According to Project Management Institute (PMI), project management is the application of knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques to a project’s activities to meet its requirements. A project is not a routine operation; rather, it is a temporary initiative with a defined beginning and end in time, predetermined scope and resources, and specific set of operations designed to accomplish a single goal.

Many nonprofit leaders overcomplicate project management, assuming it’s a complex process that requires a trained expert. After all, an entire institute and certification are dedicated to it! But as one of those trained experts, I’m here to assure you: Project management is a straightforward practice that provides powerful tools for those equipped to use it.

Pictured: A checklist for project management success. Learn how to set goals, create action plans, and determine necessary activities.

Many project management models and approaches exist; PMI’s is one of the more well-known and contains five stages: initiating, planning, executing, monitoring and controlling, and closing. It encompasses ten areas including integration, scope, time, cost, quality, procurement, human resources, communications, risk management, and stakeholder management. Again, these categories may sound daunting to those not familiar with them. But when deconstructed into its most basic building blocks, project management is a chain of common-sense ideas.

I have spent years training nonprofit leaders in basic project management practices, debunking the myth that the process is inaccessible. I have seen the power of project management at work in the nonprofit sector, helping folks tackle their workloads efficiently and with high-quality results. Especially in a field where individuals are strapped for time and tasked to do much work with few resources, project management can make a significant difference in employee well-being and organizational performance.

The following tips will help you begin to think like a project manager and work smarter, not needlessly harder, in 2020.

Establish the project’s goals. January is goal-setting month at organizational development consulting firm Brighter Strategies, and project management is all about creating and meeting milestones. First, determine a singular ultimate outcome. Then, break down the project into smaller objectives that, once achieved, will lead to outcome completion. At the end of this goal-setting exercise, you will have established a project blueprint.

Review the entire project plan before taking the first step. I like to tell nonprofit leaders to approach project management like baking. If you start dumping ingredients in a bowl before reading the full recipe, you might miss an important step, like bringing the butter to room temperature, which is critical to creating a high-quality cookie. The same applies to a project you are starting in your agency. Don’t dive in before clearly understanding each step that must follow.

Start with the end in mind. Now that you have determined your final goal and mapped out your project plan, work backwards. Beginning with your outcome, follow your project blueprint in reverse. Take each step of the project and determine the tasks that must take place, which stakeholders are responsible for completing each task, and by when. Write each detail down until you feel confident you have created a clear picture of the project’s full scope.

Only after you have finished the above thinking exercises is it time to act. Too many people begin a project before setting goals, creating an action plan, and determining necessary activities each step of the way.

Brighter Strategies recently launched a leadership training cohort, part of its Nonprofit Management Series. During one of the sessions, Project Management Tools, participants will learn and practice even more project management concepts to ensure they complete their workload effectively and on time. Find more details about the leadership training cohort, and contact Brighter Strategies today.