Skillful project managers understand that they face two major constraints in bringing any project to a successful conclusion: time and resources. Project management has practically become a science over the years, and sophisticated tools, such as project management software, have been developed to help managers meet tight budgets and deadlines. Regardless, for most school districts, a pencil and a legal pad will do just as well at the planning stage.

Simply write out the date by which the district would like to reach its final milestone in a particular contracting process. This milestone might be the school board’s approval of a deal or the first renewal of the contract. The important thing is to recognize that time is a serious constraint. By starting from the ideal finish date and working backward through a list of the project’s milestones, the district’s project manager can better determine what needs to be accomplished and when.

The timeline in Graphic 6 is taken from the SPP RFP for custodial services[139] in Appendix 2.[140] The dates I have added to the graphic are meant to indicate how long a district might take to reach each milestone, but because they are based on an actual contracting process in which the district was under time pressure, the intervals shown in the timeline may be shorter than desirable in other bidding and contracting situations. For instance, management consultant Mark A. Walsh, writing in The School Administrator, recommends that new bids for a bus contract be solicited “five to seven months prior to the expiration of the [current school transportation] contract.”[141]

In an RFP, a timeline is spelled out by the district for the benefit of potential vendors, but the timeline should also serve as part of the district’s project planning.

Graphic 6: Milestones in a Typical School District Contracting Project

Graphic 6 - click to enlarge

Source: School Purchasing Pages RFP for Custodial Services, with dates added. Click here for endnote [142].