Cheat Sheet: Creating a Project Plan

Project Management is the discipline of planning, organising, and managing resources to bring about the successful completion of a specified project goal. In all honesty, Project Management often can sound a lot more complicated than it actually is. We are here to share a few of our lighter-touch tips to help you get started planning a project.

“A goal without a plan is just a wish.” – Antione de Saint-Exupery

Planning is an everyday activity. We all do it. The process is natural and thus for the most part goes unnoticed. We buy food in advance of cooking, having to remember which ingredients we need while running round the supermarket, checking use-by dates to see if we’ll be able to stock up ahead without food spoiling, assessing weights and portion sizes, and trying to find the best prices for similar products.

You don’t have to make a project plan complicated, simply think of it as an extension of the type of planning you normally do, written down clearly so that everyone shares your knowledge and any associated tasks, and can work to the schedule you set out for completion. It needs to be a map, one that is clear enough for anyone to follow and reach the end destination.

We’re going to start by offering some of our top project planning tips before we launch into a more in-depth look at what to include in a simple project plan.

1)      Have a clear goal from the beginning.

There is no beating around the bush here, you absolutely must have a clearly defined goal that you are working toward at the beginning of your project planning journey. You need to know what you want to achieve, when you want to achieve it, and what resources you will have access to, in order to do so.

2)      Involve the right people.

Projects generally require a Project Sponsor and a Project Manager. The Sponsor is responsible for the project, they need to check that it is achieving value for money and will achieve the aims it was created to. The Manager runs the project on a day-to-day basis. This doesn’t mean that they undertake every action, often a large part of their role is to delegate and supervise, but it does mean that one person will have an in-depth understanding of every aspect of the project.

For example, the Project Manager will know when one missed deadline might impact upon another and can plan and re-arrange the project to ensure that the end result will still be achieved on time. The Project Sponsor needs to challenge and hold the Project Manager to account and ask the detail how the project will still be achieved if a deadline has been exceeded.

It is very important that you agree how much responsibility and authority rests with the Project Sponsor and Project Manager – everyone needs to be clear what decisions they can make in order to push the project forward.

Drafting a Project Plan in isolation can be extremely difficult as you may not know exactly what each action will involve and how long it will take. You might miss a key action or task that will impact on timescales when drafting, with the knock-on effect of involving a lot of re-working the plan to amend it after. Speak to colleagues at an early stage, involve them in the process and save yourself future headaches, whilst also guaranteeing that they are on-board with your goals and willing to deliver on their actions.

3)      Manage expectations.

From the outset, you need to be realistic about what is possible. Can you deliver by the date specified? Is it technically possible with the resources you have been allocated? When you begin to plan your project you need to have an initial idea about the costings, timescales, and resources involved in achieving it. It is usually best to allow some wriggle room too, as overspending is an issue that escalates rapidly if you’re running late and have to pay additional fees to ship goods faster, or buy in additional hours to cover last minute work.

4)      Use tools and technology appropriately.

Technology can make the management task a lot easier by automating certain processes, but don’t ever allow yourself to become a slave to the machine. Project Management software can be costly, especially when staff require additional training to come to grips with it. The choice to buy-in technology is yours, but ask yourself whether the scale of the project justifies spending the time and money on it when you could create a simpler in-house solution.

In terms of communications and documentation, our usual advice applies here – keep it simple! If you can meet face-to-face to discuss an issue this is often the best way to achieve consensus, but it can be time consuming. Think about simplifying any documents to ensure that they can be swiftly read and understood. For example, if you are presenting various options for a new IT product, try to set out the pros and cons as a table, allowing a side-by-side comparison of costs, benefits, features, training requirements, and so on. Providing a short and easily digestible document can save everyone time as it allows you to drill down into what is important as you set out the options clearly for others and if you provide this before a short face-to-face meeting everyone is armed with the information they need to discuss the merits of each option quickly and reach a consensus.

Creating a Project Plan

The first thing we’d recommend you do when planning your project is to come up with a clearly defined goal that everyone can understand and buy into. Once you know what you need to achieve you can start to brainstorm the various activities you’ll need to break the project down into in order to achieve it.

For example, you felt absolutely inspired after watching a documentary about the Himalayas and decided that you must go within the next year and trek the Annapurna Circuit. It is something you’ve always wanted to do and you don’t want to put it off any longer. So where do you start?

Try brainstorming the main actions you think you’ll need to take to achieve your goal. This can be as simple as the spider diagram below which covers our first thoughts about actions (and possible issues) for our example.

