Friday, November 18, 2011

That's the problem with Project Management

Today an executive in a nonprofit again told me about "the problem with Project Management".  This time "the problem" was defined as the requirement to meet stated goals within budget and on time.

Huh?  Being required to bring things in within budget, on time, and up to spec is a problem?

Well, no.  Further discussion of the project in question revealed the biggest problem was the requirement to meet totally unrealistic budgets and irrational schedules.  That is not a problem with Project Management.  In fact, the problem arose because Project Managers were largely left out of the development of the schedule and budgetary baselines.  Even more importantly, basic Project Management approaches were ignored.  Stakeholder assessments were not performed.  Neither were risk assessments.  And estimations from previous projects that were shown to be inaccurate during their previous implementations were applied almost verbatim to the project being discussed today.  So when stakeholders engaged in sabotage of the project, risks came to fruition and there were no contingency plans, and the budget & schedule were shown to be unrealistic to the point of being irrelevant, people were surprised?!

Only well performed estimates can be utilized if one desires cost and schedule baselines that are anywhere near accurate.  This is not a problem with Project Management.  It is a problem for those who choose to mis-apply Project Management tools and techniques.


Sunday, November 6, 2011

Cloud Computing: Yes or No, and if yes then How?

The cloud is an option that should not be ignored.  Rather, it needs evaluation for its ability to meet our organizations' needs.  For me, the primary sources of hesitance have both been about the internet:  privacy protection and reliability of connection.  I have since become inclined to use the cloud for processes and storage that are not mission critical, and am considering the possibility of using it more.

If you are interested in learning more about the cloud you might want to read an article here on  This brief but informative article was written by, which provides cloud-based services but gives its usual balanced advice. 

If you have decided to use the cloud but are not sure how or how much to do so, you might like an article by David Linthicum located here:  It addresses the three surefire ways to screw up an attempt to implement cloud computing.


Monday, October 31, 2011

Project Management in Nonprofits

It seems the usual way for the Project Management discipline to enter nonprofits is through their IT departments.  Most if not all IT departments that generate software or arrange hardware installations have some level of understanding of Project Management tools and techniques.  So the good news is that there is an avenue for Project Management to enter nonprofit organizations.

Unfortunately, I have heard and observed that only bits and pieces of the discipline make it out of the IT department.  There appear to be some misunderstandings.  For instance, moving post-it notes around on a wall is not Agile (a popular approach to managing projects, especially in software development); and, as one of my professors said to his students in the first class of my first grad school course, "Knowing how to use Microsoft Project doesn't mean you know how to manage projects".  Using Kanban and project management information systems are useful tools for a project manager.  However, execs who are initially introduced to them usually miss the point.

The central idea is to obtain business value by getting the most out of what you have, and if you don't have enough - to recognize that and decide whether it's worth it to get more or just can the project.  There are many layers of skills needed to do that but unfortunately it seems most nonprofit execs only get a superficial introduction to cute tools rather than a full explanation of how to use Project Management to focus organizational energy like a laser in order to further their organizations' strategies.

Guess it's about time I make an article about the use of Project Management in nonprofits a higher priority.


Tuesday, October 25, 2011

NPManagement articles about teams are buzzing again

Articles about teams on the site have surged again.  This happens quite frequently.  Sometimes they stray from the top for a month or two, but there is always a resurgence of interest.

Is this because many recognize the power of teamwork and they want to tweak and slightly improve what their teams deliver?  I doubt it. 

My guess is they are members of teams that are major sources of headaches and they're looking for something to make that dull throb in their foreheads lighten up a bit.  I hope they find the info on the site helpful.  If even a few people find something that helps them obtain the sense of mission, empowerment, and sheer energy that comes with great teamwork, the site is well worth all the effort that this team puts into it.


Monday, October 17, 2011

New article at about making management decisions

We will miss Steve Jobs.  He drove the invention of things that I didn't know I wanted, and soon I needed them.  But it wasn't his legendary force of will alone that led to success, it was also because Mr. Jobs put the "art" back in smart.  His decisions were often risky and frequently brilliant.  Mistakes?  Of course.  That comes with taking risks (and with being human), but the payoffs more than made up for any losses.  A lot more.

This post isn't meant to be an homage to Steve Jobs and the NPManagement article isn't the secret to having his success.  However, the article "The Art and Skill of Decision-Making: Are you making good managerial decisions?  Are you sure?" addresses some major pitfalls in how we make decisions.  These are not problems that arise due to a manager being substandard in some way.  They arise because managers are human.

If you're human, you might want to take a peek.


Monday, August 8, 2011

Summer Hiatus is on hiatus until September.  New articles will be added only intermittently until then.  One article expected in September deals with decision making.  From what I've seen so far, it's going to be interesting - and useful.

Management in the Not for Profit Organization

Monday, June 27, 2011

Do You Have a Strategy?

Have you developed a strategy for your organization?  Or are you trapped in wishful thinking?  Some state a strategy that is so much of a stretch, it sets their people up for failure.  Others confuse goals with strategy.  The concept of "Bad Strategy" has gained some traction, and an article that makes the distinction between effective strategy and "Bad Strategy" clear can be found at the McKinsey Quarterly site here.

