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Project management - not just for work

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Posted by APM on 1st May 2015

The Branch was grateful to corporate member Airbus for hosting this event at their excellent facilities at Pegasus House, Filton,Bristol.  Our speaker  Barnaby Beere, is an experienced project manager who approached the branch a while ago with a proposal for a different type of case study event. Normally our case study events are based on large, high profile projects around the region, but Barnaby wanted to highlight how useful project management is to run projects outside of work as a volunteer, and his experience as chairman of the Wotton Community Sports Foundation in managing the delivery of two all weather sports pitches, a drainage solution and skate park.

Barnaby explained the background to the Wotton Community Sports Foundation charity and how the 38 acre site was provided on a 999 year lease.  The majority of the site was relatively undeveloped, was wet, with only a rugby pitch on it. As with many volunteers, he got involved gradually and eventually found himself as chairman, with the responsibility for driving the project through.

The original intention was for a £1.6M big bang project, but Barnaby explained that this was unrealistic  as the bidding process for funding was very difficult for volunteers to manage and the bid was eventually rejected.  So the decision was made to break the project up into smaller projects and to take an iterative approach. They were then fortunate to receive a generous donation which enabled work to proceed.

Barnaby’s first lesson was that to keep teams motivated, especially of volunteers, you really need some quick wins along the way to show progress. An iterative approach can help with this.

Lesson two was to use any contacts you have. For the construction of the pitches, they recognised they needed expertise and employed a quantity surveyor to plan the requirement and prepare the specification which allowed them to tender for the construction.

The third  lesson was the benefit of hard deadlines to focus effort on getting started and delivering on time.  The original planning permission needed renewing and the hockey team had to a deadline to confirm their booking for the following year.

With this focus, both pitches were finished ahead of schedule in August 2013 and are in full use by hockey and football clubs, which have both increased their membership.

The fourth lesson was that impatience was a virtue and not to be embarrassed about not being satisfied. Push and challenge if you are not satisfied with progress or quality.

Barnaby’s fifth lesson was that the best problems are those that can be solved with money.  Although the pitches had been completed early, there were no flood lights as the power company took much longer than expected to provide mains power. This would have limited income as the pitches would not be usable outside winter day light hours.  The interim solution was to rent a generator.  Although the fuel costs were very high, it still broke event with the income generated, and made sure the facilities were able to be used on time from September 2013.

Other interim solutions were needed for toilets, refreshments and changing rooms, as the planned pavilion at £140K was not affordable immediately.  The solution was to use portable toilets, a snack van and to use the adjacent school’s changing facilities in exchange for the school using the pitches during the day.

Drainage was a problem for the low lying site and attenuation ponds were needed to deal with the rain water runoff from the new artificial pitches. This solution was cheaper than an underground tank and had additional benefits of creating a wetland wildlife area.  Drainage has also been helped with planting 4000 saplings to create a wildlife corridor.

Barnaby then explained that having a proven track record with the artificial pitches made it easier to raise funding for the skate park, especially as there was now a revenue steam from the pitch hire. Lessons from the artificial pitche project were applied, local users asked what they wanted to see, and competitive procurement used to secure an experienced contractor.  The skate park was opened ahead of schedule in March this year.

Barnaby then moved on to the ‘soft’ aspects, which involved an organisational change programme. The charity took over the management of the sports centre in the adjacent school from the District Council.  To do so, a joint venture trading company was established, owned by the school and the sports foundation. The JV acts as an agent and employs the staff. The change programme was complex, involving a TUPE transfer for the staff from the employment of the Council, setting up a pension plan for the  staff, , setting up a new company, business plan, bank accounts and cash handling, web site, marketing, new logo and staff work ware.  This was not easy and required a lot of stakeholder management to get agreement and overcome resistance

Before starting, the experience of  other organisations was sought, including advise from the Charity Commission and also APM’s directing change and co-directing change publications.

Lesson six is that change is difficult, challenges people, and makes them feel uncomfortable.  But you should still do it.  Stakeholder management and good communication are needed to get people on board

Barnaby reflected on his personal learning and how his skills had improved through volunteering. He had improved his procurement and contact management skills, supply chain management, leadership, delegation and financial management skills.

His final challenge for the audience was ‘what can you do to help your community?’

Martin Gosden
SWWE branch Chairman


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