Project Plan Example

Once you know exactly what you want your project to achieve, and have an idea of the main actions necessary to reach that end point, you then need to start to work backwards. With the end date in mind, you then start to work out when each action needs to be taken so that you meet that date, some actions rely upon others and so need to be placed in order, others can be taken at any point. To continue with our example, actions you’d want to take to get to trek the Annapurna Circuit include:

  • Research trek providers for price, quality, availability
  • Book trek
  • Book flights (allow one day before trek starts and two days after)
  • Book additional transport (to and from airport)
  • Book airport parking
  • Book time off work
  • Pay off balance of flights and trek
  • Book kennel for the dog
  • Buy equipment
  • Increase fitness levels
  • See doctor for any travel medication/advice
  • Pack

These obviously aren’t listed in the correct order, unless you have a really flexible and easy going boss, you’d probably need to book time off work before you went ahead and booked your holiday. One of the easiest ways to set out these actions in a logical order to set out your plan and start thinking about timings is to create a Gantt chart for your Project Plan. A Gantt Chart shows activities against time, so that you can see at a glance when an action needs to happen and how long it should take.

Microsoft Excel does have a few examples among their templates, (see screen shot below for one I found when I searched for a “project plan”), which you can then adapt to suit your purposes. Otherwise, you can draw up your own simple version as I have done in my example which continues below.

Gantt Project Plan Example

An easy way to get started is to begin listing your actions and assigning rough dates to them. So, in the image below, you can see that I have listed my actions and have blocked out when the action should be taking place on a simple monthly basis. These actions still aren’t in order, but laying them out like this allows me to see what needs to happen earlier on in the project. I can then move the actions into a logical order so that the project plan flows through each action in turn to reach the end goal.

Note: when you begin, you may not know the exact dates actions will take place, some actions are dependent upon others. For example, “Pay off balance of flights and trek” is listed below without a date assigned. Until you have researched options and booked the flight and trek you will not know when this action needs to take place as every tour operator will have their own policies regarding deposits.

Project Plan Example 1

You’ll notice, on my next screenshot, that I have added additional actions as they have occurred to me. This is a vital part of the process as it is often hard to visualise every aspect of the project at initial conception, when you start to work through and put your actions in order, any additional tasks that will need to be included should start occurring to you.

The plan has also evolved to include due dates for each action, along with a column to show whether it has been completed. This includes a colour coded key to make it easier to see at a glance what the situation is for each action, whether it is complete, still a work in progress, or overdue. Adding a column for notes is useful too, as it allows you to explain any overdue actions to everyone who has sight of the project plan.

Project Plan Example 2

What this plan does not have yet, is a space to assign actions to others. Most projects will not be completed in isolation, you’ll have a team of people helping you deliver the project. It is always best to include a column detailing who is responsible for each action so that everyone is clear about their role and responsibility to deliver on time. Under a column titled “Responsible” I have listed the person responsible for ensuring that action is completed – “Me” along with others who are involved – e.g. “Manager” in booking time off, and “Doctor” in receiving travel medication/advice.

Project Plan Example 4

Depending on how far you want to drill down into the details when planning, you can choose to include each of the tasks that sits under the main actions you have identified, for example, to book time off work you will need to:

  • Consult your team’s diary for the dates you want to book leave
  • Contact your manager with potential dates for leave request
  • Agree dates with your manager
  • Have leave signed off

You can choose to present this additional information in various ways, whether by including all the actions and tasks on the same plan, (as in the below screenshot example, with the tasks mentioned above highlighted using grey colour/italic text), you could have a Project Plan that only includes headline actions, or maintain a headline sheet with high-level actions only to make it easier to feedback progress to Project Sponsors that is supplemented by a more detailed Project Plan with all tasks outlined for the benefit of the Project Manager.

Project Plan Example 5

As we have hopefully demonstrated, putting together a Project Plan does not have to be complicated. You don’t have to buy in any expensive tools and technology unless you feel it would be of benefit to you. The example plan here was created from scratch in very little time using only Microsoft Excel.

You can make the plans more or less complex depending on your needs. This example is clearly a simple one, but projects plans can include costs, risks, overspill time allocated to each action and so on. However, we do recommend that you aim for simplicity. The biggest document isn’t always the best. If your intended audience don’t read or understand the plan because it is too detailed, or too complicated, then it has failed.

On a final note, your plan will constantly evolve. The planning process should be continuous throughout your project. Many things can happen to force you to change your approach and no plan could survive in its original form from the start to the finish of the project without being amended. Don’t be afraid to make changes.

Contact us at Active Outcomes if you’d like to know a bit more about project planning.




Brief Guide: Planning a Charity Fundraising Event

Charities are under immense pressure to raise funds and ensure they can keep up the good work. We’ve noticed that an increasing number of charities are being assisted in their fundraising efforts by enthusiastic volunteers who throw themselves into organising events but may not have all the background knowledge about charity finance and governance regulations. This isn’t a bad thing, far from it. For us, it’s always great to see the passion that people have for charities and their generosity in giving up their time to help your organisation raise the funds you need to continue to help your service users.

So, if you’re ready to get started planning your event – here’s a brief introduction to the things we think you need to consider when planning a fundraising event to keep things safe and legal.