As a social worker who is a project manager, ensuring solid linkage between my projects' objectives and the nonprofit organizations' strategies is a critical success factor.  That is, a project that achieves objectives aligned with "Bad Strategy" will have poor results, even if the project is successfully executed.

If we all read and utilize the information in this article, "Bad Strategy" might become a lot harder to find. 

Management in the Not for Profit Organization

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Social Networking: Helping or Hurting Organizations?

I am an advocate of utilizing social networking tools.  I participate in LinkedIn discussions on how to do so, and read pretty much anything I can get my hands on that might help me do it better.  I especially like the real-time exchange available through things like Facebook and Twitter for use in projects, where each person's actions/decisions often immediately affect everyone else's work.

However, it appears that not everyone takes the time to learn about how to use social networking tools before diving in.  A recent study described by Chris Nerney of ITWorld (article found on PCWorld here) explains the lost productivity (measured as an overall 1.5% drop) experienced by organizations when employees are doing their FB thing during work hours.  In other words, they're not just using social networking to get work done.  They're virtually hanging out with their friends instead of doing what they're paid to do.  While I view this largely as a supervision issue rather than something inherent in social networking (anything can distract people if we're not careful, not only social networking), I am genuinely concerned about something found in an IBM study mentioned in another article by Mr. Nerney.  It turns out that many organizations are using social networking incorrectly, and they are suffering for it.  As Mr. Nerney put it, they're "botching" it.  The IBM study pointed out how they are doing so, and the issues ranged from incorrect assumptions to poor motives to improper execution.

According to that study, it turns out that people don't network with a company because they want to be its friend.  They want something tangible from their involvement.  And 60% of them say they need to believe a company is communicating honestly before they'll interact with that organization.  So if we use social networks as just one more boring form of billboard, with a thinly veiled sales pitch as its main message, hang it up.  Unless you are willing to give something that people want, don't bother with social networking.  But if you are interested in real and real-time exchange with people, learning about your market, and potentially forming a constituency through open and honest dialog, then go ahead - set up that Facebook page and Twitter account.

Management in the Not for Profit Organization

Monday, May 9, 2011

Today's article: They Loved You Once, They Can Love You Again: How to Win Back Lapsed Donors

The article posted on Management in the Not for Profit Organization today was provided by  It provides good advice about restarting donations from those who have been supportive in the past, but who have let that support lapse.  I plan to put the knowledge I gained from reading it to good use.


Thursday, May 5, 2011

Nice guys finish last?

Sometimes it appears the old saying "nice guys finish last" is true.  The reasons for that mantra are easy to understand.  Nice people seem to advocate for themselves less, and might not appear to have that aggressive edge that some employers look for when offering promotions.  They can even be viewed as boring.

However, in these times of lessened civility in some settings (politics springs to mind) I've noticed a new appreciation for nice people.  It seems that things like fairness, honesty, respect for others, and simple politeness are at a premium.  What used to be boring is now a breath of fresh air.

It's nice to see.

Management in the Not for Profit Organization

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Leader or Manager?

Are you managing people or leading them?

If they are set out before you, and you need to push them where you want them to go, you're managing them.

But look behind you.  If you're being followed, you're a leader.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

The U.S. Budget Debacle

There is comedic value in the current budget arguments.  Leno, John Stewart, et al. are being fed more material than they know what to do with.
Unfortunately, there is much more tragedy than comedy.  Lots of nonprofit organizations depend on government funds to deliver their services.  When those services are decreased, the poor and the vulnerable will suffer most of all.

As a people, we have short memories.
Have we forgotten that every person in the know, including fiscal conservatives, said that a bailout was necessary to keep the U.S. economy from collapsing?  Have we also forgotten that the president at the time of that initial bailout was a member of the Republican party and an espoused conservative?

Have we blocked the fact from our memories that virtually every responsible economist consulted said we needed the large stimulus efforts, and that some experts argued that the stimuli should have been greater?

So now, with the recovery in its infancy and still quite tenuous, bullies in Congress are talking about the U.S. government and shouting "Shut it down!".  They forget that if it were not for that large, strong federal government, many of that wealthy thin slice of the U.S. populace they fight for might have joined the ever increasing percentage of the country that is the financial lower (not middle) class.
Perhaps they would have been happier if Hoovervilles made a comeback.  Or maybe they have forgotten their U.S. History lessons regarding the Great Depression, Herbert Hoover, his arguments on small government, and how so many Republicans fought tooth and nail to stop FDR's federal intervention.  As it has been said: "Those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it".

It is hilarious, and truly tragic.

