But it went so well last year! Pitfalls and solutions for ongoing project work

If the first year of your project/initiative has gone well, it is easy to have a false sense of security going into year two. There are a new set of challenges and pitfalls in year two of any initiative because your starting point, assumptions and expectations are different from year one. You and your organisation are not where they were a year ago, as regards the project or in the wider sense, so your planning approaches need to reflect that.

Here are some of the common pitfalls with some constructive ways to tackle them:

1.  Planning: When planning year two, go back to basics and re-visit the aims of the initiative, the language and the focus of them. It is easy to lose staff interest if these don’t feel current. What has altered in the last year? Are there new messages to embed here?

2. Project team: Review the composition of the project steering group to prevent complacency and the problem of group think. Take the chance to bring in new people so you can expand project steering group capacity and develop promising individuals.Who would bring fresh approaches and expertise to your project team?

3. Project features: Reflect on what worked in year one in terms of approaches to communications and features of the project and look at ways to continue that positive trend. Take on board feedback from participants and make improvements for year two, mentioning those explicitly in your project briefings. One of the easiest ways to lose momentum in year two is to become complacent and lose touch with the participants, not respond to their feedback or bother to monitor their reactions because you feel like you know how to run a project now! What do the staff want to get out of year two? It would be worth asking them.

4. Project approach: Repetition can be tedious and alienate people. In year two you need to bring in elements that are new, different and engaging, so that people see the work as evolving and not static. For example, colleges that use the Supported Experiments cycle to encourage innovation and collaboration in teaching and learning often organise teachers into curriculum groups in year one and in cross college groups by experiment theme in year two. In year one curriculum teams can focus on hot topics for them and hone practice in those areas, creating a range of themes for experiments in each team. In year two they benefit from relationship building across areas and work on one theme in more depth, sharing practice with teachers from other subjects.

5. Communications: Year two communication needs to take into account what you learnt in year one, e.g. Who needs briefing face to face? Who likes everything via email? Who could be a barrier to the project and needs special attention? How did online channels help or hinder you? Identify lessons learned from year one and plan your communications accordingly. It is very easy to fall down the same holes as last year if you’re not looking out for them!

6. Sharing good practice: Be careful not to lose focus on capture and dissemination processes. Plan these in from the start and use new ways to do this, e.g. A materials swap shop, an online discussion board with prompt questions, a gallery walk where people present findings on posters and stand next to them answering questions as others walk around, a micro teach event to demonstrate activities to colleagues. If online systems didn’t give you what you needed last year, sit down with IT and review the requirements and set in train an improved model for year two.

If you would like support, training or coaching to enhance delivery of your initiatives, I hope you will get in touch with me.
Email: jmilesconsulting@gmail.com
Phone number: 07811 378 398

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