Young Brent Foundation: project management for social good

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In July, APM’s launched its third Golden Thread report, focusing on sectors where project management skills are increasingly being used to run projects more effectively. The charity sector is one such area. Here, Mark Rowland interviews Chris Murray, CEO of the Young Brent Foundation, which provided a case study to the Golden Thread, about his work providing youth services in London.

The basis of Chris Murray’s work is to keep young people safe. He is CEO of the Young Brent Foundation, which supports the needs of children and young people in the London Borough of Brent by providing community-focused youth services. Murray is driven by a need to give every young person in the area the same opportunities. This requires careful project management.

Murray learned project management skills during the financial crisis, applying PRINCE2 and the McKinsey 7S Framework to manage tightening resources. Project management principles have been a vital element of his leadership approach ever since.

Framing work to give it measurable value

“Young people go through different stages depending on the complexity of the life issues they face,” Murray says, “whether around culture or heritage, or issues around class. The project management approach enables us to frame it, so that the work has measurable value.”

Project management principles allow Murray to map out progress across the key moments of a child’s progression into adulthood. It helps to simplify a complex and emotive issue into digestible terms for stakeholders.

“When you’re planning an activity or transformation, a project management approach takes you through a journey,” he says. “For example, we’re working with the Met Police on transforming young people’s understanding of COVID-19 and the impact it may have on their community. Project management helps us to plan for most eventualities. It’s about being purposeful and having an outcome for that journey. Through that lens, we can manage it, and everybody gets it because they can see their part of the journey.”

By creating a solid start, middle and end to the organisation’s goals through project management principles, Murray and his team can benchmark everything that they do in a more digestible way.

For example, over the August bank holiday weekend, the Young Brent Foundation will work with 20 of the most vulnerable and at-risk groups of young people in the community. This work keeps them out of trouble, makes people safer and reduces the burden on the police. “If we do this properly, we could save the area £194,000. That’s a clear, tangible value that the local authority and other investors can grasp.”

‘Improving lives’ is not easy to measure or quantify

The projects that the Young Brent Foundation manages are not simple. Murray explains that you have to break it down and focus on your part of the equation. Collaboration is essential to deliver on such big aims.

“To build a house, you’re going to need all of these different components to make that house solid and habitable. That’s how young minds are. You’ve got to occupy it so that it becomes a place of learning, and invest in good parents and good schools, good social structures, good role models and so on, until they’re of an age where they can fly themselves.”

Human beings are unpredictable, which creates risks and unknown factors. Murray subscribes to the theory of the change model, a framework designed to help organisations plan for social change, to help manage that uncertainty.

“You apply a logical model to what you’re trying to do in an illogical situation,” he explains. “Dominance behaviour might be illogical to me until you unpick it and realise the reason why someone behaved in that way. It may be that they now come off that particular trajectory on that particular project plan and we get them onto another one, because they need a different type of support to scaffold them. They end up on a different journey than you first planned for.”

Monitoring and evaluation at every stage

In such an unpredictable, complicated and emotive environment, lessons learned is a vital stage. Murray encourages constant iterative improvement and analysis to ensure that those lessons are acted on. The foundation is working with Goldsmiths College; the two organisations have collaborated to ensure monitoring and evaluation is built into every stage of the project’s development.

“How do we become more reflective in the moment, rather than waiting retrospectively to learn from it? [With Goldsmiths] we’re building in mechanisms to ask the right questions and find teachable moments for young people. We may still get it wrong, but we’ve built in some processes that will enable us to keep asking questions.”

The organisation manages its projects through individual trackers and process maps for each team. All of this goes into Murray’s “giant Gantt chart” that allows him to monitor the progress of each project and how they intersect.

“We use tools around PRINCE2, which is my training background. Fundamentally, it is about using the various checks and balances that we use within a Gantt chart to enable us to have a different type of conversation with and for young people.”

 

Read APM’s report The Golden Thread: Project management in three key sectors at www.apm.org.uk/goldenthread/sector/

 

Image: Monster Ztudio / Shutterstock

 

Mark Rowland

Posted by Mark Rowland on 28th Aug 2020

About the Author

Mark Rowland is a senior writer on the Project editorial team. He has worked as a business journalist and editor for 15 years, and has won awards for his writing and editing. He has also worked in project and product management, overseeing the launch and continuous development of new websites and publications. Project is the official journal of the Association for Project Management (APM).

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