Project Management

A Lighthearted Guide to Managing a Volunteer Project

Robert is the President of Quokka Systems Consulting Ltd. in Vancouver.

If you’re a project manager and active in your local community, you may be involved with volunteer projects. For example, you may have children and became engaged in a playground replacement project led by the PTA (Parent Teacher Association) or PAC (Parent Advisory Council). Or, if you are involved with your local church, you could be working to upgrade facilities or other capital projects.

Given your expertise at putting activities in the right order and keeping to a timeline, these not-for-profit and charitable organizations will benefit from your skills. However, you will have to adapt your style and thinking. Most projects these days are labor intensive, and most of the human resources are volunteers. Keep in mind what you are paying them: Nothing.

The math of the situation is interesting. The value of the labor is $0 per hour times the number of hours worked, which is zero. Which doesn't mean that there is no effort. The average labor cost is $0, so the average cost per unit of effort is a number divided by zero, which is undefined. (You might as well take the square root of a negative number.)

Time is a strange notion on a good day, let alone when volunteer time is involved. You might ask someone, "Can you review the application form this weekend?" They might say, "Sure." However, you might silently hear, "Sure, as long as my …

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