1.    You need clearly defined goals at the beginning.

Money isn’t everything. You need to set out some defined goals you want to achieve in your fundraising events and communicate these clearly with the people tasked with planning and running an event. After all, if your fundraising team are unaware of regulations and accidentally break fundraising rules, the reputational damage can far outweigh the benefit of any monies raised. Think of the bad publicity and how much a single negative news story could undermine all your hard work.

Sitting down and having this discussion about goals at an early stage can make a huge difference to the end result. Your proposed event might be better aimed at raising awareness than money, for example, or it might simply be a way of giving back to the community rather than asking for donations from them. 

2.       Make sure everyone is on the same page.

You want anyone who is involved in running an event for you to understand your mission and vision and to be able to explain these clearly to any member of the public they interact with on your behalf. If they are asking people for money they need to be able to explain how it will be used and for whose benefit. You might have specific information that needs to be shared in a certain way, make sure that your volunteers know exactly how to do this before the event gets underway.

You also need everyone involved in the planning to understand the type of events you want to be associated with, any activities that are especially appropriate (or inappropriate) for your group to be part of, and as mentioned previously, the desired end goal.

3.       Size matters.

Who is coming to your event? You need to think about the potential audience, how best to reach them to advertise an event, where best to offer the event and how big it will be.

Remember, you need to balance risk and reward, a bigger event may have the potential to raise substantial sums of money, but on the other hand, nobody wants to lose money and there are never any guarantees that you’ll generate the level of interest needed to make a success of an expensive big-ticket event. Obviously, the bigger the event, the longer you’ll need to prepare and promote in advance – you might even need time to recruit additional volunteers to steward and so on.

We suggest you think about:

·      Target Audience: Who are you going to invite? How will you let them know about the event?

·       Activities: What activities will you include? Will this appeal to a broad range of people? Is your event going to be family friendly, and if so, how will you cater for all ages of visitor?

·       Facilities: How many people are you aiming to see at your event? Can your chosen activity be accommodated? What venues can accommodate this group – think about catering and access requirements? Is your venue flexible if you have smaller/larger than anticipated numbers?

·       Admission: Will you charge an entrance fee? How would you ticket the event, in advance, on the door, or a combination of the two? Will you monitor numbers even if the event is not ticketed? Remember – advance tickets, even for free events, can help you gauge the level of interest in your event and plan accordingly.


4.       Venues and access.

There are a few things you might want to keep in mind when looking at booking potential venues, even if they are allowing you free use of their facilities.

·       Access: Is the venue accessible to all? Can accommodations be made for people who might find the building hard to access and will these be advertised in advance? Do people need transporting to the site? Can you provide details of public transport, parking and so on for attendees to make their own way there?

·       Equipment: Will you need to hire any equipment? When and where will it be delivered? Is someone available to receive it and set it up then? Do you know how to use it safely? Will you require additional transport to move any equipment from elsewhere?

·       Timings: Have you booked the venue for a sufficient amount of time to allow for setting-up and clearing away after the event too? Will you need additional volunteers to help ease this process if not?

·       Performers: Check what they expect you to provide and how long they will need to get ready either side of their show.

·       Weather: In Britain this is a given, but it is worth stating that you cannot trust the weather to be the same from one minute to the next. What impact will the weather have on an event (especially an outdoor one) and can you provide any shelter at the venue?


5.       Share the work.

This applies mainly to larger events as you may want to form a working group to manage all the various aspects of organisation. Planning all the dates and deadlines in advance as a group and agreeing to share responsibilities means that you are less likely to find that one or two people will be burdened with more than they can manage. Small groups could look at individual aspects of planning, for example marketing, safety, licensing and so on – however, if you do have separate groups, you’ll need a designated core contact to oversee all the various aspects to ensure that they tie in together.

6.       Risk assessments.

We strongly recommend you carry out a risk assessment to ensure the safety and security of everyone attending your event. Don’t worry – this is not a complicated process! You only need to think about some practical and common-sense issues that might arise and how you’ll prevent or deal with them. To learn more about drafting a simple risk assessment see our blog post here which offers a worked example and get in touch if you’d like an easy to use template that you can download and adapt. Bear in mind as part of your assessment that certain size events may require a First Aider to be on site – you are best to check this with your local authority.

7.       Boosting attendance.

Avoid clashing with other events happening locally – reach out to other groups, community and voluntary support agencies and the local council for more information before you set a date. This is also a great opportunity to ask them to get involved and/or share their expertise, they may know of a more suitable venue or another event you can piggy-back onto, it is always worth asking.

Plan well in advance and allow for longer lead-in times to advertise the event. If you are waiting on confirmation of details for the event (e.g. performers, activities, catering options etc) you can still start promoting an event. The main details you need to get across as early as possible are:

·         Date and time

·         Venue

·         Purpose

·         Organisation(s) involved

·         Price for admission

·         Mention that more information will follow and how to keep in touch for more details

If you can produce publicity materials that act as a “Save the Date” you are at least ensuring that you are marking out that date well in advance, any additional details can be added later. You can also use this early stage promotion as an opportunity to appeal for people who want to be involved in running the event too.

