‘Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and he will establish your plans.’ Proverbs 16 :3

Now that you have decided to move forward with your idea, you will need to start developing an action plan for the church during the project.   The key to the success of any project is planning.  If you feel overwhelmed, try to remember that “Project Management is just structured common sense.”

This step will help you develop a plan for the church's responsibilities during the project.   It can be created at the beginning of the project, and then keep it up to date as the project develops, so that you always feel in control.  At this stage, we are talking about a project with a definite end point, not the new activities which may continue after the project has finished.

There are several aspects to a good project plan. The principles will be the same for a project of any size, though the amount of detail you go into will depend on its size and complexity:

  1. Action Plan

This documents how you plan to achieve this project i.e. who is meant to be doing what, and when they are meant to be doing it, so that you finish on schedule.  This isn’t just about the building work – it will include all the other things talked about in these steps, such as fundraising, writing a project or business plan for the new activities, getting permissions, staying in contact with your stakeholders and so forth. The action plan should cover everything which the project will be doing.

The action plan is a separate document to the project plan but both will compliment each other.  The project plan gives an over-arching view of the project with input from the church and other professionals but the action plan focuses on who will doing what within the church as part of its responsibilities during the project.  

  1. Costs and expenditure

The second aspect is planning your project costs and your cash flow.

  1. Stakeholders

The third is to think about who your stakeholders are, and how you will communicate with them.

  1. Risks

Finally you should consider the risks of things going wrong, and what you are going to do about them in advance – this is known as the risk register.

The amount of information required to ensure all these areas are fully planned will all depend on the size and complexity of the project. But be assured it is worthwhile, as you can save considerable time, money and energy by careful planning.

Finally, it is important that an individual or a group of people monitor how you are doing throughout the life of the project, and keep the project plan up to date.

Top Tips for Planning

  1. Time spent planning is rarely wasted.
  2. The action plan is just one part of planning.
  3. Don’t commit yourself to any works and do not sign any contracts with builders until you receive offer letters from funders. Any expenditure incurred before the date of an offer from a funder will be ineligible for grant support, but you also need to be sure that you can pay for any work before you sign contracts.
  4. Ensure you know when you should receive any required permissions from the relevant authorities, and who should receive them. You can only begin work when you have permission to do so.
  5. If there’s a delay of several months between getting estimated building costs (bearing in mind the cost of supplies) and applying for funding, get revised quotes to check your figures are still correct.
  6. Continue to take photos of the work in progress so you have a pictorial reference of the project. This may prove useful for final reporting and evaluation processes.
  7. Once you have permissions in place and are ready to start major alterations, renovations or repairs, it’s important that you inform your insurer as soon as possible

There are 3 supplementary pathways that may be relevant for the project and each pathway incorporate specific links, guidance and considerations for these types of projects.  The pathways are designed to be worked through methodically and and have been divided into bitesize steps.  Thus, it is recommended that with this step, you begin with Step 5 of the core pathway followed by Step 5 of a supplementary pathway, as dictated by the parameters of the project.  

Click on the icon below to view the supplementary guidance for Step 5 of each pathway.  

Step 5 Conservation & Listed Pathway

 Step 5 Net Zero Carbon Pathway

Step 5 Partnerships Pathway  

Click here to move back to Step 4 

Click here to move forward to Step 6 

1. The Action Plan

It is better to draft the action plan first.  Within this framework it is then easier to develop other strategies around communicating with stakeholders, projecting project income and expenditure, and developing the risk register.

This is a ‘live’ document which needs to respond to changes and developments, so don’t be concerned if you have to review and change the action plan as you move forward. The point of an action plan is to specify what will be done, how it will be done, who will do it and when it will be done in order to achieve your outcome.

So it will:

  • determine the resources that you need to run your project;
  • set out what work needs to be done;
  • set out when it needs to begin and end, and how long it lasts;
  • describe who needs to do it (e.g. who in the Group will be the contact person for the architect; who will chase up estimates or drawings from your furniture designer?);
  • set out what and whether help is needed from elsewhere;
  • set out who needs to do the work;
  • show where activities overlap or depend on other activities, and by how much;
  • state the start and end date of the whole project.

Depending upon the complexity and scale of the project, you may need to create two levels of action plan:

Detailed Plan – this covers all the individual activities. It will incorporate many of the project steps outlined in the architect’s schedule of works. But it will also need to incorporate information about when you need to apply for funding, claim/draw down funds, undertake additional consultations and recruit and train any more volunteers. Many of these tasks need to happen concurrently.

