Sunday, January 22, 2017

Seminary PL34: Project Management

This is the third post on church administration in my "Seminary in a Nutshell" series. In this series, I first did a section on the Person and Calling of a Minister. Now this is the thirty-fourth post in a section on the Pastor as a Leader (see at the bottom).

The previous post gave a number of tips on time management as a leader, manager, or administrator. This post addresses the question of project management.
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1. Project management is the orchestration of a project toward its successful completion in a certain amount of time. It thus involves 1) a certain set of outcomes, 2) an ordered timeline to achieve the steps leading to these outcomes, and 3) a mechanism to ensure this timeline is kept.

(1) Project Generation
Obviously the reason a need for project management would arise is because you have a project. In other words, we begin this entry with the assumption that someone or some group with the authority to do so has set a goal. It could be an individual--perhaps I as an individual want to write a book. It could be a leader--we want to have a fifty year anniversary gathering. It could be a department--we want to launch a new degree or have a quadrennial event.

(2) Initial Approval
2. Let us go ahead and say that the first step is approval. This may be as simple as "I'm committing as an individual to do this project." In other cases, approval may be more involved. If it is a group project that you do not have the authority to initiate, then you will surely need the approval of the other members of the group. [1]

In most organizations, there will be a more formal approval process for major projects. It could be that you only need the approval of your department. Having an affirming vote is often helpful even when it is not technically needed.

Although be wise. Do not cause yourself unnecessary trouble. An easy though unnecessary unanimous vote adds power to your project. An unnecessary vote that will detract or even derail a needed project is another thing.

I was in a church board meeting where a vote was taken on a project that may or may not have needed a vote, but it was a slightly controversial project and the pastor on the spur of the moment asked if we thought it would be helpful to take a vote. The on the spot vote was unanimous (although I suspect one or two might have gone along with hesitation) and now the pastor had a real tool whenever further questions might be asked by members of the congregation: "This was unanimously passed by the board."

On the other hand, a conflict laden vote, when such a vote is not necessary, is a judgment call. Let's say you have a small minority of "grumblers" whom you know are going to make a stink about a project even though the majority are on board and their approval is not technically needed. Will giving detractors a platform to grumble create unnecessary negative energy toward the project? At some point, it's better to move forward and let them grumble in a corner rather than give them a forum to derail a project with broad support when formal approval is not needed.

(3) Formal Proposal
3. After you have achieved the necessary approvals, the next step is often putting together an official proposal. In many cases, a good deal of preliminary or hypothetical planning will have been necessary as part of the approval process. Who are the stakeholders who need to be consulted? What resources are necessary to achieve the project? A pro forma is a financial prospectus that determines whether a new venture is financially sustainable, often for the next three to five years.

Let's say your church currently does not have any discipleship program of any kind. No Sunday School, no Sunday night services, no small groups. So let's say you have a burden to start some. At some point you will want buy in from your church board and congregation. If you know you are going to get green lights readily, it's best to let them know you are thinking about, say, introducing small groups at the front end. Generate enthusiasm and anticipation.

On the other hand, if you are going to face opposition--or if you know that the wrong people will try to hijack or dominate the planning or process--you may want to have a proposal more developed before you begin talking about it. For example, you may want to have a task force group lined up with people you know are more likely to generate the best ideas before you open the door for just anyone to volunteer. A task force is a somewhat ad hoc group (that is, not a formal group in your organizational chart or structure) created to address some task.

4. So let's say your project is to create a series of small groups for the discipleship of your congregation. Let's say you have the needed approvals to put a proposal together. Now you need to plan enough to get the proposal approved.

What people need to be involved to come up with the best plan? Some people may have to be involved because of the positions they have in the church. Ideally, you want the best idea generators. Unfortunately, sometimes they are not the people with the official positions. If for some reason they cannot be in the planning room, you will want to meet with them separately to pick their brains so that you can bring them to the room, so to speak.

What are the components of the project? What are its dimensions and its elements? What are the different ways to divide up the project? For small groups, there may be "affinity groups" that serve as a basis for dividing up the congregation into groups. Sometimes these are a matter of age. So small children obviously will not do well in the same groups as older people or teenagers.

When will these small groups meet? All throughout the week at different times? All on the same day or night? You will probably want to begin the planning with a brainstorming session where all ideas are welcome. You might pass out sheets of paper and markers for everyone to put down every idea that comes into their minds and then tape them all to the wall. Then you group and organize them into categories.

