Your team spent weeks hammering out a comprehensive plan for the new initiative. You defined outcomes. You outlined key activities. You specified measurable indicators for evaluation and you put it all into a logic model remarkable for its scope and clarity.
Now the plan sits on the shelf. You glance at it occasionally and think, “Will this really get done or was that an enormous waste of time?”
Successful implementation relies on many things: adequate resources, reliable infrastructure, and people with the skills and internal motivation to make things happen. But there is one simple practice that can dramatically increase the likelihood that you will accomplish what you have planned: a Work Breakdown Structure.
Drawn from the discipline of project management, a Work Breakdown Structure is a way of decomposing a project activity into its constitutive parts – i.e., everything that needs to get done to complete the activity. There are many ways to create a Work Breakdown Structure but here is one of the simplest. Gather your team together, choose one of the project activities from your plan and do the following:
- Give everyone a marker and a stack of sticky notes.
- Write down everything that needs to be produced, delivered or completed to accomplish that activity – one item per sticky note.
- Group the sticky notes into major categories.
- Within each category, arrange the sticky notes into a logical sequence.
- Lay out each sequence on a timeline.
That’s it. It’s so simple that it seems absurd that this would be the vital key to insuring project completion. Once your Work Breakdown Structure is documented, though, you will find that it allows a manager to monitor progress toward project completion on a weekly basis and at a level of fine detail.
There are a number of ways to document the work sequence and timeline that you have created, including project management applications that vary in price, sophistication and ease of use. However, I’ve found that an Excel spreadsheet works perfectly well for managing projects of the size and complexity common to most mid-sized nonprofits. Assign one work item to each spreadsheet cell, laying out the work sequence for a single category along one row. Each column indicates one week or one month, depending on your project’s level of time detail.
For more on Work Breakdown Structures and project management, see Fundamentals of Project Management by James Lewis.