High-level Plan – this covers the key stages of planning, fundraising, expenditure, getting permissions, detailed design, building and opening – this can be called the ‘Critical Path’ plan.  This plan is for general communications such as the one you would share with stakeholders, funders and for public consumption. This is a simplified version of the detailed action plan.

There are many ways to develop an action plan, and several different ways to document it.  The tabs below give one suggestion for develop

2. Action Planning Step: Define Your Endpoint

First step: Define Your Endpoint

The first step is to define what your endpoint looks like, the moment when the project is complete. This should be fairly detailed. For example you might say that the project finishes when:

  • building work is complete, snagged;
  • everything is paid for;
  • all information is collected to demonstrate success and sent to grant givers and all donors are thanked;
  • the opening ceremony and opening publicity are complete;
  • usage and marketing policy for new building agreed, new team in place;
  • all project documentation is filed away.

It is worth spending some time getting your endpoint right. You may be surprised how useful this is in focusing minds, and helping you to think ahead.  

3. Action Planning Step: Work Backwards to Create Steps Along the Way

The next step is to see how you will reach your endpoint. We suggest you do this by working backwards from the endpoint, not forwards towards it. Ask ‘what task has to be done to reach that point’, and then work backwards to the previous task and then the one before that and so on.  Some people suggest listing milestones rather than or as well as tasks, and that is another way of doing it. A milestone is a definite point that you’ve reached in a project. Here is an example of the task method.

For example looking at just one aspect of the endpoint, ‘Building work complete and snagged’ then the tasks might be – working backwards:

  • carry out the snagging and get signoff and pay any monies due;
  • make list of snags and agree them with contractor;
  • do the building work and pay as per agreed schedule;
  • agree timetable with contractor;
  • review and sign the contract AND ALSO complete fundraising;
  • choose the contractor;
  • send out tenders to contractors
  • AND ALSO complete design work
  • AND ALSO have obtained all necessary permissions;
  • . . . . and so on, back to the beginning which would be creating a mission plan.

One type of task which is easy to overlook is what sort of information do you need to collect while the project is taking place? For example, do you need to know how many hours volunteers are helping out so that you can include this ‘in-kind’ contribution as part of your match funding? If so, create a timesheet that everyone can complete as and when they do some work.

You will end up with a good many tasks, in reverse order. In general, you should go into more detail for the early stages of the project. Later stages can have larger, more general tasks. Later on, as the project progresses you can add detail to the later stages when you update the plan. Once you have done this, reverse the list, so that the earliest tasks come at the top.

4. Action Planning Step: Organise into Work Streams

The next step is to organise these tasks into different work streams. A work stream is a series of tasks (or milestones) which naturally hang together. It makes it easier to manage the project. Some work streams will go on throughout the whole project, others will occupy only part of the project. Here’s a starter list of work streams which you might find useful (but do develop your own):

  • Fundraise and engage with donors.
  • Land acquisition, site surveys, legal checks etc…
  • Design and contract, obtain permissions.
  • Build
  • Organise for when current building not available.
  • Set up new activities and handover / ensure benefits arise from project.

A few words about the project plan work stream. You may have to compile a project plan so that you can demonstrate how your new activities will operate in the future and demonstrate their financial sustainability. Some funders will expect to see this before they consider supporting your project.

And a brief comment on the final work stream – however simple your project, you will be intending that good things will come out of it. Your project plan should include whatever is necessary to make sure this happens.

Now take the list of tasks you have completed, and mark it up with the work stream each of them belongs to. Of course, there will be links between the work streams. No building contracts can be signed until fundraising is successful. No launch ceremony can happen until the building work is complete.

5. Action Planning Step: Create a Timetable and Identify Links

Having gathered this information, this can now be placed into a timetable or programme, taking account of the links between various tasks.  There are various ways you can do this in terms of presentation – for example a traditional timetable chart of action columns against rows of months; alternatively there are gaant charts which is a more ‘fluid’ and graphics focussed way of working.   Whatever form of timetable you use, there are some common principles:

  • Developing a programme/timetable is an important tool for decision-making and setting out tasks, timescales, decision gateways and critical paths – it may well take a number of drafts;
  • Involve a group of people in developing this if needed, particularly with different skills-sets;
  • Keep work streams simple by focussing on each task on each line;
  • Allow for reasonable timescales for each task, and consult with others if needed;
  • Allow for some ‘contingency’ time for each task so it give some flexibility and reduces stress;
  • Make sure that you understand how tasks interact – i.e. if the beginning of one task relies on the completion of another before it can start;

The overall programme should be realistic, and take account of all required tasks, not just the main ones.  An overview programme can be developed from this, as mentioned previously, which shows the ‘critical path’ elements of the programme as a summary.  It is easier to bring tasks forward if one work stream is completed sooner, than having to make up additional time which will have wider implications on the whole project and the completion date.

