Project Management

Every major civic initiative or public project must have a strong project manager and a rigorous project management system to have any prospects for success.

Announcing civic initiatives with great fanfare is tempting, but no public project should be managed on the fly. Managing projects without adequate planning, due diligence and discipline simply invites failure. The results are predictable: ill-defined work, sloppy contracts, poorly-executed decisions, missed deadlines, lax accountability, excessive change orders and interminable cost overruns. Public resources are wasted and public expectations dashed.

A structured project management system offers a vital weapon for avoiding such pitfalls and ensuring the success of critical civic initiatives. With such a system, projects are planned, evaluated, sponsored, organized, measured, monitored and reported in a consistent manner. A good project management system does not entirely eliminate risks, but it does provide a framework to deal with contingencies as they arise.   It provides a methodological road map, including standard processes and tools, to help project participants do more than just hope for the best, but also plan for the worst.

An effective project management system provides a rigorous—yet practical—process for managing each stage of the project life cycle.

  • Project Initiation – assessing, approving and sponsoring the project;
  • Project Planning – organizing, financing and scheduling the project;
  • Project Implementation – aligning, coordinating and redeploying project resources;
  • Project Monitoring – tracking tasks, milestones and resources and forcing course corrections; and
  • Project Closeout – winding down project activities, informing stakeholders and documenting lessons learned.

And a well-designed system is flexible enough to be scaled to each project’s size, cost and complexity.

For example, small projects require less extensive pre-project analysis and planning work than large projects. In contrast, large projects, such as those subject to voter approval, require a formal project vision, feasibility analysis, decision mechanism and charter.   These elements are summarized below.

  • Visioning – document the project’s desired outcomes, rationale, targets, scope of work, products, milestones, timetable and other key characteristics;
  • Feasibility analysis – assess the project’s likely benefits and risks, assess its impact on other projects, conduct a thorough financial analysis, identify potential implementation barriers and make the business case for the project;
  • Decision (Go/No Go) – obtain a clear decision on the project (i.e., approve, postpone or reject) and, if the project is approved, obtain the requisite resource commitment from an authorized entity; and
  • Charter – memorialize in one document, approved by the governing board, the most critical elements of the approved project, such as: project sponsor, budget, lead agency, project manager, key deliverables, projected start and end dates and the signatures of the project sponsor and governing board.

Once approved, large projects should be assigned a dedicated, skilled project manager to prepare and maintain the project management system, including the tools summarized in the table below.



Purpose of Project Management Tool

Work Plan


Specify project tasks, task interdependencies, assignments, key deliverables, and milestones. Track project activities, decisions & progress.

Activity Log


Document tasks that do not merit inclusion in the Work Plan, including any tasks assigned to or modified by project team leaders.

Status Report


Summarize project status, identify recent & planned achievements, material schedule deviations, potential issues & note correction actions.

Project Meetings


Discuss project status, issues & corrective actions. Agenda should include project status report, team leader reports, project issues & change orders.

Project Issues Log


Document & communicate any issues that threaten project success, assess their potential impact & priority & ensure their prompt resolution.

Change Request

As Needed

Document any project change request that represents a material change to the Work Plan or could significantly alter project scope or costs.

Change Approval

As Needed

Document the analysis of, rationale for & approval of any recommended project change order.

Regardless of the project magnitude, and the types of project management tools required, no project should be undertaken without the stewardship of a strong project manager and the well-designed project management system.

An effective project management system, maintained by an experienced project manager, offers several benefits for any entity or community contemplating a major project, initiative or undertaking:

  • It ensures an objective analysis of the project costs and benefits before the project is launched;
  • It ensures thorough planning before significant resources are expended on the project;
  • It sets clear expectations for the quality, quantity, timing and cost of deliverables;
  • It solidifies organizational support and communications among project stakeholders;
  • It enhances a project team’s ability to adjust to contingencies; and
  • It provides a consistent, verifiable means for measuring project progress and ensuring accountability.

In short, sound project management is vital to the success of any civic initiative. Any enterprise that neglects this advice does so at its peril.