Ed Thomas
Management in the Not for Profit Organization

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Management Misnomers

To a few of my fellow managers,
Please stop twisting terms to suit your needs.  For example:
  • "Lean" does not mean cutting every ounce of fat in your organization, then cutting the muscle, followed by cutting off pieces of the skeleton.  A skeleton isn't lean, it's dead.
  • "Reducing variation" as used in Six Sigma does not mean you tell your customers or your employees "It's my way or the highway".
  • When Jim Collins wrote "From Good to Great" and referred to getting people "off the bus", he didn't mean the only people left on the bus should be sycophants.  
  • Your "value stream" does not mean doing exactly what the people with the most money want you to do at any given moment.  You can't look at your "value stream" until you realize who must value what you're doing. Start by doing an honest stakeholder assessment or any analysis of a value stream is meaningless.  And by the way, your end users and your employees are stakeholders.
  • "Transformative Culture" is not the boss standing at a podium and telling people they have to do everything differently, and it has to be exactly what the boss wants.  The boss can certainly tell people what to do, but that's top-down hierarchical leadership - not a transformative culture.  Call it what it is.

OK, now I feel a little better.

Ed Thomas

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Turnover Increase?

I have been hearing for a while that once the economy gets better, people will be moving from employers where they've felt trapped, overworked, unappreciated, and underpaid.  Well, maybe the economy is improving faster than most have thought because I'm noticing an upsurge in people leaving for greener pastures.

The best, of course, are moving first.  If you're a manager who has been blaming your lousy treatment of employees on the poor economy, look out.  They're finding that there are really managers and nonprofit organizations out there that care about their employees, provide job security, reward them financially as soon as possible, and possibly most of all - fulfil their missions.  If you're a good manager or organization, don't worry - the anecdotal evidence shows that your ethical and fair treatment of your employees will be paying off.  And the faster the economy improves, the more the rewards to you and your clientele will accelerate.

Ed Thomas

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Some Guidance to Managers on Fundraising

With government support of nonprofits shrinking, and likely to shrink more, the emphasis on fundraising via donations will increase.  Online giving is an important development in this area. has an article from that provides some guidance on the topic.
In addition, we managers need a way to measure how well our fundraising folks are doing - something beyond the total of funds raised.
Kivi's Nonprofit Communications Blog at Nonprofit Marketing has posted some information on this, and a helpful link was found there:  The Convio Online Marketing Nonprofit Benchmark Index Study.  What efforts matter most?  How do we know if our people are keeping up with the state of the art?  How are we doing, and why?
These are all questions that are more easily answered if we have the right metrics.  I found the discussion in the Convio report quite helpful in this regard.  You have to provide some basic information to get to the Convio report, but otherwise it's free.  Hope you find it helpful too.


Sunday, March 20, 2011

Tax breaks

Here in the heart of US tax time I again find myself wondering why more nonprofits are not taking their businesses into the for-profit arena.  With politicians climbing over each other to give tax breaks (at least in the House) and spending being slashed, I would think more nonprofits would want to take advantage of the environment by spinning off a for-profit entity.  Much like there's nothing stopping a non-profit from making money, there's also nothing forcing a for-profit to be too greedy - as long as they don't go with an IPO and bring in outside shareholders.

Besides, with many nonprofits being required to make "payments in lieu of taxes" (a cute workaround for the word "taxes"), I would venture to say that there are for-profits competing with non-profits that pay less in taxes than non-profits.

Just sayin...

Would be great if an accountant weighed in on this.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

What law applies?

OK, 83% of those who responded to our survey said demand for the services/products provided by their non-profits increased during the past year.  So if the law of supply and demand applies, prices should have gone up, right?  But 83% of our respondents said their revenue was flat or decreased.  So what economic law addresses this? (By the way, the fact both came in at 83% is a coincidence. Not everyone who reported an increase in demand reported flat or decreased revenue.).  So what economic law addresses this non-profit trait?  While the old saying about the poor getting poorer would seem to apply, it is hardly a scientifically generated economic principle.  One thing is for sure, the supposition that the wealthy will donate enough to make up for the loss of governmental support if given tax breaks during tough times is not supported by our data.

Anybody have an economic formula for this property of non-profits?

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Article about teams in nonprofits published on the site today

An article describing key elements of teams and teamwork in nonprofits was published on Management in the Not-for-Profit Organization today. 

Also, a link to this blog was placed onto the site for the first time today.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Next article to be posted is about teams/teamwork

The next new article to be delivered on is about teams in the nonprofit setting.  It will appear there on Saturday March 12th.  Do nonprofit teams have an advantage over for-profit teams?  The author of that article thinks they do, but many of us have been sacrificing it in the face of more immediate needs.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Recent survey...

The survey we were conducting is now closed.  The report on the survey results is being composed.  In the meantime, here are few pieces of data:
  • The two largest groups represented in the survey were "An employee (executive leadership)" comprising 29% of the sample and "A board member (board of directors)" at 21%.
  • The Social Welfare sector was most strongly represented (42% of respondents) with Education in second place (29%).
  • 83% of all respondents reported that demand for their nonprofits' services had increased.
  • Interestingly, the same percentage (83%) of all respondents reported that their funding was flat or had decreased.
  • There was a direct relationship between respondents' perceptions of their organizations' financial health, and how good of a leader they considered their top executive to be.