Always build in review stages too, as it is very important that the programme is under regular review so that issues of risk can be factored in early if needed and adjustments made.   Where appropriate also ensure the programme accounts for any periodic meetings of committees who may be required to sign-off projects progressing.

6. Action Planning Step: Allocate Responsibilities

It is important that all tasks are allocated to a responsible person rather than generally to a group – unless there is a specific need for this.  That way there is a sense of ownership of the work to be undertaken.  It also helps when trying to allocate tasks to the right people with the right skills, knowledge and resources. 

It is important though to also have a least one person with an overview of the whole project, much like a Project Manager.  Their role is then to have an eye on the overall programme and monitor progress and suggest changes if needed.  This role could be part of a wider development group, but keeping lines of communication simple is still very important and ensures the process is not labour intensive and resource heavy.

7. Action Planning Step: Use Timetable to Create a Detailed Action Plan

The overall programme can then be used to develop specific Action Plans.  Actions Plans can vary in detail to suit the scale of the project and the amount of guidance and work required.  It may be that earlier task are more detailed initially with later tasks then detailed near the time they are required and when more information and knowledge is gained through the overall process.  Sone key principles to consider are as follows:

1.  List the ‘resources, external people and organisations’ which are needed to complete each task:

  • Resources can be particular skills, such as access to a good photographer, or the need for particular kit, such as banners to advertise the project.
  • External people will include not only your architect and design team, but also the various agencies with whom you will come into contact, for example TMCP or the relevant local authority.
  • If you list these now, it will be easier to plan ahead in making contact.
  • If a property is being sold as part of the process, it is recommended that you refer to Streamlining Transactions.  

2.  Agree the principles or plan for each work stream.

For example, how will you engage with the community? With a newsletter? Website? Meetings? Word of mouth? Again, how will you handle the ‘design and contract’ work stream? Will everyone be involved in making every decision? Will you engage with a wider group of people at key points?

3.  Work out exactly how you will carry out each individual task.

For example, exactly who will speak with TMCP to agree the wording of the usage contract for the new building? Who will have input into the draft? Will you be talking to other people who run similar activities? Who will do this? Who needs to look at the draft and agree it? Some tasks are so straightforward that they don’t need this level of detail, others really benefit from some planning.

4.  Look ahead and spot periods when individuals are going to be very busy or unavailable, and think how you might handle this.

5.  Think about who you need to keep informed during each task, and how you will do this. This can be useful when thinking about your stakeholder plan (see below).

6. Use this as input for your project costs. It is also of some use for your risk register. There is more on both of these below.

8. Action Planning Step: Use and Update the Action Plan Regularly

As with the overall programme, it is important that Actions Plans are seen as ‘live’ documents which are regularly reviewed and updated if needed.  This might include changing timescales or adding in extra steps if needed.

Ensure that you continue to have regular meetings and that those who have taken on responsibility for different aspects report back regularly on progress and alert the Group to any potential problems, so that the person responsible for monitoring the project can see what the overall impact will be.

9. Stakeholder Plan

During this stage of the project, it is important that a plan on how to engage and communicate with stakeholders is developed. As part of Step 2 you have begun to consider possible stakeholders and partners as part of the the church and/or community audit.  You can use this research to help form your list of stakeholders.  

As Action Plans are developed, this is a good time to consider how this engagement will be built into the overall project programme.  It may help to split stakeholders and partners into ‘themes’, as engagement with one group may be different to another and require a different skillset.  The groups might include:

  • Decision makers
  • Advisory groups
  • Funders and donors
  • Media and communications
  • Those affected directly by the project
  • Those who might have an interest in the project
  • Other local voluntary groups
  • Potential users of the new building

This is not an exhaustive list and will be project specific in some cases.

The Action Plan will also highlight what engagement will look like with various groups and answer questions such as:

  • What do they need to know, and how often?
  • What, if anything, do you need from them?
  • Is it one-way or two-way communication?
  • And how are you going to cover these groups with the minimum effort?
  • You may find this feeds back into an improved Action Plan.

The National Lottery Community Fund (formerly the Big Lottery) provides useful guidance on evaluation.

10. Working out Project Costs

A key element to project planning is determining costs. You can use your activity plan to do this and create a plan for managing cash flow. 

Simply estimate the cost of each task – for example:

  • How much will it cost to keep a photographic record of the building work and post it on a website?
  • How much will it cost to have a celebration at the completion of the work?
  • How much to produce a guidebook?

