For all of us working at The GAP on a Heritage Lottery Young Roots project, it’s been – and continues to be – a real education in project planning and management, a bonus outcome we hadn’t expected to find quite so useful. For ‘Children in Movement: Birmingham’s Heritage of Child Migration’, we’re working with training providers, three different heritage partners, historians, speakers, transcribers, evaluators and the library service, not to mention dozens of local Birmingham communities and their leaders, plus three cohorts of young people aged 14-25. It’s mammoth, multi-faceted and seems to have a life of its own! Keeping control of all its myriad parts and maintaining a steady course towards the finishing post is a real challenge, and it hasn’t all been plain sailing. But we’ve learned some key transferable lessons about project management along the way which will stand us in good stead as we face the final straights, as well as long into the future.
First among these might seem obvious: use your Project Plan! At the time of writing we cursed the HLF for their insistence on such detail (sssh, don’t tell them!), but in practice it’s been an absolute godsend – a detailed roadmap taking us from start to finish for the full 18 months of the project. It’s particularly useful if you’re running other assignments simultaneously, working on additional stuff, or just trying to have a life alongside your Young Roots project – it keeps you on track, reminds you of deadlines coming up, and keeps everyone updated on where you are in the grand scheme of things. So our advice is - don’t skimp on this stage of your application – you’ll be so glad you didn’t once you get your project up and running. And having done it really well, use it – life’s too short to reinvent the wheel.
Secondly, good communication is key. With so many stakeholders involved in different project phases it’s easy for early participants to get lost in the later stages, so make it a matter of course to keep everyone updated on developments. It’s better to over-inform than let things go cold, and people appreciate being kept in the loop. At the end of each stage a quick line to everyone about where things are at and what’s next, works wonders and takes everyone forward right to the end of the project. Also, if you’re working with people of all ages and with different languages, forget the youth-speak, avoid colloquialisms and jargon and make everything clear, simple and straightforward.
Lastly – and we can’t emphasise this enough – always oversubscribe. We love young people – we’re a youth-led organisation after all! – but we have to admit that, as a species, turning up when we say we’re going to is not always one of our strengths! We’ve probably all done it at some point, especially if the opportunity on offer is free. Shame on us! So, if your project depends on a certain number of people completing a time-limited stage of your project, consider signing up more than you ideally need, because you can pretty much guarantee a percentage of fall-off from your original numbers. It might be a pain, but having more than you need is a better problem to have than not having enough. We learned this lesson the hard way early on. Luckily we’re working in three participatory phases, so we’ve been able to make up for lost numbers in the final two. But if you’re planning a one-off activity with a target number of participants and no contingency time for repeating, we’d strongly recommend signing up more folks than you need.
Good luck with your projects!
Arron Gill and Ella Marshall, Project Workers
‘CHILDREN IN MOVEMENT’