4 project management skills every evaluator needs

According to Gill Churchill, 4 key project management skills can help evaluators reach their goals

Staff sit around table

Many textbooks on evaluation cover the theory to help you develop an evaluation. But they don't cover the practicalities of managing an evaluation in the real world. 

Every evaluation requires some degree of project management, and I believe it's an important and underrated skill in this field.

Without these skills, a poorly managed evaluation can lead to:

  • missed deadlines
  • poor or insufficient data to report on evaluation outcomes
  • stress for everyone involved in the project.

Each evaluation requires it's own set of specialist skills, but there are 4 generic project management skills that can help you achieve your evaluation goals.


1. Evaluation planning

Developing a clear project plan for the evaluation is crucial for ensuring the evaluation stays on track. You'll need:

  • realistic timeframes
  • clear deliverables
  • project milestones.

The plan should reflect the order of evaluation phases and cover all activities, from contracting (where required) through to data collection, analysis and dissemination of final evaluation reports.

The timeframes for each phase of the evaluation should strike the balance between what's desirable and what's realistic in the available timeframe.

A common and useful project management tool is the Gantt chart. It provides a clear, visual plan of your project, based on scheduling the different stages against a time base. This can be produced in a Word table or an Excel spread sheet.

2. Risk management

It's important to identify potential risks to the evaluation before it starts.

Identifying the risks will help you prevent and mitigate anything that could derail the evaluation.

Things will happen during the evaluation that you won't have anticipated - you can't plan for every unforeseen event. But you can ensure there's sufficient flexibility in the evaluation work plan to deal with problems as they arise. Decide and agree how, and by whom, issues should be raised, escalated and resolved.

At the NSPCC, we often have a steering or advisory group, made up of evaluators, lead service managers and practitioners to oversee evaluation projects. They can provide advice and troubleshoot where necessary.

A risk analysis should address:

  • what could go wrong
  • the likelihood of this happening
  • how it will affect the evaluation
  • what can be done about it.

3. Data management

Research book

Data collection is usually the biggest investment of time and resource made during an evaluation. The higher the quality of the information collected, the better the evaluation.

Common problems evaluators encounter include lack of data, unreliable data and incomplete data.

During our evaluations, practitioners are often given the responsibility for data collection. We've learnt that investing sufficient time to fully train practitioners on the evaluation and their role is crucial before data collection starts.

Once data collection begins, it's critical to develop a system that monitors and assures quality. This leads to consistency and completeness.

It's also vital to build ongoing advice and support into the project plan. This reduces risks by allowing problems to be identified and resolved quickly.

4. Relationship management

Evaluations involve a range of people, from evaluation team members to internal and external stakeholders.

Poor management of stakeholders can lead to communication issues within the project. It can also cause conflict, particularly if individual stakeholder objectives are competing for priority.

It's vital to agree how these relationships will operate during the project.

Megaphone

Conducting stakeholder analysis helps to:

  • identify project stakeholders
  • determine the interest each stakeholder has in the evaluation
  • assess how much influence they have on the project
  • find the best way to communicate with different stakeholders (this could include timetabling of regular meetings and agreeing how and when information will be communicated).

It's vital that everyone in the evaluation team has a clear understanding of roles and responsibilities, and to encourage two-way communication over the duration of the evaluation. This enables the team to reflect on evaluation progress, seek input from other team members, share good practice and foster a sense of ownership over the project.

Finding the right approach

It's up to each evaluator to find the project management approach that works best for them – and different methods may be required for different evaluations.

But trying some of these simple project management techniques will allow you to keep control and get the best from the evaluation.

Investing time in developing your project management skills is time well spent.

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