Project Practitioners > Community Events - the Show Must Go On...

Community Events - the Show Must Go On...

By Matt Glei

Matt Glei, PMP

I recently completed a community service project. I volunteered to be the Chair of the Logistics Committee for the second annual Independence Day Celebration in Maunalua Bay, Hawaii Kai, the town where I live here on Oahu, Hawaii. Although I've often volunteered for community service projects, such as Habitat for Humanity, I had never been THE project manager for all of the logistics. Even though the event was a big success AND happened on time, I learned many lessons, some of them for the third time.

Volunteer organizations are different from business organizations

Volunteer organizations are usually organized about doing good deeds, helping people, holding community events, etc. They are usually not especially project-oriented and depend almost completely on volunteers. The normal organizational chain of command and breadth of resources can be dramatically different from traditional businesses.

Some organizations, such as Habitat for Humanity are in fact very project-oriented and they use construction professionals (even though volunteering their time) to do the planning and control of the work. In a grass-roots community organization volunteers often come and go over the years, and of course, most organizations are very dependent on a few die-hard volunteers who are always the ones you can depend on.

Critical thinking is especially critical in volunteer organizations

Since these organizations are doing good work, many volunteers don’t want to spend time critiquing ideas because it would be considered being critical of others. In reality, critical thinking is anything but critique, because good ideas are many, but executable, great ideas are few. One example is "let’s do such and such as a fundraiser" and everybody agrees without thinking through the effort and payback, or risks. Once agreed to, few think of doing the hard work of translating it into executable plans. This is the project manager’s job, no matter what the pain. You must teach the organization how to do this well.

The devil is in the details …

As all project managers know, we learn this lesson over and over. One example, one vendor provided the tents and another provided the stage for entertainment. Although our logistics group was not directly involved in the specification or contract, the stage and the tent height did not match, so we had to do a last-minute change to make the stage clearance more appropriate.

Although I penned a public parking plan that laid out the details of where to park and how volunteer shuttle services would work, the details did not get shared with the drivers of the shuttle buses, so we had to do an intervention to get the pick-ups in the right places. Again, never distrust the need to communicate with the actual people who make it happen.

Lessons learned are even MORE important

The trouble with a volunteer organization is that the roles and the players changes constantly. The people who do the event next year will not be the same people who did it this year. When I agreed to the role this year, I did not understand the problems from last year. We focused on discovering them and worked hard to mitigate them. With volunteer organizations, the only constant is change.

We have agreed to not only do the "lessons learned" meeting, but to create a notebook of all the exemplars of items like permits, quotes and purchase orders. This will give next years’ team a better start than we had at our beginning.

-- Matt Glei, PMP, www.KnowHowConsulting

Not all comments are posted. Posted comments are subject to editing for clarity and length.

Excellent article. You were 100% on target on your observations and experience with volunteer organizations. I appreciate hearing like-minded people who not only recognize the problem, but who work in a solution mindset by bringing sustainable/workable tools to this ongoing problem.

Thanks for your feedback. The good news is that because everyone is trying to do the right thing, we will likely have an excellent lessons-learned and make more improvements for next year!

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