Project management skills boosted through volunteering

In March 2018, I was selected as a co-producer of a community theatre production of The Mikado with the Victoria Gilbert and Sullivan Society. The production, involving more than 60 volunteers, was mounted in November and enjoyed near-full houses and earned accolades about the artistic interpretation.

For me, the show was also a success because of what I learned — effective strategies for project management, collaboration, and leadership — skills that will make me a better freelance writer, editor, and contributor.

Here are some key takeaways from the experience, which I will use in future projects. (For more detail, read what follows the list.)

  • Keep the project vision at the forefront

  • Find great people to collaborate with and play to each other’s strengths

  • Be nimble — be willing to change to uphold the vision

  • Create a schedule and get buy-in to meet that schedule

  • Check in with the team regularly to find out what issues people need help with

  • Celebrate successes frequently

  • Show gratitude to everyone for their contributions

Project Management

Producing a musical in community theatre essentially means being a project manager. It’s a massive job even when, like me, you’re sharing the role with a terrific co-producer. We developed a detailed scheduled and to do list to ensure nothing slipped through the cracks; we learned effective ways to remind people to stay on track; and, with multiple deadlines competing all the time, we honed our ability to make tough choices on what items took priority in what order to bring about the best result.

Collaboration

In a big project like a musical, collaboration is the only way the show will ever make it to the stage. The same can be said for projects like putting together a magazine issue, an annual report, or company prospectus. You have to trust your colleagues to do their part, but you also have to find a way to work together so that quality is controlled, deadlines are followed, and primary objectives are met. I learned to stay out of decisions that didn’t need my input; to trust that the people in place would make the best decision; to play to each other’s strengths and discuss together who would be best for what tasks; and to show gratitude to my collaborators for the work they put in.

Leadership

And finally, leadership. You can read all you want about leadership, but what makes the difference to improving your skills is applying what you know in the real world — and learning, in the moment, from things that worked and things that didn’t. I learned to be flexible and nimble, to change courses when required, and that it was okay to use different approaches with different personalities. And, in moments where we felt our strategy failed, my co-producer and I talked about what hadn’t worked and what we could try the next time. When we faced challenges, I learned to work on myself first: to take the time to get back in touch with our vision and to keep my eyes on the horizon, away from the weeds.

In big projects, moments of heightened emotion are inevitable. Deadlines approach, personalities conflict, expectations clash. Producing this musical honed my skills to bring people together to achieve a vision. I’m looking forward to practicing these skills on writing projects in 2019.

Jessica Woollard