Project Managing or Team Managing?

By Seth Lenaerts

Before taking the plunge into graduate school, I worked as a Project Manager for Devils Lake Water Improvement District in Lincoln City, Ore. Project managing then seemed rather straight forward. First, the District Board set policy. Then my District Manager and I developed projects to implement the policy.

Evaluation of how I was doing as a project manager was straightforward too.  Was I meeting the objectives, solving the problems that we identified, and doing so within budget?  Don’t get me wrong, it was difficult, and I wasn’t always successful, but the goals of the program and how to evaluate it were clear.

When I began working on my Community Planning Workshop (CPW) team, I was excited about the prospect of letting someone else do the project managing so I could focus on the project. I was also looking forward to learning skills from the project manager that I could use when I began leading teams again. However, I quickly realized that the real challenge for CPW managers isn’t necessarily managing their projects, it is managing their teams!

CPW Project Managers face the complicated balancing act of meeting their project goal, while providing opportunities for each student team members to meet their professional goals. This was a unique concept to me. After reflecting on this question during winter term I’ve come up with three routine practices that project mangers can do to achieve both: (1) Limit surprises through clear communication/expectations, (2) Ensure your group truly understands the project, (3) Find ways to keep the project fresh, and minds stimulated.

To me limiting surprises means a thorough orientation to CPW protocols. This can be done by taking extra time at the kickoff of the project to baby step your group through the administrative workings of CPW. Hopefully this will help your team focus on the project related challenges as opposed to administrative tasks.

Second, is making sure your team really understand the project. A mantra of CPW is the project doesn’t matter as much as the process. To me “process” means, identify the problem, come up with possible solutions, select the most viable solution, implement, and evaluate. Team members have a number of assignments throughout the term, as the project manager it is important to demonstrate the connection between the assignment, the process, and the project.

Lastly, is stimulating the brain. A comment I have heard from my colleagues is they are so busy producing content, they don’t critically think anymore. That is a real concern! For me problem solving based discussion is the most important part of the process. Therefore, project managers should seek to create time explicitly for critical thinking activities and discussion.

As our team hits the mid point of this experience, I’ve taken time to think about how these practices can be applied to the second half of the CPW project. However, it quickly become obvious that limiting surprises, understanding the project, and stimulating conversation can be applied to any project, not just CPW. I look forward to incorporating these practices into my future management style.

Seth Lenaerts

Seth Lenaerts is a student in the University of Oregon’s Community and Regional Planning Program.

Don’t Want To Be Pigeon-Holed in Your Job? Go Free Bird! Go RARE!


By Mariah Dodson

When I began writing this post, I had the bright idea to describe a typical day-in-the-life of a RARE member working in Economic Development and Main Street programs. However I quickly realized that it was nearly impossible for me to define a regular day. Sure, there are some key tasks that must be completed daily, weekly, or monthly, and the meetings, answering phones, and emails that come with most any job. Upon further reflection, it’s actually the lack of routine and categorization that has become one of my favorite parts about my RARE experience.

When starting out in your RARE position, you and your community supervisor will set out a work plan of the benchmarks, deliverables, and goals to be completed during your 11-month placement. This big picture overview serves as a roadmap for the year. Of course things change—some projects fall through and new ones arise.

Maybe one of my favorite (and somewhat bizarre) assignments cropped up unexpectedly last fall:

I’d been around a few months and had begun to prove myself, community members and city staff began to think of me as a utility person who could handle short, specialized tasks. When new ideas or problems came up that didn’t quite fit into any of the wheelhouses of other city positions, it usually landed on my desk. And thus begins the story of my introduction to the Canby Town Turkeys…

fb turkey

A “rafter” of 5-6 wild turkeys had made Canby their home a few years ago. They range free through backyards and neighborhoods across town, and occasionally stop traffic as they stroll down the street. I had no idea at the time, but apparently the Town Turkeys are a big deal—these birds are more active on social media than I am! They have their own Facebook page with 1,230 fans, and dedicated ‘birders’ in town track their location as they meander through their adopted domain. They have become a beloved and quirky asset to our small town.turkey crossing

One night a concerned citizen presented at a City Council meeting, saying that the Canby Town Turkeys needed the protection of crossing signs along select city streets. The next day I was asked to take it on. So how to even go about creating and installing turkey crossing signs I wondered?

After an internet search and a couple phone calls with the Public Works team, we had a design to deliver to the County Sign Shop to fabricate our custom turkey crossing signs. Our concerned citizen was very familiar with their trail patterns, and we placed signs at strategic areas along routes where they most often travel.

All in all, it turned out to be a pretty quick and easy project, but I learned a lot about my position and my community along the way. And wouldn’t you know it that the very first time I laid eyes on one of the famous Town Turkeys, it was standing underneath one of our lovely signs?!

While I’ll admit this story is a silly example, it illustrates a larger point I want to convey about the RARE experience…

Starting out, my work plan focused on strategic plans, business surveys, event planning, and marketing—I never would have imagined that one day I’d be creating turkey –crossing signs when I signed up for RARE.

While you’ll likely get labeled as an ‘intern’ in the beginning, this is like no internship you’ve likely had before. Rather than being confined to rote-tasks or fetching coffee, you’ll get to do REAL work that makes a REAL difference! Your role can be what you make it.

It is true that small rural towns do not have the resources and capacities that other urban areas possess—that’s why RARE is such a great fit for those applicants who want not only a wide depth but also a wide breadth of experience. A lack of capacity in small rural towns means that there are constantly opportunities coming along that no one person or department has the time or ability to handle.  So a word of advice: Don’t be afraid to insert yourself where needed and try on a few different hats. Chances are one might fit that you’d never get to try on otherwise working for a large company with narrowly defined positions.

Therefore if you’re the kind of person looking for a challenge and a wide variety of experiences—in other words if you don’t want to be pigeon-holed, but are ready to spread your (turkey) wings and fly—RARE could be for you!

Gobble gobble!

Mariah Dodson

Mariah Dodson

Mariah received her Bachelor of Arts in History with minors in Business and International Studies from Gonzaga University. During college, Mariah participated in the Hogan Entrepreneurial Leadership program, where she focused on learning about creating social ventures to aid in community and economic development. After attaining her bachelor’s degree, Mariah became a Conservation Volunteer with American Conservation Experience, where she worked on projects involving invasive species removal, ecological restoration, fence building, trail work, and dry stone masonry projects. Now in her second year with RARE AmeriCorps – Resource Assistance for Rural Environments, Mariah hopes to further develop her technical skills and leadership and communication abilities. After the RARE program, Mariah plans to begin working on a graduate degree in Landscape Architecture or Urban and Regional Planning.