Designing a project
Why is a project design needed?
A project design is the general plan for a project. It sets out the reasoning behind a project and the way in which it will be implemented. For the project team, the design or concept serves as a binding reference document in which the central questions of the project are answered. The design should be convincing for external parties and should persuade potential founders of the project's relevance and appropriateness.
The project design is a better developed and more elaborate document than the project draft, presents a more in-depth view of various aspects of the project and provides more detailed planning. New elements are added and in order to justify a project more research is generally needed. Also, key stakeholders and representatives of the target groups must be contacted and potential funding needs to be investigated.
The future structure of the project ("Project structure) as well as the competences needed to implement it ("Project team) will also be determined here. The general planning phase of a project will be concluded when the final project design is written. It is often used as a blueprint for a formal project application.
What exactly needs to be included in a project design? (see template "project design)
Project title, organizations in charge, individuals responsible for the project, date, etc.
Statement of need and Public Health relevance ("Needs assessment), the needs of target groups and other stakeholders ("Clarifying the need ), relevant social, political and legal environment " (cultural framework, "legal framework, "social conditions), embedding of the project in a broader parent programme (“Embedding in PH-policies), if any, as well as reflection on experience from other projects ("Links to other projects). The project justification refers to the fundamental "values of health promotion and explains clearly how they will be implemented.
Vision, project objectives, intended effects, indicators
The vision describes the ideal long-term objective, the "project objectives refer to the specific objectives to be achieved and the desired effects. Both are in accordance with the fundamental values. In order to verify the achievement of objectives, indicators are formulated.
Settings and target groups
The choice of "target groups and "settings must be explained ("fundamental values). The target groups should be described with accuracy (age, sex, social status, ethnicity, etc.)
Strategies and methods chosen to achieve the goals must be justified and a coherent explanation given for the expected chain of effects, again in accordance with the fundamental values. A timetable with "milestones needs to be defined for the implementation phase ("Measures).
Detailed description of the proposed project structure (see also "Structured organization chart).
Detailed description of the required project resources ("infrastructure) including budget, personnel requirements, professional skills and funding sources.
Assessment of evaluation needs (self and external evaluation) and an outline of the evaluation ("Planning/preparing evaluation).
Dissemination and exploitation of results
Explain how the project's results and experiences will be exploited and disseminated ("Disseminating results).
- Harrison Frederick and Lock Dennis (2004). Advanced Project Management. A structured approach. 4th edition. Burlington: Gower Publishing Company.
- Portny, Stanley E. (2007). Project Management for Dummies. 2nd edition. Hoboken: Wiley.
Why you would disregard these aspects
- In order to write a project design and/or proposal that is both justified and realistic, enough time must be scheduled for writing it. Insufficient planning is often at the root of a badly developed project design: You are (still) involved in another project and are fully occupied. You only start planning your next project when you are in the final phase of the previous one. Your institution communicates deadlines for submissions (too) late.
- Another obstacle in the project design phase is the lack of financing: the elaboration of the project design is not usually paid for by the client and will be at the expense of the institution in charge of the project and sometimes even of an individual.
- Important needs of certain stakeholder groups are given too little consideration. The needs of key stakeholder groups must be explicitly stated and included in the formulation of project objectives. Fulfilling such requirements will be regarded as a sign of quality. This presupposes that the requirements are clearly defined and verifiable.
- Difficulties might arise because the project design is based on assumptions that may later, during the execution of the project, prove to be incorrect. It is therefore important to check the evidence well, to explain the causal relationships and to define the measures accordingly.
What you have to gain
- If your project is well designed, you will assess the amount of time and money required more accurately and you will not have unpleasant surprises later on.
- A good initial design will help during the implementation phase: the focus is kept firmly on the defined objectives and measures. If adjustments are required they can be made on the basis of the initial design and can be more easily explained.
What you can actually do
- Use the template for the development of the "project design.
- A number of topical texts are available on many aspects of the project design. Read them and improve your knowledge, if needed.
- Create a timetable for the development of the project design. Plan enough time for briefings with experts, for literature and information searches, for the inclusion of target groups and other stakeholders as well as for negotiation with the necessary cooperation partners.
- Exchange ideas with experienced professionals who implement similar projects and benefit from their experiences.
- When using designs or design elements from other projects check if these are appropriate to your own specific context or if you need to make adjustments (see "context, Best Practice).
- Ask at least three professionals to read your project design with a critical eye.
Questions for critical reflection
- Am I able to explain concisely to a person who is not professionally concerned with health promotion and prevention why my project is needed and what will be achieved in practice?
- Are the available resources sufficient to achieve the project's goals? Is the budget realistic? Are the timetable and milestones realistic?
- Have I drawn sufficiently on experiences from similar projects and explored the current state of knowledge? Or, for lack of time, is the design mainly based on personal assumptions and perceptions?