Creating an Effective Project Plan
A Section leader has many things to attend to, but the most important is project planning: deciding and overseeing what your Section will get done in the coming year that will make a meaningful difference for ASPEN and the community we serve. This is so important that Sections are actually required to submit work plans by May 31.
To help you complete these, we have a planning template and ASPEN staff is available to assist. Please note that your work plan is submitted to ASPEN for use when developing the annual ASPEN budget so it is to your benefit to get the plan submitted in a timely manner.
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 get you started, this Section provides tips and guidelines.
Tips & Ideas
- 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 Section and will significantly diminish the likelihood of achieving measurable success.
- Please note that Sections are required to have a meeting – with or without educational programming – at Clinical Nutrition Week. Please submit the appropriate form by September 15 to confirm your meeting: Section Meeting With an Educational Program or Section Meeting Without an educational Program
- Among your selected activities, we highly encourage you to include regular dialog through ASPENConnect and conference calls. By using the sample Conversation Map you can create a strategy for encouraging conversation which engages members. By using any one of the free conferencing services [link to page on free tools], you can host conversations.
- If a work plan item is going to require resources or sponsorship from the Sections Special Project Program, a copy of the proposal for that program may be substituted for pages 2 and 3 of your work plan. Although the content of work plans will differ between Sections, please use the outline provided on the following pages as a guide for required information. Please note that submitting this information does not guarantee special project funding.
- Any proposed Section project not already approved as part of the Section’s annual program of work must be brought to the attention of the Director of Membership. The Director of Membership will then, after evaluation and discussion with the Section Affairs Subcommittee Chair, take appropriate steps to either seek Board approval or follow-up with recommendations.
- Ideally, the project-planning process moves forward by asking and answering a series of questions (see below). Start by setting a strict deadline
for getting the questions answered. This will help keep you and everyone you work with on track.
Who are the planners and who decides?
Usually these are Section 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 Section operations to grow the leadership team.
Begin by making sure everyone involved is familiar with:
- ASPEN’s vision and mission and its strategic initiatives.
- The Section’s membership or target audience.
- The Section’s resources, including Section leaders, active volunteers, and all relevant financial information.
- Topics that would be of interest to the Section. One way to determine the needs and engage Section members is to survey your Section’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 Section members on your behalf, or you can post an announcement in your Section’s community in ASPENConnect. Or you could do both!
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 Section’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:
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, a successful annual meeting at Clinical Nutrition Week requires someone to oversee program planning; someone to complete and submit the forms to ASPEN staff, someone to promote it to members, someone to greet members at the event 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!
Conversation Road Map – A Planning Tool
ASPEN members want resources and discussions on relevant issues and concerns. A Conversation Road Map is a tool designed to help Section leaders identify topics and trends, and build discussion in your Section and on ASPENConnect. The tool walks your leadership team through six steps:
- Identify topical priorities
- Identify the supporting materials
- Create a discussion schedule
- Building conversation around division events
- Assign responsibilities
- Reaching out to the experts
One way to complete this is to circulate the template and ask individuals to form their own responses, then gather and share ideas and brainstorm options.