Lately I've been working with a number of schools to help educate administrators about project management and create project management processes that fit the specific needs of the schools. We often don't think much about schools in this context - after all, their product is education and that's an ongoing process.
I've talked a lot about bringing age-appropriate project management into schools but until recently hadn't really thought about the administrative needs. Schools, especially private schools, have many projects every year. Some of these are big initiatives, but the bulk of the projects repeat at least once every year. Add software and vendor selection into the mix and you have a lot to manage and coordinate.
Schools can benefit from project management in the same ways that businesses benefit - the ROI is in reduced stress, increased efficiency, predictability, and better succession planning.
The cyclic projects - fundraising, transportation, admissions, grading, etc. - are the ones that benefit most from project management. Imagine having to re-invent these programs every year - searching around for any notes or dates from the prior year, wondering if there could have been improvements made, trying to fit them into hard due dates. Especially with the addition of a project management system that automatically records the schedules, notes, issues, and even post-mortems, project management becomes a powerful tool. As an added benefit, new employees can pick up the program information from last year and run smooth projects. Even without project management processes, a shared vocabulary and understanding can go a long way.
Non-cyclic projects - from construction to new logos to curriculum design, I/T projects, transportation, and security add to the tally of projects that need to be juggled along with the primary objective of quality education.
Part of the difficulty instituting project management in school administration is lack of knowledge about terminology and processes and how to shape those processes to fit an organization's specific needs. Really just the basics are required - a shared terminology, project definition, tracking, dependencies, resourcing, and contingency time. An even bigger barrier can be making the shift from what was done before, however inefficient and frustrating that may be, while learning the new way of doing things - not so different from any business or even non-profit
To bring project management into the environment, the most urgent need is someone with experience in project management in different organizations to drive educating the team and setting up the processes . A second requirement is top-down support and involvement, usually from head of school or the school board - a mandate if you will, but also involvement in the education and creating the processes. And finally, a beta project is essential - a trial of the processes that everyone can be involved in, understand, and work to refine to fit the organization.
If a school's administration is willing to put in the time and effort to learn the basics of project management and can get over the initial bump of using new processes, project management can have an impressive ROI for any school.