Don’t be afraid to get in touch with local press contacts and let them know about the event well in advance. They might be willing to appeal for assistants on your behalf or to cover the event on the day to review the activity. Even if they cannot attend the event, submit a press release before and after telling them about the event and how it was received. Include images if possible, and try and make sure that the press release is as well written as possible – make the journalists job easier and they will be more likely to include your information. Some members of the press may be willing to get involved in other ways too, for example, a local radio personality might be willing to act as an auctioneer at an event.

8.       Permission and licences.

While many activities can be included legally in your fundraising event, certain ones will require specific permissions or licenses, and these include public collections and certain types of raffles which many members of the public assume can be held as and when without any regulation. Each event will have different requirements and we recommend you look at the rules for the activities you are planning with both your local council’s licensing team who will be able to advise on what you might need to apply for and with the Gambling Commission if you intend to run a raffle (especially if you plan to sell tickets in advance of the event).

For larger events, you’ll also need to consider the impact the event will have on the local community – residents may want the noise to be kept to a minimum after a certain hour and businesses may have access requirements. 

9.       Insurance

Public Liability Insurance is the main cover you’ll need to consider if your event involves members of the public. Check with your venue what coverage they provide (if any) as part of their event package. It is an additional cost to take into account, but the alternative financial penalties can be far worse.

10.   Refreshments.

Offering food and drink as part of an event can generate a lot of revenue, however, if you plan to offer food or drink for sale to raise funds you’ll want to keep things above board. Food safety rules apply whether you sell the food or not. If you’re booking food with the venue, or an outside catering company, you’ll need to check they have food hygiene and environmental health certificates and Public Liability Insurance of their own. If you’re planning to prepare and sell food yourself to raise funds, check out the latest advice from The Food Standards Agency here.

Alcohol has rules and regulations of its own. Your venue may already be licensed to sell or serve alcohol, in which case you’re covered. If not, you will need to contact your local authority to ask about how to apply for a Temporary Event Notice to do so.

We hope this helps you get started planning your fundraising event. As always, Active Outcomes are happy to chat about this, so get in touch with us if you need any advice. For more information about what we’ve discussed you might also want to take a look at the links to other websites we’ve included below.

Good luck!


NaNoWriMo: How to start writing.

This November I’m writing a novel in my spare time. Rather, I should say, I am trying to.

The National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) offers a space for aspiring writers to announce their intention to write a novel, meet writing buddies, attend local write-ins and it provides an additional boost of motivation as you track your word count and see how it stacks up against others in your region or in the wider world.

According to their press release:

“Last year, NaNoWriMo welcomed 431,626 participants in 633 different regions on six
continents. Of these, more than 40,000 met the goal of writing 50,000 words in a month.”
In my region alone, Yorkshire, there are over 800 novelists signed up. Last year, I’m happy to say, I was one of the 40,000 who did meet their goal and wrote the 50,000+ words necessary to be presented with a Winner certificate.
This year, I’ve had a bit more trouble with getting started. With work and life being a bit hectic over the past few days, I’m already a week into the challenge and the page is blank. I’m happy with my characters and my story arc, everything is plotted on a draft outline but still, I’ve not committed the first sentence to paper (well, word processor) yet.
I wanted to address the issue of getting started. I don’t think that I am alone in worrying about making that first mark. Here’s a quote from an author I admire:

If Margaret Atwood can worry that her writing is not good enough then so can we all. Especially when writing something based purely on your own imagination. You are taking a chance and opening up parts of yourself to public scrutiny. But, as Hemingway said: “The first draft of anything is shit.”  Perhaps, writers do need to take the pressure off themselves by repeating this as a mantra and understanding that writing is hard. That it is never perfect. That way, the idea of writing something terrible on your first attempt is inevitable and therefore less daunting.

Writing is what I do. Today, I’ve written three blog posts for others, scheduled some social media posts and sent numerous emails and one proposal to a prospective client. I’ll estimate that amounts to a word count of around 2,500 words in total. Far in excess of my initial 1,667 words a day goal for NaNo, a target that is now rapidly increasing the longer I leave it to get started.

Writing prompts have started appearing everywhere, I’ve spotted them on Buzzfeed and have seen a few shared by various writing groups I follow on social media. I quite liked the simplicity of this one shared by Writers Write. I’m sure that these prompts will come in handy on the days when my well runs dry and I need a nudge to send my story in an unanticipated direction. What they will not do, however, is get me started.


One fantastic tool I have found was a cheat sheet created by @peter_halasz at No White Space which you can find here. This two-sided, single sheet of A4 paper covers absolutely everything you need to consider to get your story off the ground. One side will help you explore the hero’s journey, decide upon structures, advise on adding conflict, or on making dialogue realistic. The other covers characters,  what motivates them, how they would react in a given situation, their values, virtues, personality type and physical appearance.