A detailed proposal might include:
  • a clear statement of the project, including what outcomes the project hopes to achieve
  • what resources are necessary to achieve those outcomes, including 
  • what people are necessary and 
  • a financial pro forma of some sort, with 
  • the impact on other programs or projects (i.e., what is the "opportunity cost," what opportunities you will have to pass up on because you are taking this one)
  • a general timeline for how the project will unfold and reach its goal, and 
  • how you will measure success or the achievement of the outcomes ("assessment").
(4) Planning
5. So let's say you have a more formal proposal approved, if it is necessary. If so, you may already be well on your way in the planning of the project. For example, you may know what people, materials, and finances you will need and you may have a general timeline. You thus have at least a general sense of the process.

You need to know enough at the start to know that you can reach the goal or at least that you have a reasonable chance of reaching the goal. When visiting a certain foreign country once I was amazed at the number of half built buildings in a certain city. Someone had enough money to start building but apparently ran out of funds mid-stream. The hope apparently was, some day, to have enough more funds to finish it.

In general, you don't want half built buildings. You need to count the cost and have a good sense of the resources needed before you start a project. At the very least, you need to be reasonably sure that you will be able to build the landing gear by the time the plane needs to land!

6. At this point a PERT chart is handy. This is basically a much more detailed version of the timeline you created as part of the proposal stage. A PERT chart is a "Program Evaluation and Review Technique." It is basically a visual lay out that says, "This needs to happen before this can happen."

You can build a PERT chart either moving forward or moving backward. So for a new degree at my university:
  • It first has to pass the local school in which it is located. In my case, this means both the School of Theology and Ministry's (STM) curriculum committee and its faculty.
  • Then it has to pass two intermediate committees within the college in which my school is located: a) the curriculum committee of the College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) and b) the assessment committee of CAS.
  • On the larger scale, it finally a) is seen by a group called the "Academic Affairs Committee" and b) has to be passed by the Faculty Senate of the whole university. [2]
This process cannot really be sped up. Most of these committees only meet once a month, so the PERT chart for unfolding a new degree is fairly rigid. One of them, the Faculty Senate, requires "two reads," a first read one month where the proposal is presented and a second read the next month when it is voted on.

Sometimes it takes more than one month for a proposal to get through one of these committees. The result is that you sometimes "count back" from the time you want to launch the program to know whether it is possible to get it through in time.

7. In a church or business (or your personal life), the schedule for accomplishing a project may be more flexible. In that case, you may want to "count back" from the project deadline and fill in the time in between accordingly. If a timeline is unreasonable at any step in the process, you will want to extend your final goal deadline.

You may also want to distinguish between an ideal schedule and critical deadlines. The ideal schedule is hopefully a comfortable and doable chain of events with some cushion built in. However, there is also a critical timeline, the one that would put your goal in jeopardy if you do not keep to it. For example, if you want to have your first service in the new building in January, then the new building has to be built by then.
(5) Process
We have inevitably talked a fair amount about process in the course of talking about approval, proposal, and planning. Some personalities are fixated on process, but more often than not there is not a single right way to do something or get to a goal, despite the more obsessive personalities among us. The goal is the goal, not the process to get there.

However, once you have agreed on a goal and an overall timeline, you will want to keep it. At this point, it is often helpful to have a project manager, someone whose sole or primary responsibility is to keep the project on schedule. This is the conductor of the symphony. It is not usually a high level leader or even manager. It is often a secretary or even a person hired temporarily until the project is finished (think wedding planner).

Since the leaders who cook up an idea usually have to lead and manage much more broadly than a single project, a project manager is someone there, if necessary, to nag or prod the key players to get their part of the project done on time. There is even special project management software to help (e.g., Microsoft Project).

This person might have a more detailed kind of PERT chart called a Gannt chart, which breaks down each step in the process into individual tasks.
Taken from Wikipedia
(6) Completion
If the project has been designed well and everyone has met their deadlines, then the project will hopefully be successfully accomplished on time. Then you can move on to the next project!

Next Week: Pastor as Leader 35: Leading Meetings

[1] See previous entries about being wise about spending your leadership capital over the opposition of others.

[2] The process is actually more cumbersome than this, as it has to go through the same basic process (minus the Senate) as a prospectus before it even becomes a formal proposal. Then it has to run through the whole system a second time before going to Senate. It's hard to imagine getting something through the whole process in less than four months. Five or six months is more likely. In the initial days of the Seminary, when we were just a start up, it could go as quickly as a) AAC with buy in from the faculty, b) Grad Counsel, c) Senate. I had some proposals approved in less than two months. :-)

Leadership in General
Strategic Planning
Church Management
Conflict Management
Church Administration

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