) objectives. 
e. Develop a project road-map with a specific timeline and deadlines. Create a detailed schedule and set milestones.
f. List the resources needed for each building block of the schedule. 
g. Estimate costs and develop your budget.
h. Create and schedule a coherent communication plan, combining digital and offline tools to tailor the most appropriate message(s) for your audiences – internal and external. Focus on visibility (you can try Hunger Games), dissemination and exploitation of results. 
i. Identify all foreseeable risks and plan possible adjustments you may make to avoid or solve the problems.

3. Project execution
‘It always seems impossible until it’s done’. (Nelson Mandela)

a. Make a kick-off meeting to recap the key elements of the project and clarify last minute issues.
b. Establish partnerships.
c. Procure resources if needed. 
d. Execute communication plan. 
e. Get things done. Put into practice the activities from the schedule. Be flexible, the reality is not always as you planned it on paper. 
f. Adjust project schedule as needed, according to monitoring results.

4. Ongoing performance monitoring and evaluation 
‘Trust, but verify’. (R. Reagan)

a. Use key performance indicators.
b. Give and receive feedback from all the actors involved. Listen actively, don’t take things personally, keep calm and learn from it. 
c. Make regular evaluation meetings with the team and decide upon the adjustments, if needed. 

5. Project Closure 
‘The end is where we start from’. (T. S. Eliot)

a. Make a final evaluation meeting with the whole team, outlining what went good, the lessons learnt and what to do next.
b. Complete the final report. 
c. Archive carefully the complete folder with all documents related to the project.
d. Ensure the follow-up of your project by linking it to your future efforts. Use the results, the outputs and lessons learnt to create new activities and grow your idea into something better. A long-term vision gives power to your project, continuity and coherence to your work.

Recommendation: Study the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) to ensure your project management knowledge and frameworks are up-to-date.  

"European Quality in Youth Projects (EQYP)" is a mobility of youth workers under Erasmus+ (Eastern Partnership), KA1. ''Project steps'' guidelines is one of its outputs. The content of this article does not reflect the official opinion of the European Union. Responsibility for the information and views expressed therein lies entirely with the author(s).