Yesterday, I procrastinated by spending a day working through the prompts contained  within this cheat sheet and I now have a far better handle on the story I want to tell and the way the main protagonist will move within these parameters.

I am a planner. I like to have an overview and an outline structure before I start writing a novel. I use post-it notes to draft the hooks I’ll use within the story, key scenes and characters, events and places, I move these around as I find it easier to think visually. They are not fixed, I can re-arrange them at will to change the pace or introduce conflict. This is what works for me.

For me, once I know where I am headed I can flesh out the rest of the detail. Right now, the only place I’m headed toward is disappointment for not reaching my goal of 50,000 words this month. So on that note, I’m going to sign off the blog, brew up a big batch of coffee and start writing in earnest. If I don’t like what I write, well, that is what editing is for isn’t it?

Saying More With Less

We’re living in an information age.  Every day we are bombarded with data, from the moment you switch off the alarm on your phone to that final glance at the screen before you go to sleep. The average person spends hours consuming and producing information daily. Attention spans are decreasing. What people need is for you to get to the point.

According to Statista, 725 minutes every day was spent consuming media in the US in April 2016. This included a huge:

  • 131 minutes on the computer,
  • 186 on your mobile, and
  • 245 minutes watching TV.

We are all busy. Nobody has time to spend searching through a document for the relevant information. It should be right there, at your fingertips. As soon as people have to work hard to find what they are looking for you risk them giving up and going elsewhere.

So here are Active Outcomes’ tips for crafting clear and concise communications. Whether you are drafting a blog post, leaflet, internal email, or a report that will run to hundreds of pages.

 1. Use plain English.

Jargon has had its day. We like to keep things simple and use plain English. Official, legal, technical, or academic language is entirely appropriate in certain circumstances, but you need to consider your audience carefully.

As they say over at The Plain English Campaign, it is easier to read, easier to write and you get your message across. Here is how they describe plain English:

“It is a message, written with the reader in mind and with the right tone of voice, that is clear and concise.”

2. Simplify your communications.

A one-on-one conversation can help avoid misunderstandings, but when this isn’t possible, you need to make sure your message comes across loud and clear.

When writing, imagine that you are talking directly to your reader. Adopt a tone of voice that will engage with your audience. If they don’t understand what you are trying to say your message will never be received.

Don’t overwhelm people with details, include lists and bullet points if you can. Use short sentences and active verbs. Make sure any charts or graphics are clear, with explanations or instructions for interpreting data if necessary.

A great tool to help with this is to simply ask someone to take a look at what you have written and check that they understand what you were trying to say. Get them to explain it back to you in their own words. You’ll see what they picked up on and what they missed or misunderstood.

“Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.” –Albert Einstein

3. Have a plan.

Before you start writing, jot down all the points you need to cover. Move these points around until they are in a logical order.

Think about what you aim to achieve, what information are you going to share, who will you target, what will the end result be? The more specific you can be, the better.

4. Don’t value a document by its weight.

It can be tempting to pad a report out so that people see all your background research and can tell at-a-glance the amount of effort you put in. Resist. A document should be as long as necessary to give relevant information. If your intended audience does not read the document you have to ask yourself what was the point.

Consider including a briefing note that outlines the contents of the report, give additional information as appendices so people can refer to the data if they choose.

5. Simplicity is deceptive.

Finding the right words to get your point across quickly, and clearly, takes time.

 “Good design is as little design as possible.” – Dieter Rams

Thinking about writing from a design perspective can help. A designer must create a product that completes various functions and takes a form that customers find both attractive and easy to use. Writing should be the same.

Making it Personal: Meet the Team Question Prompts

If you’ve been tasked with creating content for the Meet the Team section of your website don’t panic, just remember to make it personal. People love to read about other people, what they like or dislike, what they do in their spare time, what their story is.

A list that tells you their job title, exactly where they graduated and when, where they’ve worked previously and how long they have been with the company isn’t all that inspiring. It’s easy to come across as impersonal, maintaining a professional façade when describing yourself and your team mates can translate as being cold to a reader. Especially when accompanied by a bland headshot with a white corporate background.

The best relationships are built on trust, authenticity and to some extent, a little vulnerability. You need to let the reader know that the people you work with are real, that they can trust you to understand what makes them tick because the real people who they will come into contact with share similar needs and wants.

So ditch the boring bios and bland thumbnails and inject a little fun into your ‘Meet the Team’ webpage. Try out a few of the question prompts below to get started and let people fill out the questions themselves, it’ll sound more authentic if you let their voice shine through anyway.

The same goes for photographs, take your headshots outside in a park, go to a café and snap a few over coffee, ask people to give you a photo of them in their favourite place or doing their favourite activity. Check out the image below, it is of Anna the owner of Active Outcomes in her guise as a volunteer organiser and host at a silent movie themed life drawing event in York earlier this year (the photo was taken by the extremely talented Glen of Allsorts Photography by the way).


