A friend called me recently quite excited about the opportunity to run a fund-raising event at the local school. Knowing that I was a project management guy, they wanted to know what the secret to success was with these types of projects.  But just before I started to speak, my friend warned me. “Please don’t get into that PMBOK stuff – just keep it simple.”

And this highlights the mistake many of us make when we talk to the part-time project managers in our lives. When we are asked to impart our wisdom on these fine folks, we often make the mistake of making it too complicated, too detailed and thus, extremely overwhelming.

Part-time project managers are all over the place. Our office, church, synagogue, temple, school, on the other side of the back fence of our house and even right inside our own homes. They are being asked, or have volunteered, to manage a project but they are not project managers and they never will be.  These are ‘part-timers’ in our field. But, their projects are really important and sometimes quite large and complicated and often critical to the well-being of the recipient of the project work.

So, what’s the answer? When we are asked to help or to advise, what do these folks really need to know about what we do for a living that can help them out?

The foundation of good communication skills is to put yourself in the seat of the recipient and to think about what they really need to know, how they need to know it, when and most importantly, why. If we go through this exercise, we can help ourselves with our response to this request for help.

What do they really need to know? At the top of list, they really need to know where their biggest risks of failure are. What can happen in a project that can lead to disaster? The best thing we can do for our friends is to prepare them for the bad news, the tough times and the big challenges ahead.

If it’s work for a not-for-profit, I would start to focus on the people side. Dealing with volunteers is probably the most difficult thing to do in any project.  If it is a small project within the company, time is a critical factor – do they have enough time to manage the project while at the same time typically doing their day job.

What isn’t important?  Most importantly, leave out the lingo – the language the professional project managers carry with them all the time. This doesn’t mean that we leave out the tool but it’s very helpful sometimes to give it a new title. Project charter, communications plan, quality control, milestones and stage gates – all words that have no place in this discussion but depending on the project, these tools might be helpful.  We just need to change the name and make it simpler to understand.

My friend Doug Land and I published book a few years back called “The Power of the Plan – 10 Easy Steps To Managing Everyday Projects”. We could have just as easily called it “Project Management for Non-Project Managers”.  In it, we outlined our 10 steps to basic, once-in-awhile projects.

  1. Should you open the door? Getting enough information to make the decision to take the project on.
  2. The big picture – creating a relatively simple, high level, project charter
  3. Breaking down the work – work packets that need to be completed – staying as broad stroke as we can
  4. Who’s going to do the work? – resource allocation
  5. How much will it cost? – budgets
  6. What could go wrong? – basic risks we should consider
  7. Follow-up and control – status reports and benefits
  8. Managing change – being ready for the inevitable
  9. Communicate, communicate – a reminder of how important this is to all projects
  10. Close the door – a good post mortem exercise with lessons learned for the next round

if you are ever asked for help from a part-time project manager please put yourself in their shoes and ask yourself… what do they really need to know and why?

Keep it simple and change your language.

Most importantly, let them run.  As we all know, it’s a great experience and incredibly fulfilling so let them enjoy it.

Check out book “The Power of the Plan” on my web site. Then send the link to your local “Part-Time Project Manager”

Image provided courtesy of www.freedigitalphotos.net

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