April 22, 2021

Winning a new grant award is exciting for any organization, but especially for the team taking on the new project. There is so much promise in a new beginning.

My work on project start-ups for EDC’s international division has always followed a well-charted course. Our project team and start-up operations teams traveled to countries to tackle the many tasks with setting up a new project. We met early, kept running all day, and worked late—coming and going from a temporary office. A few people viewed possible office spaces, some discussed the work plan with the ministry or funder, and others drafted job descriptions for advertising. At the end of the day, we came back together to share accomplishments and plan priorities.

At least that’s what we did before the COVID-19 pandemic. Today, start-up is still a controlled whirlwind of activity, as all team members are tapped to move a project from an idea on paper to a functioning and equipped office of contracted staff implementing award activities. But with travel and in-person meetings limited or prohibited for safety, we have a new normal. And the start-up teams that I’m involved with face different challenges—and need fresh strategies—to successfully launch new projects around the world during the pandemic.

Here I share a few of the challenges I’ve encountered, as well as some emerging best practices to help start-ups run smoothly at a distance.

Challenges:

  • The team is no longer in the same room or even the same time zone.
  • More effort is needed for the same amount of work, and there are fewer people to help in‑country.
  • Connecting all team members quickly and consistently can be far more difficult long distance.

Best Practices:

  • Schedule frequent check-ins to replace check-ins that used to happen spontaneously on-site, to sustain strong communications, and to support collaborative brainstorming and strategizing.
  • Encourage all team members to feel comfortable asking each other for support to avoid delays and to ensure all tasks are completed.
  • Include the start team on all start-up tasks and discussions to enable that big picture perspective of priorities and next steps.
  • Build in time for small groups focused on specific issues to connect, dive into the details, and continue to push forward on start-up tasks.
  • Hire local consultants as immediate “hands on the ground” for tasks that need to happen in‑country, including a start-up/logistics consultant and a human resources recruiting consultant.

Are you engaged in project start-up from afar? What are your challenges and best practices? Please share with us below.

Jennifer Kennedy is an international project director and technical advisor at EDC. A former teacher, she brings extensive expertise in remote learning, project management, and mathematics education.

 

Photo: Priscilla Du Preez, Unsplash

Capacity Building for Individuals, Organizations, and Systems
Design and Development
Implementation

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