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4.1 Project management

Common problems

This is by no means an exhaustive list but it should give you an idea of some key things to keep an eye on.

Lack of a solid project plan

Having a good plan and sticking to it can save a lot of trouble later.

Poorly defined roles and responsibilities

Ensure that you are clear on what each person is doing and agree deadlines. It's good to do this in meeting minutes and action points.

Team weaknesses

Make sure you have the right people in place for specific tasks. Play to people's strengths and, if necessary seek out extra people if you don't have the right skills already.

Poor communication

Rumours caused by a lack of information can cause problems with the rest of community and misunderstandings in your team can delay projects. Good communication almost always saves time. You can read some tips here.

Overruns of schedule and cost

Your plan should already have identified potential risk areas that might hold up the project. However, sometimes the unexpected happens. Make sure you have contingency plans, some flexibility in your schedule and contingency funds.

Scope creep

Don’t lose sight of the original aims and objectives.

Ignoring project warning signs

Monitoring and regular updates/ meetings should ensure an early warning of any issues that need to be addressed.

Undefined objectives and goals

Uncertainty about exactly what is needed and when can lead to misunderstandings and delay. It's especially important that contractors understand exactly what you expect before they start work.

Lack of user input

Keep the community involved through participation and community communication – you won’t create a sustainable long term project unless the end user is engaged in the process.

Unrealistic timeframes and tasks

Under promise and over deliver – this isn’t a race to finish first – the initial plan needs to be realistic and manageable – only commit to what you can definitely do.

Insufficient resources (funding and personnel)

The initial plan should look at the worst case scenario and plan to that. Make sure you have contingency funds in your plan.

Estimates for cost and schedule are erroneous

Any potential cost should be fully researched and costed – this should then form a principle part of the plan – don’t guess – everything must be fully costed and put in the plan. You'll be surprised how quickly the small stuff can add up.

Lack of management commitment

Sometimes a key member of the team will need to reduce their involvement in the project. Regular meetings will minimise the impact of the loss of a team member as the rest of the team will know what is happening. Also watch out for warning signs that people have taken on too much, recruit extra people if necessary.

Stakeholder conflict

It will arise and providing it is project related it may be a positive discussion that is focused on getting the best end result – make sure that any discussion is focused on the original aims and objectives – and with these in mind a resolution should be able to be found and justified to all parties.

Meeting end user expectations

Make if the original plan is realistic and this is communicated to all the stakeholders.

Bad decisions

Will occasionally happen – but providing you have in place a system of monitoring, evaluation and communication the opportunity should be there to change any decision before it is allowed to detrimentally affect the whole project – dividing the project into stages should also keep the effects of any bad decision contained.

Missed Deadlines

In our experience this is one aspect of the project that is most open to creep and movement. It is vital to a project that its timeline is adhered to as any problems with this can affect all aspects of the process (funding, land permissions, contracts, sustainability etc.). Make sure you have thought through what you want to do and when you want to do it – dividing the project into stages can help make this more manageable. The timescale must always consider the potential variables that may occur:

Bad weather – January to March tends to be worst for this

Holiday seasons – Bank Holidays

Delivery time for materials etc.

Permissions – see below


One of the main variables on any project is the potential for vandalism – while this cannot be specifically planned for it is always worth building some sort of contingency into the timeline to account for its possibility. Here are a few things you can do to try and mitigate this potential problem:

Consult and inform widely with local user groups (schools. Youth groups etc.) – they may be able to inform you of any potential problems and a project that is seen by the community as a viable and useful addition will command more respect and be better protected within the community.

Consider when to start work on the project – during school holidays could be a problem (children around in the day and later at night) and try and finish the work before a weekend or at least plan for the period when the working site may be left unattended.


This is probably the most important step in the process after planning.

Good project management can be the difference between success and failure. The first crucial decision is about who should be the project manager. You'll want someone who is naturally organised, likes careful planning and can see the bigger picture.

Project management is the discipline of initiating, planning, executing, controlling, and closing the work of a team to achieve specific goals and meet specific success criteria.

The main parts of the role are:

  • Planning
  • Co-ordination
  • Motivation

Project management can look challenging and for big projects it certainly can be. However for most small to medium size community projects it's mostly straight-forward. Perhaps organiser would be a better terminology when we are considering a small/ medium sized community project but it is useful at this point to view the project as something that needs to be managed.

For more complex projects it might be worth appointing a professional project manager.

We've identified some of the most commonly encountered problems and listed them on the right of this page to help you to dodge them.

