Wednesday 2 February 2022

5 of the Most Useful Tools for Project Management in Social Assistance

There is a wide range of reliable planning tools that facilitate the project management process and provide the means to track and analyze project plans over time.

Below are five of the most useful planning tools for health and social care projects.

1. Pros, cons and interesting moments

This simple technique for evaluating the pros and cons of a solution was developed by Edward De Bono. It involves listing the positive aspects of the plan in the first column, the negative aspects in the second column, and any interesting points in the third column; they may also include any consequences or uncertainties you want to consider.

Each moment is then assigned a positive or negative score. For example, if a manager decides whether to create a new in-house training program, the positive aspect of this plan may be "the existing training does not meet the needs of the staff", and this moment receives a score of +4. The downside may be 'limited resources to implement better learning' and he gets a score of 4. Interesting points can be 'recent complaints from staff about current training' – with a score of +2, or 'it's a big task to accomplish' – with a score of -3.

Then all assigned points are summed up. If the amount is positive - feel free to proceed, if negative - be careful.

2. Analysis of the field of forces

Force field analysis is another approach to consider all the pros and cons of a decision, or the pros and cons. It helps to develop a strategy to support the project. It is possible to strengthen these factors by supporting a certain course of action, and reduce the influence of counteracting factors.

To use this tool:

1. Describe your plan or suggestion for a change in the center of the sheet of paper.
2. List all the factors for the change in the column on the left side of the sheet of paper, and all the factors against the change in the column on the right side of the sheet of paper.

3. Assign a score to each factor – from 1 (weak) to 5 (strong).

Using the example described above, the factor behind the change could be 'the ability to involve staff in the analysis and development of a new program' – with a score of 3. A factor against the change may be 'lack of staff makes it difficult to allocate time for analysis' – with a score of 5.

After getting a visual picture of the ranked factors for and against your project, add up the points to decide whether to move forward. Then think about how to change the balance in your favor and increase the likelihood of success.

At this stage, there are two options:

  • Reduce the strength of the factors opposing the
  • project
  • Increase the factors contributing to your project.

Often the best solution is the first option; trying to push through change without regard to the opposing factors can create its own problems. People resist change more strongly if they feel that it is being imposed on them.

3. Gantt Charts

Gantt charts are perhaps the most well-known project management tool and provide a clear visual picture of project planning and progress.

First, you specify all the tasks that need to be done, the actions that need to be performed, the resources that need to be found. Let's look at an example of creating a newsletter. The task list would include:

  • Plan common goals.
  • Find authors of articles.
  • Develop a layout.
  • Make advertising/find funding.

A timeline is then created for the estimated length of time that the project will take (in this case, 12 weeks), and each task is assigned a separate line. 'Planning for common goals' can take two weeks, so a line is drawn to indicate this.

You can highlight timelines in different colors, like blocks, to show the type of task, or to distribute responsibility to different team members, or to check what has been achieved. You can show the cost in a column at the end of the time line next to each task.

But there are limitations, especially if the project becomes more complex. In practice, it is often impossible to do one task at a time or to do tasks in order. Some tasks have to be performed simultaneously or in parallel. Some tasks have to start before others, and certain tasks need to be completed before others can start – these are called 'dependencies'.

See a step-by-step guide to creating a Gantt chart using Microsoft Excel 2007.

4. Critical Path Analysis

This planning tool takes into account all factors, giving a more complex visual picture. Critical path analysis is a very reasonable and effective way to plan and manage projects that require multiple tasks to be completed simultaneously to reach the next stage. It shows what needs to be done and when, in a schematic form. You can extend the schema to reflect the scope of your project, and apply timelines and costs to each task and resource as needed.

For example, you need to 'plan the content of the newsletter' before 'writing articles' (dependency). However, several different tasks can be done simultaneously (in parallel) with the help of different people before printing the final copies.

Learn how to create a network schedule.

5. PERT (Program Evaluation and Revision Method)

There is a strong tradition in social care services of understating the time required to implement change. This is especially true if you are not familiar with the tasks or changes that are being implemented. People forget to consider unforeseen events or other priority elements, or do not take into account the complexity of implementing the change.

For thoughtful project management, an accurate estimation of time is necessary for two main reasons.
First, assessments of what can be achieved in a certain amount of time mean that goals or deadlines can be set. To make sense, checkpoints must be as realistic as possible, otherwise people will lose their fortitude. Acknowledging success and progress is an important part of implementing change, and if checkpoints have not been achieved, you need to be able to identify the reasons for it.

Second, if you're asking for third-party funding, you should have a reasonable timeframe. This shows your reliability and increases the likelihood of evaluating your intended results as successful.

The first step in accurately estimating time is to fully understand what you need to achieve. This implies a detailed analysis of the required tasks. Project management tools such as Gantt charts and critical path analysis help classify different tasks and most accurately estimate the time required for each task.

Be sure to include time in the assessment for detailed project planning, interaction with other organizations, meetings, quality control and any accompanying control documentation that needs to be created.

Also allow time for:

  • • Other priority urgent tasks.
  • • Extraordinary circumstances.
  • • Internal meetings.
  • • Holidays and illnesses of the main staff.
  • • Manage your existing workload.
  • • Unexpected delays in accessing resources.

These factors can double (or more than double) the length of time required to complete the project.

Accurate Time Estimation (PERT)

PERT is a formula for calculating the length of time required for a project, or for each stage of the project. Essentially, it's a kind of critical path analysis that is more skeptical about duration estimates.

To use it, evaluate:

• The shortest period of time taken up by each task.
• The most likely period of time.
• The longest amount of time it can take if things don't go right.

The formula is as follows:

(shortest time period + 4 x probable time period + longest time period) = x divided by 6.

This helps to deflect duration estimates from the usually assumed unrealistically short time periods. For example, to write a 2-page funding application for your project, the formula might look like this:

2 days + 4 x 5 days + 20 days = 42 days divided by 6 = 7 days.

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