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My worst project – Lesson 3: Poor planning

Continued from My worst project – Lesson 2: Not matching setup to the expectationsIt was the summer of 1988 and there we were in the steamy Yucatan Peninsula. The 110 students and sponsors on my project had raised a bunch of money to be there. And the problems just kept rolling my way – a fresh b…
By Seth Barnes
By Seth Barnes

Continued from My worst project – Lesson 2: Not matching setup to the expectations

It was the summer of 1988 and there we were in the steamy Yucatan Peninsula. The 110 students and sponsors on my project had raised a bunch of money to be there. And the problems just kept rolling my way – a fresh batch every day. Cooks on strike. Students sick and dehydrated. Toilets that stopped working just as Montezuma was getting his revenge on the team. People were not happy. How did it come to this? What could I have done to avoid this mess?

The 19 years of experience I’ve had since then organizing projects for more than 70,000 people have given me a lot of hindsight. If there’s a mistake, I’ve made it! In my prior blogs on the subject, I touched on the importance of leadership and communication. Covey tells us that a good leader will “begin with the end in mind.” That’s called designing the project. A leader’s first job is to design the project. His second job is to staff it. And his third job is to thoroughly plan the project using a notebook full of checklists.

Design
Here are some questions to ask when designing the project:

  1. What is the purpose of the project?
  2. What measurable goals do we want to accomplish?
  3. How long will it take to complete?
  4. How will we know we succeeded?
  5. How will we communicate that to supporters?
  6. How will we train participants?
  7. How do we ensure the competency and right motives of long-term partners?
  8. Will our partners ensure continuity after the project?

Ensure good staffing
Choose your people carefully so that you can focus on the spiritual aspects of the project. You may need to recruit some staff from the participants if you don’t have enough volunteers. Build a trust relationship and train them. Consider meeting with them in advance of the project to ensure this happens.

Checklists
If you’re not a detail person, for heaven’s sake delegate the planning to someone else. And if your ego won’t allow that, then at least use a great checklist. I have a bunch of these. For example, here’s a list of questions that I use for screening host church partners:

  1. What is your vision and how can I help you realize it?
  2. What don’t you want our team to do?
  3. What will you do to prepare for the project and for our partnership?
  4. Who is on your team and who can we rely on?
  5. What concerns do you have?
  6. Where are you weak and how can we work around that?
  7. What human resources can we tap? What are their competencies?
  8. What resources will you provide? (They should provide at least 50%).
  9. Who do I interface with now to get things done?

Ask “what if…?”
Because Murphy’s Law is universally true on mission projects, you not only need a plan A, but a plan B and C. I should have asked about the plumbing system before we arrived. I should have checked out the water source.

Tomorrow, I’ll look at the problem of inadequate team preparation

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Seth Barnes

I'm motivated to join God in his global reclamation project. He's on the move, setting his sons and daughters free from their places of captivity. And he's partnering with those of us who have been freed to go and free others.



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