Two days ago she asked herself: ‘I have ideas but I have a tough time giving them shape. How do I go about translating my ideas into a reality?’
The weekend of 21st and 22nd February was more than just a, ‘’stress-free’’ time for the 15 of us. While our friends woke up to masala dosa and coffee after a long week’s pending sleep, we were hurrying to make it on time to the first day of the Project Management Workshop. This workshop was hosted by the Youth Development Program(YDP) under the guidance of our parent organization, FSL-India. Our very own Julien Soyer of the FSL-India outbound program had obliged and prepared for the young group of us, a 2 day workshop on the aspects of planning, executing and managing a project. While some of us who knew Julien from past events jumped at the opportunity to be trained by him, the novice first-timers came to experience the SAW with humble expectations.
Day one started with introductions of the participating members. For this we were made into pairs and asked to talk about one another, as opposed to the banal two line introductions that may bore. We were overjoyed with the diversity of people that had gathered together in that room for this SAW. There were students from engineering colleges (PESU, PESIT-BSC, Amrita College, MVIT) and from RV College of Architecture, working staff members of the FSL-India team and graduates from Bangalore University. There were people who liked cricket and others who detested it! Vinod, a student from MVIT, shocked the group by exposing his disinterest in music.
Some others spoke about their partners’ expectations from the workshop, sharing very interesting responses: “I hope my job is a little bit easier at the end of these 2 days”, said an FSL employee, inviting a wave of laughter in the room. “I have trouble shaping my ideas into a concrete project idea. I hope I can do that better by the end of this weekend”, said the student Nalini from PESIT-BSC.
To these heavy expectations, Julien responded, “I will try my level best to answer your questions, satisfactorily”.
We then moved to define the subject of the workshop: What is a project? What is the purpose of a project? Why does it need to be managed? What makes managing it so difficult? What does it take to start and build a project? What is the difference between a program and a project?
But the weight of the content was stunting us. We didn’t expect so much substance in so little time. We had taken for granted all the work people put in backstage for months before show day. We hadn’t considered the thought that went into every decision that could make a small difference or a big one. We were so naive, living with the belief that our ideas would one day become a reality without having to walk the slippery, rocky and steep road ahead of us. Who could have imagined that a project had so many different stages: exploring, defining, diagnosing, shortlisting, planning, executing, managing and reviewing?
I couldn’t. But Julien then gave us an example project: tent schools in rural areas. It suddenly seemed to reduce our uncertainty. Now, if tomorrow we were to start a tent school, all we had to do was follow the steps Julien told us to follow. Easy.
Number one: Exploring, right,…er.. but explore what? Define, define how? Diagnosing what aspects and leaving behind which? On what basis do we shortlist! We were obfuscated.
That is when we moved to the next topic of our workshop: a detailed discussion on each stage of the project. This occupied most of the time that was to follow. We went through each stage of the project one by one, discussing the necessary steps to follow, points to re-emphasize, precautions to take, exceptions to consider, people to contact. What I found to be especially interesting was the Diagnosing stage of project planning. Julien said, “if you do this bit well, you can expect a better outcome but if you don’t, your project could be an utter disaster”. He explained to us how essential it was to think through the twisted roots of problems that might intervene with the planning and execution of the project. One can think ambitiously about the reach of a project but what if the response is poor? Would the funding remain intact? What if a natural calamity disrupts the project, can the fundraiser ask for a reimbursement? What if a deadline was not met, would the disadvantaged groups walk away because of the tentative nature of the help?
You could go on. What level of impact is being made? Is it justified? How long will the project last? How do we get people to help? How do we raise money? What is in it for people to volunteer? What will make it a success for a longer period of time?
These aspects of a project when thought out thoroughly, answer most of the dilemmas one is likely to encounter on the journey through and to the project. The team will be prepared for most kinds of exceptions, interruptions and failures only because together, they predicted a probable occurrence. “That is was diagnosing is about”, he concluded.
In this manner we saw the stages of a project unfold before us in a manner we could now understand and relate to. We were asked to put our knowledge to test now, practice the concepts we picked up on a sample project. That was when we felt the real power of the organisational skills we were being introduced to. Bigger problems had now become problems that we understood, that in itself was a kind of victory.
The strenuous two days had come to an end. The weekend was not just entertaining, it was satisfying too because of the learning. Who would have imagined a workshop to be so much fun, let alone one on Project Management. I felt richer for I had now acquired a skill that would help me even outside the context of non-profit organisational work, like in my academics, college co-curricular work, and eventually in my job.
We cannot hold back from changing the world because we didn’t think we had the skill to do so. We must be prepared. I can’t wait for the next Skill Acquisition Workshop and the opportunity to meet more wonderful people.
Until next time!