The problem, of course, is that most of the cost is likely to come from the building work, which you are unlikely to know with any certainty at the beginning of the project. As the project progresses you will have increasing information on this. There will be tendering exercises for your architect and design team, and later to procure a contractor in Step 6 to undertake any building works and obtain the best value costs.

As discussed in Step 6, advertising and seeking tenders for the building works will usually be part of the services you ask your architect, building surveyor or quantity surveyor to do. However, it is a good idea for your project monitoring team or working sub-group to be involved. You will also have to get several quotes for any equipment and furnishings.

Consider at what point you need to draw up any contracts, either to commission people to work on your project or for when the project is complete and the community want to start using their new facility.

Do you have enough money to pay for the initial expenditure? Investigate whether you need to take out any additional insurance – for when the building works are taking place, or when they are finished. Public Liability Insurance is one such cost to bear in mind, especially if you’re using volunteers.

Funders will expect to see a breakdown and evidence of how you arrived at your costs for the building works and other expenses.  At this stage, the costs will be estimated and the tendering exercise and quotes from Step 6 will help finetune the costs and provide you with the necessary documentation.

Remember to check the procurement requirements of each of your funders – this will save time and trouble in the long run if you do it in the way they ask you to.

11. Use of the Church during the Works

It may be that part of the church will be unusable for a period of time. It may even be that the whole building will be out of action. Plans will need to be made as services, weddings and funerals may have to be held elsewhere. Don’t forget to consult other users such as the choir and other church and community groups. The earlier this is thought about the better. It is recommended to involve the local congregation, minister and stewards in any discussions. Before the main works start, there may have to be investigative works which might also involve temporary scaffolding and disruption.

Please contact TMCP if using another building under a licence or if there are issues with third party users.

12. Project Risk Assessment - The Risk Register

A project risk assessment is essential to good project planning and differs to a normal risk assessment normally associated with health and safety matters.  A project risk assessment identifies risks which might arise to the project, ways which these can be mitigated and the actions to be taken if they happen. 

Some formality in this process is important. Create a role for someone whose responsibilities include creating and maintaining a risk register, with a record of the mitigating steps taken.  It is also important to periodically re-visit the risk register to monitor the progress of different risks, understand whether any risks have diminished or equally whether any risks have escalated and need to be addressed. This is good practice and will demonstrate to funders and partners that you understand what can go wrong. 

Your action plan will probably be useful in identifying some risks. For example, if the completion of the building work is delayed, what risk is there (if any) to the arrangement for the start date of the new activities and how much does this matter? But the action plan will only go some of the way in helping you identify risks, and you will have to give serious thought to the other major risks. You may find that managing these risks is then included in an improved action plan:

  • Governance
    This type of project is unique compared to normal church processes and should be managed as such throughout. Create specific and clear roles and responsibilities. Considering the right people for each role, and having contingency plans for if an individual moves away or falls ill.
  • Strategic Fit
    Continue to monitor how the developing building fits with the strategic plan, mission and purpose it was originally intended to ensure that the completed project meets the original visions.
  • Fundraising and income generation
    There are some obvious and less obvious risks in this section – matching fundraising to the scope of the building project – and the reverse – is the most obvious one, but also its effect on operating income.
  • Legal and contractual
    Careful scoping, shortlisting, supplier selection and clarity of contract are all components in mitigating this risk.
  • Programme/timings
    Are there some dependencies which might trip you up? A building project has lots of operations where one cannot start until a previous one is complete. Or a tenant cannot start until the building is open.
  • Commercial risks (inflation, procurement)
    Will costs vary against the estimate and what you fund-raised? Are your suppliers in good financial health? Financial issues (e.g. VAT, contingency) Try and avoid surprises but plan for some.
13. Project Monitoring

Your project action plan will be your main tool for monitoring the project, together with the budget, the cash flow plan, the risk register and the plan for engaging with stakeholders. This is the time to consider who will monitor the project on a day-to-day basis. Incidentally, the person monitoring the project is not normally the Chair.

Make sure to give the task to someone who is comfortable with detail and can look ahead. For monitoring the progress of some of the work, you may find it useful to establish a project monitoring team or working subgroup, within your group. Give key tasks to a handful of members. That way, it’s much easier to know who is doing what and who is responsible for what.

For example, during major building works, it may be sensible for someone from the group to meet the architect every couple of days and use one point of contact.

14. Consents

Choose a person or group who will be responsible for managing that the appropriate approvals and consents have been given.  The details of the project should be uploaded to the Consents website and if you need assistance, please read through the Consent Guide and FAQ’s.  To view the relevant Standing Orders about Consent, please refer to CPD Part 9 for the details regarding requirements for property.