  • What did you want to be when you grew up?
  • What are you most proud of?
  • What are your passions in and out of the office?
  • If you could go on an all-expenses paid trip tomorrow where would you go?
  • How did you meet your oldest friend?
  • What can’t you live without?
  • What is your guilty pleasure?
  • What song do you sing in the shower?
  • List three things you love and three that you hate.
  • Tell us three random facts about yourself.
  • If you could time travel to any period in history where would you go?
  • Describe yourself in one word.
  • What is your favourite quote?
  • What quote describes you?
  • Which literary character do you identify with most?
  • What do you never leave home without?
  • Could you go a week without checking your phone?
  • Dog or cat?
  • Tea or coffee?
  • Early bird or night owl?

Of course, you can, (and usually should), include the usual information that establishes the credibility and expertise of your team, and we have included some prompts for this information below, but we feel that a few fun facts that humanise your colleagues will help engage the reader and make them want to work with you.

  • What made you want to work in this particular field?
  • What is your biggest achievement at work?
  • How long have you worked at this company / in this field?
  • What do you enjoy most about working here?
  • What are your main qualifications for your job?
  • What made you want to work for this company?

Let us know what you’d add and if you find any great examples of Meet the Team pages we’d love to see them.

Get Started: PEST Analysis

First things first, let’s address the elephant in the room. It is called a “PEST” but that doesn’t automatically imply that it is irritating, ok?

In fact, a PEST analysis can be a really useful tool to help you take a look at the external factors that could have an impact on your organisation. If used properly, it can really enhance your strategic planning by allowing you to understand your business position, potential for growth, direction of travel and any outside factors that may have an influence on your operations such as market decline, environmental legislation, financial regulations and infrastructure investments in your local area.

PEST is a mnemonic that stands for “Political, Economic, Social and Technological” and the framework covers macro-environmental factors that can be used to conduct environmental scanning to inform strategic planning or market research.

There are many other variants of this mnemonic, which include additional factors which may be right for your organisation to consider including too, we’ve listed these below.

  • SLEPT > Social, Legal, Economic, Political, Technological
  • PESTLE/PESTEL > Political, Economic, Social, Technological, Legal, Environmental
  • STEER > Socio-cultural, Technological, Economic, Ecological, Regulatory
  • DESTEP > Demographic, Ecological, Social, Technological, Economic, Political
  • STEEPLE > Social, Technological, Economic, Environmental, Political, Legal, Ethical
  • STEEPLED > Social, Technological, Economic, Environmental, Political, Legal, Ethical, Demographic

You need to decide which of these analysis frameworks best covers all aspects of your organisation’s work, whether you use a basic PEST, or a more complex version, and then you can choose the one that best suits your needs. However, for the purposes of this blog (and keeping things simple – which is what Active Outcomes do!) we’ll be covering the basic “PEST” analysis.

Getting Started

We recommend having a bit of time set aside to complete this analysis, it can help to do a bit of background research around the various external environmental factors and so we also suggest that you work on this with your computer near at hand so you can quickly look up any potential issues as you consider them.

We also find it helps to bounce ideas around, so if you have a colleague you think would be great at helping you identify potential issues and opportunities ask them to take a look and add to your document.

A blank sheet of paper can worry some people if they have absolutely no idea where to start. So, if you already have any strategic planning documents, such as SWOT analyses, market research reports and so on, these can be a great initial source of ideas and can act as a springboard to help you get some ideas scribbled down.

Remember, when you are drafting this analysis that there are no bad ideas. The point of the exercise is to consider hypothetical situations. You are trying to foresee what might happen and unless you have a fully-functioning crystal ball (unfortunately we don’t) you are not going to correctly predict everything that may come to pass.

Completing Each Section

We’re going to go through each macro-environmental factor now and suggest a few ideas for each individual section to get you started. When completing your analysis try and be specific, for example, if you have an ageing local population with 17% more retired people than the national average include the figures. This gives you an at-a-glance reference to what the main issues/opportunities are so that you can figure out how to set about overcoming and exploiting them.


  • Current government: how stable is it, what are the priorities in their manifesto, what announcements have been made recently in the news?
  • Bureaucracy: which government departments might have an impact on your work?
  • Local government: what are the priorities for your local area, e.g. are there any planned infrastructure projects that could affect access/footfall, do you have all the correct licenses in place and when do these need renewing?
  • Tax policies: what are the rates and incentives, are there any changes in the pipeline?
  • Press freedom / priorities.
  • Regulation/deregulation.
  • Trade controls: if you import/export consider the risk of changing tariffs, restrictions on goods (quality and quantity). [The UK exit from Europe could have some serious repercussions in this particular area.]
  • Trade Unions: which ones represent your workforce, do they have any campaigns/industrial actions planned?
  • Law: what changes to any applicable laws might be happening – consider:
    • Environmental law,
    • Anti-trust law,
    • Education Law
    • Employment Law
    • Discrimination/Equality Law
    • Parental Leave / Flexible Working,
    • Competition regulations,
    • Copyright/Intellectual Property law,
    • Health and Safety,
    • Consumer Protection / eCommerce, and
    • Data protection and Information Security.


