Organizations frequently struggle to align plans, budgets, and the daily operations associated with a newly awarded grant. Planning effectively, and then using that plan to guide action, is critical to an effective grant implementation strategy. This article describes 3 steps your organization can take to design a useful project plan and avoid poor program performance.
Planning Is Key
Sounds obvious, but it's a rule that is often ignored. This is especially true when organizations pursue grants without a broader funding strategy. When this occurs, financial requirements such as matching costs, maintenance of effort, and unplanned indirect costs can produce unplanned financial strain on a grant recipient. A well developed project plan can help mitigate these risks.
Developing a project plan will help you organize the efforts surrounding a newly awarded grant. The groundwork for your project plan should be laid out in the grant application (again, why planning is critical). However, since time passes between an application submission and award, resources may have shifted or key personnel may have moved on to other assignments. It is always best to reanalyze the proposal after you receive your notice of award and before you accept the grant. If the proposal is unclear, this is the time to clarify your project plan based on resources and is the one opportunity to adjust how the project will be implemented before you commit to the funder.
3 Simple Rules
Project plans should be easy to understand and follow a simple set of rules. To make it easy, you can follow these rules by asking these 3 simple questions:
- What tasks must be completed to meet the project’s goals and objectives?
- Who is responsible for completing each task?
- When must each task be completed?
The answer to each of these questions should come from the approved grant application and your own internal policies. When information from your application is vague or inaccurate, you should modify it as necessary and in accordance with the guidelines of the program. It is also critical that you understand your own internal policy and procedures to ensure that compliance meets both your funder's requirements and your own internal controls. When these requirements are out of sync it may result in questioned costs or audit findings. Follow these 3 simple rules to avoid this outcome.
The first rule of the project plan—establishing tasks to be completed—should be directly linked to the goals and objectives of your project. It is helpful to identify the relationships among the activities and to identify key milestones that will show accomplishment of your program outcomes.
The second rule of the project plan—determining who is responsible for completing each task—should clearly identify specific individuals and their roles and responsibilities. Whether your project is simple or complex, it will be critical to know exactly who is responsible for different tasks at various stages. Successful project implementation requires effective information sharing and collaboration.
The third rule—determining when each task should be completed—should be contained align with project timeline. Developing a timeline will keep the program on track and clarify objectives. If your project falls behind schedule, remember to consult your grant award agreement before making changes that might require prior approval from the funding agency.
A clear project plan can be a useful guide to translating your proposal into action, and is one of many steps that will ensure performance and compliance. Even the best-laid plans face obstacles. By creating an effective project plan, you can identify any potential roadblocks and establish a plan for overcoming them sooner rather than later. If you need help automating these rules, contact us.
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