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As the Assistant Program Manager at the UNC Environmental Finance Center (EFC), I work ‘behind the scenes’ on internal projects related to the every day management of our center. In my role facilitating organizational development at the EFC, I recently spent time researching project management best practices. At the EFC, we help communities design, implement, and finance sustainable environmental projects and programs, and not surprisingly, strong project management structure is often a critical component of any sustainable program. While some of this research was specific to the EFC, many of the lessons I discovered are broadly applicable, whether you’re working for a small water utility or a statewide initiative.  Through this post, I would like to share four easy steps to streamlined project management for any size project.

Before diving into the four steps, please take a moment to reflect on approaches your organization does or does not take to ensure effective project management. Now, consider these four easy steps:

Step 1. Schedule a project kick-off meeting

This first step presents a rare and valuable opportunity for clients, partners, and team members to meet face-to-face. While a face-to-face meeting is not always possible, an alternative could be a structured meeting over the phone or virtual meeting software. The purpose of this kick-off meeting is to:

  • establish relationships between partners and clients,
  • clarify roles,
  • establish expectations and agree on responsibilities, and
  • set milestones and deadlines.

Step 2. Schedule regular, structured check-ins

These can be weekly, bi-weekly, monthly, etc, depending on the project 

This second step ensures that all team-members and clients stay abreast of the progress made on the project. Additionally, it provides an opportunity for the whole team to:

  • identify issues or obstacles,
  • brainstorm alternatives for moving forward, and
  • talk about results.

Finally, these regular meetings provide an opportunity to groom those relationships developed in step one.

Step 3. Develop an agreed-upon system for accountability and recognition.

This step establishes consistency in recognizing challenges and successes. While this is not a requirement, this step oftentimes becomes part of the series of internal check-ins mentioned in Step 2, as those meetings provide a safe space for addressing and learning from both challenges and successes.

Step 4. Complete an end-of-project meeting

This meeting is an important step to ensure that all contractual obligations or project goals are met and paperwork is completed before the team moves on to different projects. This meeting also provides an opportunity for identifying and discussing lessons-learned.

Project Management in Action

As mentioned in the introduction, the EFC often uses this process for our diverse projects. Currently, our biggest project is a multi-million dollar award from EPA to work with small drinking water systems across the United States. We are the lead on the project and are partnered with other Environmental Finance Centers across the country and with AWWA, and the project involves substantial interactions with EPA headquarters, EPA regions, and state and territorial water primacy agencies. A project of this size and scope would not be successful without effective project management.

For example, last year the Small Systems project team scheduled an in-person kick-off meeting in Chapel Hill, giving team-members from all Environmental Finance Centers and from AWWA the opportunity to discuss contractual requirements, develop a staffing strategy, clarify roles and responsibilities, and develop a timetable for deadlines. Since the kick-off meeting, key project team members have held a bi-weekly conference call allowing trainers and staff to discuss project progress and stay informed about challenges encountered along the way.

EPA requires the project team to submit quarterly reports, but we have built additional systems to ensure project accountability. The project team updates a series of Google Docs spreadsheets to show progress in real time, and those spreadsheets are shared with our funder. The project team collects evaluations from all workshop and webinar participants to ensure quality, and we share those spreadsheets with EPA as well. Finally, as the end of the project approaches, project staff is already planning an end-of-project meeting.

What do you do to ensure successful completion of complex projects? Feel free to leave your personal tips and techniques in the comments section below.

Francine Stefan is the EFC’s Assistant Program Manager. She joined the EFC in 2012. Francine is pursuing an M.P.A. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and holds a B.A. in International Studies from North Carolina State University.

The contents of all posts authored by students are solely the responsibility of the authors. Statements made and opinions expressed are strictly those of the authors and not the Environmental Finance Center or The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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4 Responses to “Four Steps of Effective Project Management”

  1. akash


  2. meeting wall

    Meetings are vital for every organization to keep work on track. To get project status it’s mandatory to have at least 10 minutes meeting every day. After reading your tips, I got ideas for project management. Thank you very much for sharing the best article and keep posting!

  3. Joanne Fairchild

    As the administrator of a small utility serving under 500 taps, and a project crew of only 3 people, we still find ourselves miscommunicating and not sharing project status updates. The temptation to “work independently” overrides the need to keep the other team members informed. This article gives good practical step by step information on how a project could work to eliminate frustration for everyone. Thanks for your continued good work at EFCN. I consider you my Go-To resource for everything we need as a small water utility.

    • Francine Stefan

      Joanne, thank you for your kind words and continued interest in our work!

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