It’s been a year.
I know that you don’t want to hear this, but you know I’m right.
It’s evaluation time.
It’s time to go back and intentionally evaluate the programs, projects, initiatives, whatever it is that you were working on before the pandemic hit to see how they’re doing.
It’s likely that many of your projects have been going miles on the spare tire, so it’s time to get into the shop, put on a proper tire, and decide if you’re continuing on the same path or reorienting your journey.
As someone who gets my energy from implementing or finishing a project (can’t wait to hit “Publish” on this post!), the evaluation process used to drain me for a few reasons.
First of all, I was a perfectionist, so I had already put my heart and soul into producing the best project I could. After completing a project, I was not thrilled to have it torn apart. Having each of my mistakes highlighted by people who hadn’t worked late for weeks to produce a high quality project was exhausting.
Secondly, since I get energized when completing projects, it was incredibly draining to have to run another lap after I just threw myself over the finish line.
Third, I didn’t necessarily know what to do. The idea of assessing a project can be intimidating if you don’t even know where to start.
Luckily, a lot shifted for me.
Thanks to life experience, greater maturity, and mostly to living in Central America, I was able to tamp down that sense of perfectionism (I now identify as a recovering perfectionist). The gaping hole that it left in my life made space for continuous improvement and a growth mindset -- which are two cornerstones of Cresta Solutions.
I developed a project management framework where “Go Live” wasn’t the last step. Optimizing the project was the last step, so I paced myself, knowing exactly how many laps this race would take.
Importantly, I learned how to assess projects, as well as how to build assessment in from the very beginning. Much to the dismay of my classmates in graduate school, I chose to do an internship that was entirely focused on how to do program evaluations, and I’ve built them into every job and project since then.
I want to acknowledge that program assessment is a field entirely on its own, so I don’t mean to make light of it being “easy” for you to go evaluate your projects. For goodness sake, one of my best friends has her PhD in program evaluation and travels the world helping others with her specialized skills.
If her evaluation results would be the equivalent of making us a gourmet five-course meal, I’m going to give you tips on the equivalent of making a simple InstantPot dinner (pinto beans for my family tonight!). Basically, it’s much easier than you think. Here are the steps:
Ideally, the original project goals would have been outlined in a project charter. Using a project charter is not necessarily a widespread practice in many industries, so don’t go beating yourself up about not having had one. (If you’d like a Project Charter template or to talk through how to kick off projects to get more powerful end results, let me know!)
Don’t have founding documents for a project? If looking at minutes from early project meetings is a laughable thought (“Meeting minutes?! Yeah, right!”), talk to the highest ranked person who supports your project. What did they hope to get out of the project? Even if they don’t have clearly defined metrics, they may have a different idea than you of what a successful project is.
For example: Let’s say your project is to reconfigure your department’s student advising schedule. You may be thrilled about it because your staff has been stretched to cover so many hours, and there’s never a back-up person. The project sponsor may be motivated to do the project to better align with the needs students expressed in their survey.
Pro tip: Be prepared to stay very calm if what the project sponsor states as the main goal of the project is different than what they had originally indicated. Is it incredibly frustrating? Yes. Do you just have to deal with it? Also, yes. A lot has likely changed since you launched the project. (And people forget things, which is why you’ll start with a project charter next project, right?!)
At this point, brainstorm a list of all the ways that you might be able to evaluate your goal without limiting yourself based on timing, resources, likelihood of responses, etc.
If your goal could be determined by a numerical metric, look at the data. In purpose-driven organizations, funds generated or saved may be important metrics, but there are many others it could be. How many people were served? How many sessions completed? How many products were used?
Very likely, success won’t be so easy to measure. Want to know how your team feels about a change? Want to know how your customers (or students, volunteers, donors, etc.) perceive the quality of your services? So, go ask them! Surveys, focus groups, and one-on-one interviews are three effective ways to measure qualitative metrics, varying based on how many people you want to reach and how in-depth you want to go.
For example: If students indicated needing more frequent check-ins with advisors to help them stay on track, you may have adjusted standard advising appointments from 60 minutes once a semester to 20 minutes two or three times a semester. It may be helpful to note the number of appointments or the number of students served, but you also want to know if the advising is successful. On a scale of 1-10, how confident do students feel immediately following the appointment? How much do they perceive the advising impacted their success one month after each appointment?
Pro tip: Consider different combinations of questions, such as asking for a numerical ranking based on their perceptions and for a written response to explain their rationale.
Narrow down all your choices of potential options, and choose the one or small handful of approaches that make the most sense for you and your project. Don’t do it all. Strategically select what'll yield the greatest insights with the least work. Then plan out how you’ll do it.
For example: Surveying the whole student population may not be feasible, but you could survey those who came in for appointments, and do a few interviews with students who chose not to come in for appointments.
Pro tip: Make sure to select a combination of evaluation criteria that get at quantity and quality. Increasing the number of students served is only a good thing if the sessions have a positive impact.
Do the evaluation, report out your results, make the necessary improvements to your project, and celebrate!
Pro tip: In addition to reporting the results to the project sponsor, make sure to share the results and improvements with your team and the people you serve. If you’re actively working on improving programs for the people you serve, they will be thrilled to hear that — especially if they responded to your surveys or met with you. Your vulnerability and genuine desire to improve what you’re doing will inspire trust.
I know you’re tired. But you can only use a spare tire for so long. Doing a program evaluation can be a lot of work, so go easy on yourself. Be confident that doing this work will pay off in the long run, not only for your efforts but for the impact that your efforts have on those you serve.
In the courses and the project coaching I offer, I empower people to build evaluation practices into their projects from beginning to end, making it an easy and natural process. Book a free consultation with me to discuss this process!
"5 Steps to Leading Strategic Initiatives in Times of Change: A Resource Guide for Purpose-Driven Leaders" is here to help you think through how to structure your projects.
There's an overview of the steps, some bonus pro tips, and then some additional explanation in some videos you'll receive after you get the guide.
You have a lot of pressure on you to lead meaningful initiatives in these times of great change.
But where do you start? How do you make sure that you're taking a creative approach? That your plan works?
This free resource guide from Cresta Solutions is here to help! It provides a 5-step framework for you to follow and some bonus "Pro Tips" to help you lead these changes with creativity and long-term impact.