  • Growth rates: these may not seem to have a direct bearing on your business, but if the whole economy is booming you are more likely to feel the benefits.
  • Inflation: if inflation increases, the amount you (and your customers) can purchase will decrease, knock-on effects could be increased raw material prices and transport costs which you have to pass on to consumers.
  • Interest rates: whether low or high, the implications can be huge, e.g. low rates of interest are great for those who already have a mortgage but are not as helpful to the people saving a deposit to put down on a home.
  • Exchange rates: important for import/export led business.
  • Unemployment trends: this can affect the availability of skilled labour and the costs of hiring.
  • Labour costs: employees are your greatest resource (and often your biggest expenditure), look at your rate of employee retention, could you reduce staff turnover and re-train skilled members of staff to fill any gaps and reduce external hiring costs. What changes do you anticipate needing to make to your workforce?
  • Stage of business cycle: review your business plan, look at the potential for strategic growth, plan for your busy/quiet periods.
  • Credit/funding availability: when a scheme is time-limited plan ahead so that you have all the evidence needed to support an application for credit/funding within that cycle. If your funding lasts for a set period, put in place a timescale for review so that you know when to start the application process for continuation funding.
  • Trade flows and patterns: these could be disrupted due to global events.
  • Level of consumers’ disposable income: this ties in to levels of inflation, if people have less money to spend after they have paid for the basic necessities what impact could this have on your business?
  • Monetary/fiscal policies: what changes have been announced or could be on the cards?
  • Stock market trends: on the whole, the stock market is seen as being mysterious and complicated, but you can gain an insight into current market conditions by looking at the type of companies that are winning or losing and seeing why they are in that position, e.g. if an announcement is made about investment in green energy you might see a decline in traditional energy companies and an increase in more environmentally friendly ones.
  • Weather: this one may seem trivial but can have a huge impact if you rely on getting customers through your door.


  • Health: the health and well-being of local people can affect productivity and effectiveness.
  • Population: growth rates, age profiles e.g. an ageing population might mean there is a smaller workforce and a demand for different services.
  • Education: may mean there are not enough workers with the correct skill-sets.
  • Religion and beliefs: you may need to take into account various religious holidays and observances.
  • Lifestyle and buying habits: try to segment your “typical” customers to create a profile for each and see how they spend and why. What might affect this?
  • Family: e.g. what rights/regulations may change for employees with families? Can you adapt and work flexibly around family commitments?
  • Environmental/ethical: what are the prevailing attitudes toward green or ecological products and renewable energy? What options exist for you to trade more ethically/responsibly?
  • Immigration/emigration rates: do you have a diverse workforce or work internationally, could this change as a result of the EU exit? What changes might need to be put in place to ensure continuity for your workforce?
  • Work/life balance: look at attitudes toward career, leisure and retirement. Could you do more to ensure you are offering an attractive benefit package and retaining the best talent?


  • Technological change: what is likely to change within your industry and how can you keep pace?
  • Research and development: what do you need to be looking into changing now to get ahead of competitors?
  • Automation: can you improve efficiency/effectiveness by automating processes?
  • Outsourcing: is it cheaper in the long-run to outsource certain services rather than spend time struggling to compete tasks in-house?
  • Government priorities: how much is the government spending on technological research and innovation, what infrastructure are they investing in?
  • Depreciation/product lifecycle: when do you anticipate needing to replace key equipment? Do you have contingencies in place in the event of any equipment failure?
  • Internet: are you taking advantage of eCommerce opportunities, do you have the fastest possible connection package, does your website need updating, do you have to provide certain information online as a legal requirement e.g. a cookie policy?
  • Generational shifts: who is buying your product, how do they expect to interact with it? E.g. younger consumers may expect to be able to log a complaint via social media and have it responded to instantly

These suggestions are by no means exclusive, they are here to help you get started, not all of them will apply to your organisation and there will be a lot of other factors that do apply that we have not mentioned.

How to Present the Information

Here is a sample PEST Analysis we have completed for a small charity as part of an Organisational Review. As you can see, we have tried to keep it simple and visual. We have highlighted the key issues for each section and we have charted whether this is likely to have a high, medium, or low positive or negative impact.


We created this infographic using Canva and you can sign up and create designs completely free of charge online on their website.

This is not the only way to present the information: you can choose to use a table, with the titles for each section and a bullet pointed list of the factors listed underneath. Others choose to present the document in a more traditional report style format, going through each section individually and giving a greater level of explanation for each factor identified. There are pros and cons for each approach and you’ll need to identify which is the best for your particular needs.

