Community Business Project

Hello again! 🙂

In my classmate Mursal Shamsi’s post — “A Taste of the Real World,” he provides you with a broad overview of the Community Business Project (CBP), its significance to our self- and career development, and the matching process that the Business Career Centre (BCC) used to assign students to projects. And so this post will focus on my CBP experience.

We’re now in the home stretch of this 6-month project and in the midst of preparing our final report and presentation for this coming Friday. I believe I speak for many people when I say that I can’t believe we’ve somehow managed to arrive to this point!

Our client is Options Community Services Society (OCS) in Surrey, BC — a non-profit registered charity providing social services in the Fraser Region — whose vision is to improve child care access in Surrey. My team is composed of 3 members, including myself as Project Manager. The other 2 roles are Client Liaison and Faculty Liaison. As Project Manager, my core responsibilities included creating a project schedule to meet objectives and deadlines efficiently, coordinating and delegating tasks based on team members’ strengths, and maintaining effective internal communication to ensure information consistency within the team.

The challenges faced by my team fell under 2 umbrellas — issues with (1) team dynamics, and (2) project tasks.

Throughout the 6-month duration of the project, we had to produce several key deliverables while simultaneously working on multiple other team projects for other courses. As can be expected, the challenge was how to maintain high team performance to meet deadlines, in the face of competing commitments and fluctuating motivation levels. Stress only served to magnify the gravity of perceived problems — an important point to remember for my team. It’s okay to be frustrated at times, but focus on what you can do.

My experience in this project highlighted and reinforced several lessons in team management. You may find them “common sense,” but it’s very easy to forget when you’re in the centre of things.

  • A critical skill to have as Project Manager is the ability to think long term and set realistic goals. There’s much you can do to minimize overall stress by properly prioritizing tasks and setting weekly goals for your team members.
  • From the outset, the team should set some ground rules that all members understand and agree on. This lets everyone know what is expected of them and is an important tool for maintaining efficiency. Also, don’t be afraid to remind them of this agreement when needed. Team meetings should focus on brainstorming, discussions, and decision-making — they’re not time to work on individual tasks.
  • The combination of strengths and weaknesses will not always be ideal, and so you may find that the balance of work may not always end up equal. You just have to make it work. Don’t be quick to judge your team members. Strive to identify individual concerns and address them. I found that to be an effective way to raising my team’s performance because sometimes it’s just an issue of self-confidence. The key is to really understand each member’s strengths and weaknesses, but concentrate on the strengths because that’s what you’ll need to effectively delegate tasks. Sometimes, you may find it necessary to personally guide a struggling team member to get things done because it’s better than not doing anything at all.
  • While it may seem to go against your instinct, trust your teammates. Ensure that everyone is on the same page, but give your team members the latitude to deliver their assigned tasks. Just because it’s not perfect in your eyes doesn’t mean it’s not quality.

With regards to the project itself, the main challenge came from negotiating a feasible project scope and set of deliverables that could be achieved within the time limitations. A lot of teams faced this difficulty because the project scope changed from what was initially proposed during the organization presentations. However, being able to negotiate a project scope is an important skill to possess, as the BCC and our supervisor have reiterated. The required commitment is three hours per week per student, but depending on your project, you’ll likely find yourself putting in many many more hours. Don’t be afraid to offer your insights and suggestions to your client. Utilize your resources — the BCC, your supervisor, the librarians, to name a few.

Now on to our project scope… The City of Surrey has been curiously resistant to actively supporting child care, and so our client wanted to look into gaining support from the business community instead, as a temporary solution. My team’s project scope involves developing a business case about the economic benefits to Surrey employers of providing an affordable and quality workplace child care program. Important goals of the project are to create an operating model for setting up workplace child care facilities and to conduct a survey on Surrey employers’ perception of and willingness to support employee child care needs. Certainly, there were several challenges associated with our project scope. However, the value of the CBP project for me wasn’t in how much business knowledge or frameworks were required to complete the project but in the soft skills it has helped me to develop.

Aside from project team management and scope negotiation, working on this project gave me insight into the layers of complexity that organizations have to constantly deal with, such as grey areas and political factors. In addition to dealing with our client, we conducted several informational interviews with various organizations. You may walk in to a meeting with certain expectations of how it would proceed or of what you want to get out of it, but you may quickly realize that the real working environment is less structured than what you supposed. For me, it was particularly interesting to observe the nuances in people’s interactions. As a person who likes order, my takeaway is to prepare as much as I can but be adaptive when things turn out differently from what I expect.

Okay, I’ve probably lost all my readers at this point, stopping now. Well, I hope my ramblings have been or will be useful to you. If you have any questions, feel free to post a comment below!

Until next time,

Rachel Lim (LinkedIn profile)

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