Building Bridges

Even building a snow fort calls for project management!

It’s that time of year, and with an expected winter of bounty, it is time for snow fort planning! My husband, Seth, and I have made a snow fort or two in recent snowy years. We look forward to making another this year. But first, we do need to plan a bit!

Here is what we do to plan:

Initiate – We commit (usually, just to each other) to creating a snow fort once we have at least 18” of easily movable snow on the ground. We decide if we’ll do all the work ourselves or engage some friends, and we ensure we have the tools needed – snowblower, shovels, fire pit, seating, and decorations. Most important, we decide what the purpose of our snow fort will be, usually to have an outdoor entertainment area on a few wintery and starry evenings.

Real snow igloo house in the winter Carpathian mountains. Snow-covered firs on the background

Plan – We envision our ideal snow fort, even draw out the plan. Then we agree on who is doing what and if we will “outsource” any of the labor to neighborhood kids. Seth usually uses the snowblower to create our rough footprint, then we both shovel the snow into the desired shape. I select decorations, and we both set them out. We plan out the timeframe for doing all this work – usually over a weekend.

Implement – When we finally have the requisite amount of shovel-able snow, we get to work. We communicate as we work. What if I just can’t lift another shovel-ful? Or the snowblower goes on the fritz? Of course, our project is low risk, so if we don’t complete it, our friends will understand. Or maybe we plan to resume work the following weekend.

Close – Our celebration comes when we host our first snow fort event under the stars – complete with hot cocoa or a cheese fondue. Inevitably, Seth and I decide what we would do differently next time, perhaps create more seating or elicit more help.

This is a simple project, but these phases can apply to any project you work on, such as a plan to design and develop a training course. Key activities in each phase often include:

Initiate – Defining project deliverables, roles and responsibilities, and any assumptions you are making about the project.

Plan – Listing project milestones such as: complete needs assessment, prepare curriculum design, develop course modules, prepare evaluation tools, pilot course, and measure impact. Each of these tasks will have multiple subtasks, some of which rely on others to be completed before they can start, so the plan will quickly grow more complex than our snow fort. For each task you will determine a duration, responsible person, resources needed, and other information to help you monitor your progress.

Implement – Beginning the work! This is where the needs assessment tasks begin and the course is developed and piloted. To help you stay organized, you might create a Gantt chart, perhaps in a project management tool like MS Project or Smartsheet. With a Gantt chart, you can easily visualize the tasks to be completed and in what order. You’ll also see which jobs can be worked on simultaneously, so you can assign resources appropriately. Project management tools offer other approaches to staying organized.

You’ll also pay attention to risks and issues. What if your subject matter expert is no longer available or is running late? What if the information you need is unavailable? You may need to address unexpected snafus and adjust your plan throughout your project. Many organizations hold weekly or even daily meetings to ensure the project runs as planned.

Close – Finally, closing out your project once the course or curriculum has launched. In this step, you’ll determine what worked well and what you’d change next time. Perhaps you’d have a backup subject matter expert next time or you would create the learning assessment earlier in the process.

Whether your project is a snow fort or creating a course, it’s crucial to develop an organized process for managing its day-to-day tasks. When you follow the initiate/plan/implement/close model, you can keep your project on track and set it up for success.