The right place to start is at the end.  I bet you thought I was going to say, “The right place to start is at the beginning.”  But in planning a project it is important to think about and imagine what the project will be like when it is finished.  In other words, what is the purpose of the project?  How will your project change the way things are.  What outcomes do you hope to achieve?  How will you and others feel about the project or event you are planning?

I work with a lot of churches.  One kind of project I’ve worked on frequently is planning an educational ministry.  It’s not enough to say, “The purpose of this plan is to have a functioning ministry for adults.”  I need to think about those adults who go through the ministry.  How will their lives be different?  What knowledge will they have gained?  What about the relationships that are developed during the classes—is building relationships a major goal or just a side effect?  How do I want this ministry to fit with the other ministries in the church?  Will it complement them or compete with them?  What about people who are involved in more than one ministry; what do I want their schedule and commitment level to be like?  What about adults with children; what will the children be doing while the adults are in class.  How do I want the leaders of the church to view this ministry?  One important question that I often ask myself is, “How would someone who has successfully completed the program I’m designing describe it to someone else?”

As you think about these kinds of questions write your answers down.  Then from those ideas create a fairly complete but succinct purpose statement that expresses the desired results and what you wish to accomplish.  (You might also find it helpful to include what you are not trying to accomplish.)  If you can, include some measurable results.

Depending on the project this purpose statement might be a single sentence or a short paragraph.  It’s important to keep your purpose statement short enough that it can really direct your planning—and it can’t do that if you can’t remember it.

If the project is really complicated you may have pages and pages of specifications.  The purpose statement is not the place to enumerate these.  Create another document that contains the complete list of specifications.  You can refer to it as needed.  Then in your purpose statement simply include a phrase, “satisfies all required specifications.”

The biggest mistake people make in planning a project is forgetting to clearly define what they are trying to accomplish and what they are not trying to accomplish.  But now that you are armed with a good purpose statement you are ready to begin planning in earnest.  In the next section we will discover another common mistake that can make the planning process much harder and more confusing.

This is the second installment in a series of posts, How to Plan a Project with Ease.

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