The Seven Easy Steps of Project Management for Civic Tech

One of the best parts of a civic tech project is seeing a community of people come together to successfully solve a problem. On the other hand, one of the worst parts of a civic tech project is wrangling that community of people in order to successfully solve a problem.

I’m sure that many people in the civic tech community can relate to this. An amazing idea for a project comes together, but actually completing the project a is a bit more of a challenge. It’s basically a rite of passage for anyone starting out in the civic tech world. One of the best ways to solve this problem is through strong project management.

In mid March, Open Data Delaware hosted a workshop in conjunction with with the Microsoft Store and Content Strategy Delaware focused on two topics: developing strong project management skills and creating a great content strategy (we’ll cover this in another blog).

One of our own, Bill McKibben, discussed project management strategy. If you don’t know already, project management can be defined as “the application of knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques to project activities to meet the project requirements.” In simple terms, it’s a step-by-step process that can be built into pretty much any project, anywhere.

There are seven steps that you can take to make sure that your civic tech project comes together successfully. Check them out below:

Step ONE: Develop Your Idea.

This is when the owners, sponsors, tech people, business people, and generally everyone involved get together to hash out a problem and figure out what to do about it. It’s when everyone gets to be creative in figuring out the need, the scope of the problem, and the constraints surrounding the resulting ideas. If you need more ideas for how to do that, we talked about how in one of our previous workshops.

Step TWO: Make a Proposal.

Lots of details come out at this point. At a minimum, here’s what you should include in your proposal:

  • Required team roles and responsibilities
  • Resources that will be needed
  • Major needed activities

Sometimes you’ll have to consider financing your project as well, especially if it’s a particularly large project. In that case, you’ll also want to include:

  • Total needed funding
  • Time restraints of funding
  • Sources of funding

For a civic tech project, it’s probably rare, but at this point any paperwork, legalities, requirements, and contracts should be signed, dated, returned, denied, signed again, and finally approved (or scrapped, as the case may be).

Step THREE: Figure out your Content Strategy.

So this is when the project actually begins to feel like something. With the papers all laid, the creatives can start having fun again. Cue Content Strategy. Suffice it to say, for now, that this is the stage when the functional project plan is worked out. At the end of it, everyone involved should have a very clear view of both the project goal and the roadmap of how to get there.

Step FOUR: The Development Phase.

Once there’s a map, then the teams responsible for actually doing the work of building out the project can begin. In description, this is one of the easiest. It’s when the nuts and bolts are fabricated, tested, put in place, tested again, broken, made better…you get the idea. It is the building process, and often it takes the longest.

Step FIVE: The Testing and Readiness Phase.

This is where you make sure what your team built doesn’t break. Development and testing phases often look like more of a figure-8 than a straight line. Especially in large projects, errors in logic and design are often uncovered only in the Testing step, once the project can actually be visualized and shaken about. At times, these errors mean the project needs to be re-routed back to a previous step for fixing before they can continue.

But when the project finally passes every test, documentation is completed, and a deployment plan is written and approved, the project moves forward.

At this stage, everyone is a bit anxious because everyone is involved. The project timeline will be winding down, tensions will likely be winding up, and all breaths will be held. Why?

Step SIX: The Cutover and Post Go-Live Phase.

This is when the project is deployed into the working world. If all previous steps have been done right, this can be an easy and beautiful migration to watch. If pieces have been skipped or missed, though…picture a house of cards and a excitable gecko that tries to climb its walls. (Cue dramatic music to accompany the slow-motion image of a very disappointed lizard lying on his back in the middle of a pile of fallen cards.) Assuming that doesn’t happen and the hand-over goes smoothly, the final phase can finally take place.

Step SEVEN: The Closing.

Sounds like an M. Night Shyamalan movie, right? This is when champagne is popped, hands are shook, invoices are paid, and teams applaud. Congratulations are offered at this point. The project has officially finished.

Interested in putting your civic tech skills to the test?

We’ve been coordinating the 2017 Open Data Challenge over the first half of the year in partnership with Delaware’s Government Information Center and the Technology Forum of Delaware. Check our Meetup page for more details about events, including our hackathon. This weekend long event will be held June 2nd-4th and with an amazing theme: “Access to Hope Through Innovation”. Don’t want to miss it? Check out more information and register here.

Written on May 2, 2017 by Aiyani Martin