(Community Building) Project Management

With fewer than seven dollars, and in less than an hour, the following methodology delivers a project plan that calibrates a one year vision to accountable, weekly execution.

Scenario: a neighborhood that’s chosen to “stop the bleed,” so to speak.

Their over-arching mission: to transform neighborhood’s distress and displacement into a community that’s autonomous and self-sufficient.

Imagine there’s a neighborhood with deep, multi-generational ties, facing a perfect storm of economic factors which threaten to entirely uproot and disperse the community.

A small number of these neighbors begin to meet in groups of 2 to 3, and they develop a plan to effect a transformation, with the following intersection as their hub:

There are two homes, housing four families, a small church, and an empty lot.

To begin, allow me to propose a framework:

  • Vision: one year

I will illustrate this methodology in a moment, but you will notice that I’m using low-fidelity and inexpensive materials, on the passenger seat of my Toyota minivan.

The important thing is to not over-complicate things.

Technology people in particular tend to fetishize “collaboration” without realizing that their favored tool contributes to a modern “Tower of Babel,” ironically precluding many grassroots advocates from participating.

Check yourself: if you’re spending more time discussing format over content, you are probably getting in the way of innovation.

Let’s get back to the community.

As you can see, the first identified vision (V) is to stop the involuntary displacement of families.

Within our methodology, the baseline assumption is that the family forms the basic building block of community health, and so we calibrate our efforts there.

The first identified strategy (S) in support of this vision (V) is to direct resources to families in need.

How do we do this?

First off, we need to be precise and explicit about the area within the scope of this effort.

So we define an execution (E) task, and each task is associated with metrics (M) which identified “success criteria.“

Now we have a vision to execution plan:

  • Vision: stop the displacement of families

As you have probably already guessed, each execution (E) task is assigned to one or more individuals.

Let’s define another execution (E) task in support of our vision (V) and strategy (S) for community autonomy.

As you can see on the right, this execution (E) task pertains to the definition of a survey that will help the team quickly triage and prioritize which families need the most help, as well as expose what type of help they need.

As you can see in the next photo, these execution (E) tasks begin to flow as the team begins to define their plan:

The team will require the assistance of trusted individuals to conduct a survey, as well as for the results to be collected and reviewed.

This relationship between vision (V), strategy (S), execution (E), and metrics (M) can be captured in the following manner, and without a lot of complicated technology:

Let’s define another vision (V) for neighborhood autonomy: access to healthy food options:

In review, remember that vision (V) are those things that the team would like to complete within the next 12 months, and strategy (S) are the things they would like to complete in the next three months.

The execution (E) tasks should be defined in such a way that they could be completed within one week, and each execution (E) task should be defined with metrics (M) which clearly describe whether or not the task was successfully completed.

Why the emphasis on one week execution (E) tasks?

Most people aren’t generally good at predicting how long it will take for them to complete an execution (E) task, and within the context of collaborative projects, people tend to over-commit and under-deliver, resulting in issues of morale, which can sink a volunteer effort.

In order to accurately monitor progress, I recommend the following:

  • Three meetings a week (15 minutes) limited to pigs

Pigs and chickens?

In this cartoon you can see that both the chicken and the pig have expressed interest in opening a restaurant which serves breakfast.

However, there’s a significant difference between the pig and the chicken in terms of commitment.

Within this example, you can see that the chicken thinks the plan is a pretty good one, but it comes at the expense of the pig, which is not acceptable.

In the context of our hypothetical project, this would be something like a moneyed potential investor recommending a strategic approach which would rely upon the displacement of the neighbors, thus in validating the project’s very purpose.

You will soon discover that there are a large number of people who position themselves as a chicken, and too few pigs, so to speak.

And if there are too many chickens, there’s risk that they will completely hijack the project, to the detriment of the pigs.

Finally, it’s not likely that a project will succeed if the enthusiastic contributors are limited to chickens; the project needs a sufficient representation of those with a vested interest in the project’s success (pigs).

The daily meeting, limited to 15 minutes, is exclusive to those contributors that qualify as pigs, (using my example in terms of project commitment), and they should only discuss their progress and their needs regarding their assigned execution tasks.

This is typically referred to as a “stand-up,“ and somebody needs to ensure that the meeting does not run longer than 15 minutes, because otherwise people will entertain the temptation to talk about their weekend, their children, etc.

Once a week there should be a more inclusive meeting, where the team can present its progress and describe their needs to an audience of pigs and chickens, but as with the daily “standups,“ this meeting should be held to no longer than one hour.

Again: don’t over-complicate things.

All of this can be conducted on a conference phone call, and although online collaboration tools are certainly available, don’t inadvertently exclude contributors, just because you know technology.

Bear in mind the very real “digital divide.”

Let’s go through one more example.

In this example, the neighborhood wants to develop their own solution to the common phenomenon typically described as a food desert, where affordable grocers are not located within reasonable traveling distance from the neighborhood.

To get there, the neighborhood has decided to grow their own food, with a declared vision (V) to achieve “food sovereignty.“

As you can see, the team has decided to do something about that empty lot identified in the overview of the hub, which the neighbors had decided would serve as the epicenter of their own regeneration.

They have defined a strategy (S) to grow their own food, as well as and adjacent strategy (S) to raise chickens.

Both of the strategies (S) are dependent upon an execution (E) task that would create a proposal to purchase the empty lot, and this execution (E) task is associated with success metrics (M) which require for the proposal to be adequate.

You have probably already discerned that these tasks invite the definition of related execution (E) tasks, in this case being the identification of a community resource which might help define and share this proposal to purchase the empty lot.

The intention of this article is not to defined the entirety of the plan, merely to illustrate how the methodology and the use of low-fidelity tools that are friendly to the “digital divide” inspires significant creativity, while delivering a plan that ties long-term vision to weekly execution (E).

And your team does not have to define the entire plan in one sitting. Just go as long as you feel is right, and then collect the stickies as illustrated:

The next step is to assign each task to a member of the team, and this is a pretty good time to recommend that you consider reading an article I’ve written about operational management, because these tasks can add up quickly, and threaten to overwhelm individual contributors.

The processes described in this and related articles are part of the hands-on services provided by my company, 214 Alpha, within the framework of our Community Activation and Launch Methodology (C.A.L.M.).

If you are interested in learning more about how we can help your community launch and sustain self-governance on your terms, drop us a line.

We deliver hands-on professional services as well as a mobile app that provides economic self-sufficiency and self-governance that is transparent, accountable, and easy to audit, to mitigate fraud, waste, abuse, and corruption.

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Kent Dahlgren

Kent Dahlgren

Product management fix-it guy. World-famous people skills. Extremely small hands. (edit) marketing lady says I’m also supposed to say “CEO of software company”