Annual Planning Model

Creating an Effective Project Plan 

A chapter leader has many things to attend to, but the most important is project planning: deciding and overseeing what your chapter will get done in the coming year that will make a meaningful difference for ASPEN and the community we serve. 

Making the most of your resources requires a clear focus and well-defined priorities. This usually means keeping the list of potential projects and activities restricted to one or two that have the greatest potential for success. Spreading resources too thinly or picking the wrong projects can quickly cripple a chapter and will significantly diminish the likelihood of achieving measurable success.

Ideally, the project-planning process moves forward by asking and answering a series of questions. Start by setting a strict deadline for getting the questions answered. This will help keep you and everyone you work with on track.

1. Who are the planners and who decides? 

Usually these are chapter leaders; however, it is often useful to bring in others or at least solicit input from individuals outside the core leadership team. This also serves as a means to involve more members in chapter operations to grow the leadership team.

It is best, but not always possible, to bring everyone together for a face-to-face planning meeting. Whether your meeting is virtual or face-to-face, make sure everyone involved is familiar with:

  • ASPEN’s vision and mission and its strategic initiatives.
  • The chapter’s membership or target audience, which, for example, likely includes a combination of dietitians, physicians, pharmacists, and nurses.
  • The chapter’s resources, including chapter leaders, active volunteers, and all relevant financial information.
  • Issues that would be of interest to the chapter, such as PN safety or malnutrition, or even an issue specific to your local area. One way to determine the needs and engage chapter members is to survey your chapter’s membership in advance to get a general sense of the issues of interest. This has the added benefit of keeping you in touch with your members. You can ask ASPEN to send out an e-blast to your chapter members on your behalf, or you can post an announcement in your chapter’s community in ASPENConnect. Or you could do both! 

2. What projects do we want to complete this year? Consider this advice for planning for and completing projects: 

  • Do what you’re passionate about. Remember, passion is everything. If you and your colleagues don’t really care about the project, it won’t get done, so be sure to pick something that moves you.
  • If you can’t do it well, do something else. Don’t waste your time, your energy, or the chapter’s resources if the effort won’t make a difference worth making.
  • Keep the list short. Pick one or two projects at the most. When resources are spread too thin, projects don’t get done. It is far better to do one well than several poorly. Success, even of a small project, will help attract sponsors, volunteers, and new members; failure will drive them away.
  • Decide what you want to accomplish. For each project, put in writing precisely what the outcomes will be so you know when you are done. For example, if the project is an event, then holding the event constitutes an outcome. If the project is an informational or training document, then the final publication and dissemination of the document is the deliverable and its use by the target audience is the outcome. If you are launching an awareness-raising campaign, then write down your benchmarks so you know what you are aiming to accomplish. 
  • For each outcome, set meaningful, measurable, time-constrained goals. Here are a couple examples:
    • Our September seminar will provide two hours of CE, attract 25 attendees, and generate a net income of $250. 
    • Our December membership effort will recruit 10 new members.

For each project, create a project plan that includes: 

  • A list of who is responsible for what. Every project includes multiple responsibilities. Break down the project into functions and decide who will be taking care of each function. For example, if you are running a meeting, someone will need to oversee program planning; someone else will need to secure a room and make sure it is set up; someone else will need to be responsible for promotion; and so on. (See Mobilizing Volunteers for more related advice.)
  • A timeline for getting the project completed. Include schedules for completing all of the steps along the way.
  • Interim benchmarks. Include a mechanism that enables everyone involved to check in throughout the process to be sure that everything is going according to plan.
  • Communications and reporting. During the project-planning phase, make sure there is a way for everyone to report on progress (or lack of progress). You want to know ahead of time if aspects of the project are behind schedule or running into problems.
  • Celebrating accomplishment. This is a critical step in the process. If you want to ensure future successes, be sure to spread the kudos and thanks far and wide!
  • A project budget and overall chapter budget implications (See Financial Management – Accounting).
  • Risk evaluation and management. There are various factors that might influence or hamper the project’s advancement. Try to spell out what some of the risks are (such as extended power cuts that trigger higher operating costs, whether a sponsor that has promised  support pulls out at the last minute, and other contingencies), how you would deal with such situations, and what the impact on your project might be.

The Operational Plan

An operational plan ensures you can successfully implement your projects by getting your team to:

  • Be clear about how you will get the resources for the project.
  • Use resources efficiently by allocating scarce resources to the most critical needs.
  • Think about the project’s outcome in terms of targets and impacts.

To complete projects successfully, build systems that ensure the right: 

  • Leadership – Making decisions and recruiting volunteers.
  • Volunteers– Getting stuff done.
  • Membership– Your chapter’s audience, constituency, and source of volunteers.
  • Communications – Letting everyone know what you’ve done.
  • Finance – Paying for things.
  • Administration– Handling mailing lists, websites, banking, and so on.