May 31, 2003 Program Summary

Secrets of Successful Project Management was the topic of a half-day Saturday workshop on May 31st designed for nonprofits, for-profits, and technical professionals. The event was co-sponsored by the San Luis Obispo chapter of the STC and the KCBXnet Nonprofit Resource Center.

Keys to Initiating, Evaluating, and Managing Successful Projects
by Michael Raphael and Adele Sommers

Speaker Dottie NatalUnderstanding your goals, keeping on time and on budget, and prioritizing are among many aspects of successful project management.

That’s the tip of the advice-iceberg offered by Dottie Natal (shown at left), whose company, Imagen Multimedia Inc. in Lompoc, handles a number of large federal projects plus projects for state and local agencies and corporate clients.

Dottie outlined a complete picture of project management at the half-day seminar. She presented her material in three parts to correspond to three essential aspects of project management: 1) Initiating a project, 2) evaluating processes and outcomes, and 3) managing the project life cycle.

Attendees represented several different sectors of the community and included:

  • Technical professionals working on projects involving product development and support.
  • Nonprofit organizations and government agencies providing ongoing community services.
  • Educators and consultants teaching and advising in the field of project management.
  • Students studying technical communication and related fields.
  • Creative content developers such as illustrators and animators.

Taking a best practices approach

Introducing the eventDue to the vast scope of the project management subject matter, only highlights from each segment could be covered in the allotted time. Dottie therefore emphasized the following points:

  • The 80/20 rule: A few key methods can significantly influence a project's or program's success. The idea is that twenty percent (or a relatively small number) of the tools and techniques can determine eighty percent (or a large portion) of the outcome.

  • Best practices discovery: Every situation is unique with respect to its mission, goals, methods, customers, clients, and resources. Hence, there is no single right way to accomplish many project management objectives. What works well in one situation may be anathema to the next. To help participants discover what feels right for their own situations, the handouts included a best practice discovery exercise to think about and discuss after the workshop. This short exercise can be downloaded, below.

As one example of a best practice, Dottie suggested that “when you’re estimating time and resources, and you know there is no way to complete the project in the amount of time allotted, propose what actually can be done. Offer compelling arguments. Dottie went on to explain, My clients like that I disagree, and when I tell them what they really want, indicating that it is very seldom that clients know what they want. Clients know the outcome, but not how to get there. Dottie cautioned that this approach works well for her and her clients, but could be less successful in other situations. Depending on the circumstances, acquiescing to client requests or proactively negotiating may be better options.

Planning and partnering are keys to success

Starting the workshopCollaboration with partners and the use of project plans figure heavily into the 80/20 approach to project management.

With respect to planning, a project plan is a coordinating tool and communication device that helps you and your organization, team, clients, or contractors define the crucial aspects of your project or program. (The handouts included a sample project plan prepared for a hypothetical nonprofit organization, which can be downloaded along with a template, below.)

With regard to collaboration, “if you don’t know what you’re doing, get support, Dottie said. Finding collaborators should be a routine consideration when bidding on a contract or requesting funding for a program. For example, Dottie’s company does ninety-five percent of its business with businesses and governmental agencies along the beltway in the Washington D.C. area. Many have their own language, including abbreviations and acronyms. You have to be able to speak, and write, in your client’s language, or you’ll lose them, she advised. Her prescription: If you don't know the lingo, collaborate with someone who does.

You can find funding and projects in unusual places

Speaking in terms of project management for nonprofit agencies and organizations, Dottie identified various sources of grants, indicating that there are lots of ways to get money. She described Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) as the gateway to agencies that have funds set aside for grants.

Constructing a projectAll federal agencies have to include funds for grants in their budgets, she advised. There also are SBIR workshops in which nonprofit agencies can learn the process of obtaining grants. (To research this area directly, you can access the SBIR Gateway at It lists all the federal agencies’ Web sites and direct links to grant programs each offers.)

To learn more about obtaining foundation grant and corporate funding, investigate the offerings of co-sponsor KCBXnet. Their events include classes for nonprofits on funding sources and a variety of related subjects.

