Friday, February 4, 2011

The Art of Funding and Implementing Ideas

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by Arnold R. Shore and John M. Carfora

This is a book with great value for those Project Managers that are involved in submitting proposals. It’s not a book about Project Management but it offers insight on what goes on in the minds of sponsors when they’re deciding if a proposal is to go through or not. Actually the authors don’t call them sponsors as they use a non Project Management language but the role is the same - people who have the resources and the interest in turning good ideas into real outcomes that bring some kind of benefit to a particular community.
The authors offer a good description of the proposal process in this book:
(...)The endpoint is a successful proposal.
The starting point is an idea.
The point of connection between initiative and idea is the proposal.(...)

This book is written for academics (namely researches, doctoral and postdoctoral students) looking for funding by Universities and alike. What goes on for them then is not much different from the case of ideas looking for funding in your own organization. The language used is also different but the parallelism is quite obvious and it doesn’t stop you from getting this book’s value out. So although it’s intended for academics, Project Managers and other Project Management professionals can make use of this book, specially if they participate in the proposal process.

The book offers a hands-on approach thanks to their authors’ field experience. It gives a method you can follow in order to present a proposal that the sponsor can easily value and discuss with you. This is a key point because many times we see a proposal that makes every sense even for the sponsor but the sponsor may not have enough resources for it. If the proposal is built like a rigid block, that is, either all goes or nothing does, the proposal gets rejected when what everybody really wanted was to get it approved - even the sponsor. And all this just because the way the proposal was built gives no margin to negotiation.

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One other interesting point made is the difference between outputs and outcomes. In this book, outputs are what you get out of the project (like the project’s deliverables). Outcomes are what the sponsor wants to accomplish. For example, an outcome can be presenting quarterly results on the 6th working day of the following quarter. Outputs in these case could include a software upgrade. So the outputs of your project is what makes the outcomes become real. As a Project Manager you should have the outcomes present all the time and make sure that your project’s outputs will help achieve them. In other words, if you have an output that isn’t needed by any of the outcomes you should probably discard it. In this example, you should remember at all times that the software upgrade you’re delivering serves the main purpose of anticipating the presentation of quarterly results.

The method the authors describe requires you to go from idea to proposal and then back again. Imagining a certain result and then go back to check what you need to do in order to get there is something natural for us: “(...)Harold Garfunkel (1991) argues that people plan from the present back to the past.(...)”. This actually makes sense to me and not because of techniques such as visualization. I don’t know for a fact why this is so, just that it works for me, to start with a scenario I wish to achieve and then go back and check what is there to be done in order to get there.

Finally, it’s funny to see that some of the Project Management trends related to soft skills are in focus on this book. Just to put this into perspective, there aren’t that many lines dedicated to soft skills on the PMBOK (that's the PMI Project Management framework). But the authors see people as central to this “going from ideas to proposals” business. And I agree absolutely: it’s people who are funding you, it’s people you have in your project working to achieve the negotiated outcomes and there will be (hopefully) people using your work to maintain it and further develop it.

In short, this isn’t the first book a Project Manager should read but it can be very useful. And I’d add you should read it if you’re involved in the making of proposals.

Book details:
Title: The Art of Funding and Implementing Ideas
Author(s): Arnold R. Shore and John M. Carfora
Publisher: SAGE Publications
ISBN: 978-1-4129-8042-5

I'd like to thank Arras People for sending me this book.

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