Proper project management is a key success factor. In this part of the manual the most important tasks will be described both in relation to the planning of the implementation and key tasks and tools necessary for effective management.
In Early Warning there are some additional challenges that you usually do not have in other types of projects. Often no one (project manager, the consultants or the volunteer advisers) are used to meet company owners in crises. To most people it feels uncomfortable to face the serious problems and personal crises of the company owners. Therefore, you will often experience a reluctance to do what is necessary – to address the important issues in the conscientious and understanding, yet direct and confrontational manner which is necessary in order to deal with the issues that is needed.
E.g. some consultants and volunteers will prefer to talk about ‘challenges’ instead of using words as ‘crisis’.
It is often easier to get into a dialogue with a company owner when you want to talk about ‘challenges’ or ‘barriers for growth’. The problem is, that if you use those ‘softer’ wordings to get into a dialogue with a company owner, he/she will not recognize the crisis – and in that case he/she is not willing to discuss that subject and you will not succeed with your advice. You will have had a meeting with a company in crisis but the meeting didn’t address the real problem.
To avoid such mistakes, it is recommended that the project manager himself/herself gains expertise in meeting and having a dialogue with companies in crisis so that he/she is able to identify the above-mentioned mechanisms when he/she is met with suggestions that will eventually make the project fail.
7.1 choice of executive organization
If you consider establishing an Early Warning organization it is very important that you carefully consider which organizations are best suited to deliver the service, e.g. the following:
- What are the organization’s real motives to become operator? impartiality and the absence of self-interest in the task solution is a crucial foundation for success
- Does the organization already have broad contact with the target group (primarily small and micro companies)?
- Does the organization already have the necessary experience and competencies in advising company owners in overall and general issues?
- If you need more than one organization as operator, are they capable of establishing a good cooperation? This is important in terms of sharing knowledge and experiences in order to develop and improve practice
- Does the organization want to give advice to all companies eligible according to the conditions from the funding authority?
7.2 Important considerations when starting the project
When launching an Early Warning initiative you should pay attention to the following overall issues:
- The organization giving advice is probably not known for giving advice on how to solve crises in companies. This means that they have a big task constantly building legitimacy within this field. This is a main goal in the marketing of the project
- ‘It is for free – is it then worth nothing?’. You will seldom hear that sentence, but most company owners will think of that question
- ‘Volunteer advisor? Why voluntarily? Is it because those people are not able to earn money?’. This is also a sentence you probably will not hear, but also a question most company owners (and other advisors) will ask themselves.
- By being afraid of not being able to form a corps of volunteer advisors you can easily end up with two problems:
You accept people to join the corps who are not really capable of delivering the necessary advice, as you are just happy to get enough volunteers. Of course, this is an immediate problem – but worse, it will also be a problem in the longer run, because you are not really able to recruit the right volunteers as they do not want to be part of a network in which they do not feel on par with the other members.
You get a lot of volunteers in a short time. But it takes time to build a reputation that creates a rising inflow of companies. With too low numbers of cases your most qualified volunteers may leave the project.
7.3 Planning the establishment of Early Warning
When you start preparing the launch of Early Warning the below-mentioned topics should be planned. In general terms 6 months are needed, but also realistic.
Forming a task force:
The project manager together with a (future) consultant, a person with competencies within communication, marketing and SoMe and a financial officer form the task force, with the obligation to prepare the plan for, and implementation of, necessary systems, procedures etc. The most important ones are mentioned below:
The management structure must be defined. How is the project organized, access to CEO, need of forming a steering committee, management references are to be determined
Communication strategy and plan:
This includes marketing, Public Relations activities, Public Affairs activities, SoMe, stakeholders and how to manage them, media, stories, angles etc.
Development of (project) website:
A good website is the cornerstone in all modern communication activities and therefore of outmost importance.
Costumer Relation Management System (CRM):
In most cases organizations already have a CRM system. Make sure you are able to report what is necessary for your funding authority. As information on EW cases is quite sensitive it should be considered how data are protected (and not only what is necessary according to GDPR)
As a minimum you need to develop the agreement when handing a company case to a volunteer, an agreement when including a volunteer in your corps, a document between you and the company taking into account the GDPR. A professional liability assurance is recommended. You also need some kind of template for reimbursement of volunteer advisors’ costs (allowance). Below you can find link to templates and papers on the mentioned topics:
Agreement when a volunteer joins the corps
Insurance and the agreement with the individual company (should be read together as a whole: here, here and here (Link: 201b - Guideline - Memorandum regarding the Volunteer Counsellors Agreement and the Professional Liability Insurance – 20170817)
Reimbursement of costs (Volunteer advisors)
Budget, financial control and reporting:
You must decide how to do your accounting and financial reporting in a way that enables you to report on the lines in the budget.
Timetable and action plan for launch:
Key activities are the following, to be executed in a rather short period of time:
- Kick-off meeting focused on recruitment of volunteer advisers
- Launch of website
- Recruitment of possible additional consultants
- Training and events for volunteer advisors
- Training of consultants
- Communication and marketing plan execution
The procedure, tools and system for evaluation of each company course must be defined. Further it should be decided when and how to evaluate the project as a whole.
The different kinds of evaluation (evaluation of companies, surveys, qualitative analysis) should be targeted quality improvement.
You can find a paper on this topic here
An example on evaluation from Denmark using Survey Monkey can be found here