‘Fire, Ready, Aim!’ No More

Warning to visionary and creative individuals: You may not like this post.  In fact, you probably already don’t like it just after reading the title!  Here’s the deal: I’m really not trying to pick on you. I’m trying to help you take your incredible ideas from concept to reality in the most expedient and least painful way.  That’s why I wrote this post, so hang in there even if you’re a bit upset with me as you read. 

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Has an exciting new idea ever been raised at your organization and everyone immediately starts working furiously to “make it happen?”  It’s a great idea, everyone’s excited and can’t wait to see this new program launched or event brought to life, right?  The team is working diligently, you’re making decent progress and then realize you’re not all headed in the same direction and there’s a big problem.  This phenomenon is commonly referred to as the “fire, ready, aim!” approach.  It’s pretty much just like it sounds – everyone starts firing in hopes that somehow you’ll manage to accomplish the goal or hit the target.

That concept may work on occasion but for most new initiatives a more disciplined approach can prevent headaches and frustrating conversations down the road.  After many years working as a project manager and dealing with projects of various sizes and complexity, here’s an approach that I’ve found to be less stressful, less expensive and much more effective:

  1.  Gather information – When that exciting new idea is raised, talk it through.  What will this new program look like when it’s launched?  Who will be involved? How will we promote it? When does this best fit into our organization’s schedule?  How does this align with our mission, values and culture?  This process helps you identify potential pitfalls to avoid, people to consult, and keys to success.
  2. Develop the plan – Next, assign one person to be the central hub of communications for this project.  Typically, this person is referred to as the Project Manager.  This individual needs to document the tasks that must be completed to launch the new event/program.  Examples include: “Design event logo.”  “Submit Purchase Requests for supplies.” “Recruit volunteers to help with launch day.”  You’ll have a long list of to-dos by this end of this step.  Don’t worry about trying to create the perfect plan (those don’t exist!).   The mission of the new event should stay consistent while the plan should be somewhat flexible.  Now, for each item on the list, assign a single person to “own” that task.  Ask that person how much time they’ll need to complete the task and add that information to the list.  If you’re using a spreadsheet to compile this information, you can download this free spreadsheet template to get started.  **A spreadsheet can work well for smaller projects.  Microsoft Project is a great tool for larger, more complex projects.**
  3. Manage the project – Now that you have the plan developed, the Project Manager should communicate at least weekly with the team (individuals assigned to tasks on the plan).  Remind them of upcoming tasks that are due, help them troubleshoot issues, and report the team’s progress to leadership.
  4. Launch! – This is where you get to see all the hard work pay off as your team launches the new program or runs the event.
  5. Celebrate – The temptation is to move right into the next project, but don’t underestimate the value of this step.  You need to celebrate the team’s success and show appreciation towards the staff and volunteers who made it happen.  Throw a party, send out thank-you notes, publicly recognize the team, etc.
  6. Capture Lessons Learned – Meet with the core staff and volunteers to discuss what went well and what could be improved upon for future events.  Document those lessons learned and bring them out when you start the next planning cycle.

 

Now, this all sounds like a lot of work – and it is.  However, you vastly increase your chances of a successful, stress-free (or close to stress-free) launch if you follow these steps.  I’ve experienced the consequences of trying to pull off a new idea without proper planning. Miscommunication, frustration, long hours, damaged relationships with staff and volunteers, wasted time and money are just a few examples of the fallout from poor planning.  I’ll admit that planning isn’t glamorous or exciting.   However, just like your home’s foundation keeps the building structurally sound and safe for your family, planning provides a solid foundation for your vision to succeed.

What I’ve outlined above is just a high-level view of planning and project management.  If you have a complex project you’d like to discuss or have any questions about these processes, please contact me.

How does your organization implement new ideas?  Is planning part of your process?