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I like having a schedule, even when reality works out to be a little different

January 3, 2011

Happy new year!

As the new year begins, I’m reflecting on the Nonprofit Management Resources (NPMR) project’s five year plan.  I’m not going to post the latter here, but suffice it to say that the first year looked really different from what we had planned.  I think the second year will also diverge significantly from the tasks and dates so neatly described in the the Excel spreadsheets that we used.

Reality is different but not worse than what we planned.  It’s been a year of collaboration lessons, and one of them is that it takes time, when people come together, to get buy-in for all the things on the agenda.  Moreover, it’s not really possible to commandeer other people’s schedules.  Tasks that could be completed in a week hang fire, because one of the individuals or organizations involved has reservations about the goal or the tactics.  Or the tasks go on to-do lists, but are postponed in favor of other projects.

Even so, it’s really nice to have a five year plan and a week-by-week plan for our project.  We have to readjust it all the time in the face of reality, but it does us a lot of good to make it a regular reference point.

Lately, I’ve embarked on my own personal “Operation Alacrity.”  I make an effort to report back to the core team about my tasks, whether completed or uncompleted.  In the coming year, I’m going to focus more on setting specific dates for completion, and for meeting them.

Naturally, it’s much easier to start with other people’s tasks than my own when implementing “Operation Alacrity.”  Given my frail human nature, it stands to reason that it’s easier for me to try to hold other people’s feet to the fire than my own.  Besides, it’s kind of a running joke that the only super-power I have is nagging.  So these days, when the NPMR project team agrees that something needs to be done, I tend not to turn to a colleague and say, “can you do this?” Rather, my new approach is a series of questions: “can you do this today?“…“well, can you at least start this today?” “well, how about tomorrow?“…”well, what about by Friday?“…”well, then, when can do you this?“…”will you send us all an email when it’s done?”  And then I need to take a look at what has been done, and solicit feedback about from the group.

Perhaps what I’m saying is that having a notional completion date gives me a sense of comfort.  Specificity and accountability provide me with a reassuring framework in a project where I’m collaborating across geographical distances and across organizational lines.

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