Summary of Dottie's 80/20 recommendations

Initiating a project:

  • There are many methods for creating a project plan; bottom line: choose one and begin planning.
  • You started your nonprofit or for-profit business for a reason—don't lose sight of your vision.
  • If a funding source does not help you fulfill your mission, it is probably not the right source for you.
  • A clear vision and plan is attractive—to funding groups, potential clients, and potential employers and collaborators.

Evaluating processes and outcomes:

  • Evaluate systems and processes that are relevant to your operation, but be careful to measure and report changes accurately and respect privacy rights.
  • Demonstrate to funding agencies and clients that you have real, measurable successes, and have learned lessons from past failures. (Failures are a way to show what will succeed!)
  • After a failure, however, don't stick your head in the sand—figure out what went wrong and how to avoid the same error in the future.
  • Use evaluation techniques to help with client management, especially to help prove your points if clients doubt your expertise.

Managing the project life cycle:

  • Use technology creatively to solve many management problems.
  • Don't burden your project with too much overhead.
  • Be aggressive about managing risks.
  • Communicate continuously with your client and team.
  • Use the best communication technique for your client or funding agency (one size does not fit all).
  • Find and use a method that works to manage scope creep (where project or program requirements begin to outgrow the original scope and available resources).

Downloadable information and tools (Need Acrobat Reader?)

Recommended reading

Photography by Mary Meyer.

Secrets of Successful Project Management
Date: Saturday morning, May 31, 2003, 9:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

Dottie Natal, founder of Imagen Multimedia Inc. in Lompoc, and a nationally recognized expert and developer of multimedia projects for academia, government, and nonprofit organizations. For more information, see Background, below.


Secrets of Successful Project Management,” designed for nonprofits, for-profits, and technical professionals, covered the nuts and bolts of managing the three important project phases listed below. The workshop focused on high-level considerations of general interest and relevance rather than on detailed technical issues.

Part 1: Initiating the project. This segment covered funding sources and project planning, including how to create a competitive edge when seeking funding for a program or responding to an opportunity with a proposal.

Part 2: Evaluating processes and outcomes. Evaluation processes actually start with the planning phase, especially when it's important to build the mechanisms into the contract or proposal. This segment covered how to keep the customer or funding source happy during the project, how to evaluate project processes and outcomes, and what to do when a third-party evaluation is required.

Part 3: Managing the life cycle. This segment covered how to manage activities, rein in excesses, and otherwise mitigate unexpected circumstances. It discussed “scope creep,” fielding customer requests for additional features, and generally finding that the program or project has grown beyond the limits of its funding.

Door Prizes (2): We gave away two (2) copies of the indispensable book, “How to Run Successful Projects III: The Silver Bullet” (3rd edition) by Fergus O'Connell.

Dottie Natal holds a Bachelor’s degree in mathematics, clear California teaching credentials in multiple subject (grades K-6) and single-subject (grades 7-12) mathematics. For her Masters and Ph.D. degrees (in Educational Psychology/Technology from the University of California, Santa Barbara) work she focused on utilizing computer technology to create change in the classroom.

Dottie has taught at many levels: middle school computer science and mathematics, fourth grade, mathematics in the high school and computer programming at Allan Hancock Community College and for the University of California Extension department for over eight years. She is a frequent speaker at conferences, including educational conferences, drug prevention, educational, and technical conferences.

Dottie has developed numerous courses for the University of California Extension program at the University of California, Santa Barbara, based on computer technology training for teachers and technology integration into the classroom and assisted in the development of the Multimedia Requirements for the Graphic Design/Multimedia Emphasis degree for Allan Hancock College.

In 1994 Dottie founded Imagen Multimedia Corporation, which has received contracts from the Department of Justice, SBIR grants, CSAP, the US Department of Education and various other agencies and entities to develop multimedia applications. Imagen employs artists, programmers, educators, and researchers in development of educational and dissemination software. Natal is a frequent presenter at educational conferences on technical and technology integration topics.

Imagen is currently working on a large multinational project distance education Web site project. They are also involved in development of educational data collection software for elementary and secondary schools, and a series of multimedia CD-ROM projects for Federal and State clients.


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