Use project management to transform your service

When you think of public safety projects, what comes to mind?

  • Just another pet project
  • A way to earn a promotion

For many, project management is seen as a technical role within a business organization. But a shift in our thinking about how projects relate to our work as fire service professionals can transform how we work together to achieve our goals and better serve our communities.

What would it mean for our departments and our taxpayers if we tried to increase the success rate of our projects, even by 10%?

What would it mean for our departments and our taxpayers if we tried to increase the success rate of our projects, even by 10%? (Picture/Getty)

Prioritize and plan projects

According to Antonio Nieto-Rodriguez, author of the Harvard Business Review Project management manual, about $48 trillion is invested in projects every year, but only 35% is considered successful. While this figure includes both public and private organizations, we can look at the same reasons why Neito-Rodriguez thinks many projects struggle to avoid these pitfalls in our industry:

  • The methods for the project management role need to be refreshed.
  • The culture, structure and processes of the organization must be updated.
  • Senior executives must invest in the importance of project managers and learn how to select the best projects for their goals while prioritizing quality over quantity.

What would it mean for our departments and our taxpayers if we tried to increase the success rate of our projects, even by 10%?

As more operational tasks become automated and people move into project-based roles, Nieto-Rodriguez strives to make project management skills more accessible at all levels of an organization. His model shows how we can identify projects that not only help us manage the organization, but also change the organization. And that change starts with top management.

What do senior leaders who are successful with their projects do differently? According to Neito-Rodriquez, they put in the time! Everyone likes to start new things. But how do we engage stakeholders and maintain momentum to achieve our goals?

Project management doesn’t have to be technical. The Project Canvas offers a framework that can simply be implemented by any industry.

Foundation area

  • Purpose: Why are we doing the project?
  • Investment: how much will the project cost?
  • Benefits: what benefits will the project generate and how will we know it is a success?

People domain

  • Sponsorship: Who will be responsible for the project?
  • Stakeholders: who will benefit and be affected by the project?
  • Resources: Who will manage the project and what skills are needed to complete it?

Creation area

  • Deliverables: What will the project produce, build or deliver?
  • Plan: How and when will the work be carried out?
  • Change: How will we engage stakeholders and manage risk?

As fire service leaders, we need to focus our efforts in the realm of people. Traditionally, we entrust our best people with the most difficult tasks. We need to rethink how we get people excited about the work we ask them to do. Think about the purpose of your project and put people at the center. Align their skills and potential with this objective and show how they play an important role in the success of the project. One of the benefits of this focus is a greater focus on recruitment and retention, as people find a deeper connection to their work and the community.

The way you organize your projects also plays a big role in their success. At the Smyrna, Georgia Fire Department, we divide our projects into four categories:

  1. Maintenance: basic services
  2. Strategic: transformative ideas
  3. Efficiency: improving and innovating existing processes
  4. Event: Specific planning

We use a software tool called Planner to help us keep all of our projects on track. Whether we’re working on accreditation, ISO, or a station-specific project, we know who owns the project and timeline, and have a place to keep all communications and documentation related to that project. A tagging feature allows us to communicate in real time rather than searching through email responses.

Look forward

Whatever approach or tools you use to implement projects in your department, there are three ideas that will go a long way towards ensuring their success:

  1. Focus on training and project management skills at all levels.
  2. Keep stakeholders and taxpayers in mind.
  3. Be ahead of your initiatives! Your leadership and enthusiasm will inspire others to take ownership of their role in the project.

Projects are more than a way to earn promotions. They are the future of how we will accomplish our mission! Let’s embrace them with vision and confidence as we lead others in our departments to do the same.