Planning an evaluation
The evaluation should have clear aims and objectives. It is also helpful to decide where its boundaries should lie – how much or how little is to be evaluated?
If you were part of a group planning to evaluate the planning and implementation stages of a project, what questions would you recommend should be asked?
Some of the key questions in evaluating the planning and implementation of a project are:
What went well and why?
What helped to make the project go smoothly?
What should we avoid doing during future projects?
What difficulties did you find in carrying out the tasks?
What was helpful about the project plan?
What was unhelpful about the project plan or hindered the work?
Did anything else help to make the project run smoothly?
Why do you think we had that problem with X?
Did anyone outside the project team contribute towards achieving the project?
Did anyone or any other departments hinder the project activities?
Did we accurately predict the major risks and did the contingency plans work?
Was the quality maintained at an appropriate level?
Was the budget managed well, and did we complete the project within the budget?
Was the timing managed well, and did we complete the project within the time-scale?
If you plan to carry out this type of evaluation it is helpful to collect the appropriate data when it becomes available. A key decision in the planning stage is who should be involved in the evaluation: in its design and/or its implementation. The nature of the audience may determine how the results of the evaluation are reported and used. The purpose of the evaluation will also influence who carries it out. The outcome of a major publicly-funded project would often be evaluated by an external and independent body, to give the findings. A collaborative project, in contrast, might be formally evaluated by a group of the key stakeholders, each reporting back to their own organisation. An external evaluator may be costly; but an internal evaluation will draw on time and energy that might be better devoted elsewhere. The evaluation's timing may be particularly significant if it is to involve project team members.
Contingency plans indicate what to do if unplanned events occur. They can be as simple as formalising and recording the thought processes when you ask ‘what if …?’ and decide which options you would follow if the ‘what if?’ situation happened. The key points in contingency planning can be summarised as follows:
Note where extra resources might be obtained in an emergency and be aware of the points in your plan where this might be required.
Identify in advance those dates, which if missed, will seriously affect your plans, e.g. gaining financial approval from a committee that meets only once every six weeks.
Know your own plan very well; probe for its weak points and identify those places where there is some ‘slack’ which only you know about …
Keep all those involved (including yourself) well informed and up-to-date on progress so that problems can be addressed before they cause too much disruption.
Recognise the key points in your plan where there are alternative courses of action and think through the possible scenarios for each one.
Learn from experience – sometimes the unpredictable peaks and troughs in activity follow a pattern – it's just that we have yet to recognise it.
The following suggestions for dealing with contingencies were all made by practising managers:
Break key tasks down to a greater level of detail to give better control.
Be prepared to overlap phases and tasks in your plan in order to meet time-scales, but give the necessary extra commitment to communication and co-ordination this will require.
Spend time at the start in order to pre-empt many of the problems.
Learn from experience, e.g. develop a list of reliable contractors, consultants, etc.
Try and leave some slack before and after things which you cannot directly control, to minimise the knock-on effect of any problems prior to, or during, such tasks.
Pull tasks forwards if possible: one less thing to worry about!