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Volunteer Power

Generally, when someone asks for project involvement or even shows a high amount of interest, I’ll find a way to include that person to the extent possible. It can sometimes make meetings more complicated, especially when you have to provide background information in order to ‘loop in’ the new person, but often a new perspective, an undiscovered piece of information, or perhaps even additional key contacts will be discovered in the process.

For example, a stakeholder recently came to my attention via company internal social media as someone who was enthusiastic about our project, and I wanted to get his input. So I scheduled a one-on-one meeting and was a little surprised when he showed up to the meeting with about six of his teammates. I’ve learned to take invitation proliferation into account when scheduling meetings, so the conference room was big enough for all. It turned out that all of those people who showed up had great input for our project requirements, and, more importantly, have volunteered to help with UAT and become supporters of the project within the organization.

Unlike the typical projects I do for work, I’m also involved in various non-profit organizations, and this spring I worked as a volunteer on a political campaign. Even on a small, local campaign, there is a staff member responsible for volunteer coordination, because every savvy campaign manager knows that the intelligent use of enthusiastic volunteers is key to a successful campaign. I spent long Saturday afternoons doing everything from putting labels on brochures to walking through Austin neighborhoods knocking on doors. Knowing that one more door knocked, one more brochure distributed, one more voter registered can make the difference between winning or losing an election motivates the team to keep going.

On our work projects, it’s also important to keep an eye out for people who might be recruited to lend expertise, support, or time to the project. Too often, especially in larger organizations, we tend to focus too much on our silo or our team and let these chances for a broader engagement with the organization slip past us, to the detriment of project success. The more open our project teams are to input and involvement, the more likely we are to develop products that are adopted and effective. Maybe we should even have project volunteer coordinators? After all, my candidate did win the election!

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