Stick to your plan

Planning is the most important tool for the successful management of any project.

You'll already have produced your plan in the planning section of getting started and it's now time to start putting it into action.

At that stage you should have worked out how long a project will take; what the sequence of the individual elements should be; and what resources are required to accomplish the task in the designated time. We keep mentioning this but a good plan with regular updates and checks will mean the project isn't allowed to deviate from its original aims and objectives. If you have any uncertainty about your plan it's worth taking the time now to refine it.

Some final thoughts to bear in mind when thinking about the plan:

  • Plans start to go adrift as soon as they are written make sure you have some flexibility in it - include contingency funds and allow extra time
  • Accuracy should reflect the time scale. Don’t start a plan for a five-year project worrying about how long it takes to plant one shrub.
  • Uncertainty reinforces the need to plan - it's not a reason for not planning.

Two basic questions to keep asking yourself:

What do you want to achieve?

How are you going to do this?


The main role of the project manager is to co-ordinate the project's resources and personnel to ensure that the best use is made of time and money. This requires attention to detail and someone who is able to see the project as a whole. This covers:

  • Ensuring that the right task is done at the right time and place
  • Communicating planning decisions and changes to all parties involved
  • Procuring resources to satisfy deadlines
  • Facilitating communication between parties
  • Making sure people know who is responsible for what

This task is as big or as small as your projects complexity dictates - you may only be dealing with one contactor who has done multiple projects identical to this and your coordination will consist of a few external phone calls and reporting progress back to the group.

If it is going to be more complex than this use the plan and divide the work up. Try to remember a few smaller projects can be mentally and physically more manageable the one larger one.

Permissions and restrictions

We will cover this in more detail in the Legal issues section but these factors can really impact on your project delivery so it's worth touching on them briefly here.

Your project may be delayed if you haven’t got all the relevant permissions in place when undertaking the work – remember to separate this from land ownership, regardless of who owns the land certain permissions may still be required before starting.

Here are some key things to look out for:

  • Tree preservation orders
  • Outstanding planning approvals
  • Right of way issues
  • Conservation area limitations
  • Wildlife  and Countryside act 1981 (for example it is an offence to fell trees during the bird nesting season and there is legislation around hedgerows)

Some questions worth considering regarding land ownership issues and permissions:

  • Who is the landowner of your project site?
  • Do you have permission from the landowner in writing?
  • How long does the group have agreement for public use of the land, once improved?
  • Will your project need planning permission? Check with Local Authority.
  • How will the project be maintained once completed? Is there written agreement with the landowner?
  • Who will pay for the maintenance?
  • Who has legal liability for the land?
  • Are there any special designations on the land? Such as statutory rights of way, nature conservation status, SSSI’s, conservation areas, tree preservation orders etc. Check with local Authority.
  • Is the site within a Flood Plain or near a river? You will need to check with the Environment Agency as this may affect what you can do on the land.
  • Location of statutory services/wayleaves/easements? (such as gas, electricity, water, telephone, cable)
  • Is there any potential conflict with intended developments?


The most important resource to the project is the team of people working on it. You can have all the permissions, funding and resources in place but it's your team that will get the project done. You will face some challenges, occasional disagreements in the community and possibly some setbacks - so it is vital to keep your team motivated and working well.

Understanding that people are influenced by many internal and external factors that can affect their performance is key to maintaining a motivated team. This is especially the case when you have a team of volunteers, many of whom will have other commitments at work and home.

Books have been written on management and leadership so we can't explore this in detail here but here are some key things to think about:

  • People will work better and more efficiently if they know what is going on and feel part of the decision-making process
  • Working with people is not the same as working with materials. Human engineering is an art and not a science
  • Practice ‘management by walking about’. Take the time to speak to the people delivering the project, listen to their thoughts and acknowledge their efforts

Again this is nothing to be concerned about. The fact that you are in the process of organising a community project would indicate that you already possess many of the skills required and it will merely be a case of adapting them to a more structured setting. Now it is time to start delegating some of this responsibility.

In the next section we will discuss Roles and Responsibilities and you can start utilising this most important resource - people. Depending on the size and scope of the project you may combine a role on the committee with overall project management - remember you don't have to be called a manager to manage - as long as all the stakeholders are aware who is overseeing the project and where the ultimate responsibility lies.

The links below go into the process in more depth - but if you can ensure that your project at this point is planned, coordinated and motivated you are already half way there to a sustainable long term asset the whole community can use and enjoy.

Go to the next section - Roles and responsibilities

Useful links

A guide to project management

Project management guidance

Critical path analysis