Associations and project management

I always relate project management to the engineering and construction industry, but can it be applied in the association world? This question came to mind when a member of our organization, the Philippine Council of Associations and Association Executives (PCAAE), offered to coorganize a project-management seminar for fellow PCAAE members. I was glad we did run it last week as we got good kudos from all the attendees.

A project is defined as a “temporary endeavor to create a unique product, service or result, with a definite beginning and end”. Associations do undertake “projects”—from membership recruitment, developing and running events, publishing newsletters and  web-site design, among others. Project management involves planning, organizing, scheduling, leading, communicating and controlling work activities to achieve outcome within a certain time, budget and scope.

Equipped with project management skills, an association executive can take advantage of the benefits it provides, such as improved alignment with organizational strategies, a much better project success rate, efficient and reliable operation, cost effectiveness, transparency  and communication openness.

The session speaker, William Boivin, who is a manager for society relations covering Asia Pacific of the Hong Kong-based CFA Institute, cited four key things as “to do” for associations when undertaking a project:

Prepare a project charter. This describes the purpose of the project, the composition of a project team headed by a project manager (the focal person), responsibilities and scope of work and resources needed, including a budget.

Do a work breakdown structure (WBS) spreadsheet.  This details the tasks, the responsible person, deadlines, status and remarks, as they fall due.

Make a communication plan. This elaborates on the communication type (e.g., meeting, status report), medium (e-mail, face-to-face, conference call), frequency, audience and deliverable(s).

Prepare a status report. This covers the progress of the implementation of the project.

Boivin advises three “must-do” tasks in managing projects:

Assign a project manager—Every project must have a project manager, someone who builds the plan, coordinates activities and makes sure that communication is happening.

Hold weekly standup meetings—Ensure communication is flowing by holding weekly standup meetings on your project. Have all responsible task holders meet for 15 minutes to discuss if everything is on track or if there are issues.

Use project-management tools—Start using a project charter and project plan templates for every project. If all in the organization uses these, then everyone understands a common language.

Project management, as he puts it, is both an art and a science. The science comes with the planning and the art with the execution. One doesn’t work without the other. Most associations do project management “by ear” and on an ad hoc basis. It’s always tempting to speed through the planning phase and cut straight to the action. I think it’s time for associations to organize and document things so programs and activities are done well and can be referenced to in the future. In the end, after all, practice makes perfect.

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The column contributor, Octavio “Bobby” Peralta, is concurrently the secretary-general of the Association of Development Financing Institutions in Asia and the Pacific (ADFIAP) and the CEO and founder of the Philippine Council of Associations and Association Executives (PCAAE). PCAAE is holding the Associations Summit 5 (AS5) on November 22 and 23, at the Philippine International Convention Center (PICC), which is expected to draw over 200 association professionals here and abroad. The two-day event is supported by ADFIAP, the Tourism Promotions Board, and the PICC.  E-mail [email protected] for more details on AS5.