If you need any assistance or advice about undertaking a PEST Analysis give us a shout, we’re always happy to help, visit for all of our contact details.

The Last Minute Guide to Proofreading

This blog is dedicated to those who are running out of time. For whatever reason, procrastination, tight deadlines, unrealistic expectations, or unexpected events – Active Outcomes are not here to judge. We’re here to help you get started.

So, if you need to proofread your document in a hurry, take a quick look at the basics – we promise, there are only five tips, it’ll only take a couple of minutes and you’ll save yourself a lot of time later.

Why Proofread?

We do not read every letter individually – we recognise patterns and then make assumptions about words. You have probably seen this (slightly spammy) email/social media post going around with the following text…

Aoccdrnigto a rscheearchat Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it dseno’t mtaetr in what oerdr the ltteres in a word are, the olny iproamtnt tihng is taht the frsit and lsat ltteer be in the rghit pclae. The rset can be a taotl mses and you can sitll raed it whotuit a pboerlm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe. Azanmig huh? yaeh and I awlyas tghuhot slpeling was ipmorantt!

See what we mean? It is so hard to spot our own mistakes because we read what we think we wrote instead of seeing the text that is actually there on the page.

Here are Active Outcomes top five tips to avoid common pitfalls!

1: Take a break!

Walk the dog, get the kettle on, have a nap, watch paint dry – do whatever takes your fancy. Just put a bit of distance between you and what you were writing. Otherwise you will read what you think you wrote, not what is actually on the page. It also helps some people to print off a physical copy of the text before they get started as they find they pay less close attention to the words on screen than they do to words committed to paper.

2: One thing at a time…

Don’t try and save time by trying to spot every mistake on the first reading – focus on one of these mistake prone areas at a time to make sure you do not miss anything.

  • Spelling,
  • Grammar,
  • Word choice,
  • Sentence structure, and
  • Continuity (formatting, font type/size, numbering of tables and so on).

3: Read aloud

By far the easiest way to check that your writing flows well is by reading it aloud. This will also help you spot mistakes your Spellchecker misses because while it can tell you that you put in an extra “e” it cannot tell you whether the word you used is the correct one.

Think of the difference between “dessert” and “desert” – I’d be pretty disappointed if I mixed them up – wouldn’t you?!

This also helps improve your writing style as you develop your own unique and consistent “voice.”

4: Stop racing on ahead

We are all busy – but you must resist the temptation to skip ahead. If you find you have been skimming, stop right there and start to read backwards. Focusing on every word, especially when it is not in order, helps you to see spelling mistakes and typos. Please note: this tip is obviously not quite so useful when checking sentence structure!

5: Get a fresh pair of eyes

A new perspective can really help – ask a friend, a colleague, the nice receptionist who remembers to ask about how your cat is doing, it really does help to have someone new look at your draft.

Remember not to be offended or take it personally if people do spot mistakes – that is what you asked them to do after all. Better you revise a draft than send an inaccurate document to the printer costing you both money and reputational damage.

Still not convinced? Why not? Even experts admit they sometimes need help…

“You think you are reading proof, whereas you are merely reading your own mind; your statement of the thing is full of holes and vacancies but you don’t know it, because you are filling them from your mind as you go along. Sometimes, but not often enough, the printer’s proof-reader saves you –and offends you –with this cold sign in the margin: (?) and you search the passage and find that the insulter is right, it doesn’t say what you thought it did: the gas-fixtures are there, but you didn’t light the jets.”

– Mark Twain (1898)

Mistakes are so easy to make, a designer once shared a story with us about a council spending a lot of money printing signage advertising a “Pubic Consultation” instead of a public one. You can imagine the damage that would have done if it hadn’t been spotted before multiple A2 sized signs left the building!

Don’t forget, Active Outcomes can help out with all of your copywriting, editing and proofreading needs. We offer a comprehensive and competitively priced service. So get in touch if you need a fresh pair of eyes to take a look at your document. Contact us at, Tweet @ActiveOutcomes or visit

7 Top Tips: Focus Groups

Why bother with a focus group?

You may think that you can learn enough by sending out a questionnaire and asking people to tick boxes. And sometimes this is sufficient, for example, if you only want to know how many people like a product. If what you actually need to know is why they like it, then you need to let your customers have a natural conversation about it.

Active Outcomes have a lot of experience in facilitating focus groups and want to share our top tips to help you get started. So take a look at the advice below and give it a try – you might be surprised what your customers can tell you. N.B. even if some of what your customers have to say is negative, this is not necessarily a bad thing. We have blogged on the importance of negative feedback before – check out what we have to say on the subject here.

1. Planning is EVERYTHING!

  • Invite the right people.
  • Decisions on where to hold the session and when must be based on your customers’ needs – not your own.
  • Be very clear on what you want to gain from the session before you draft your questions. This should shape the content of the sessions to get you the data you need.

2: Location, Location, Location

  • Make this as easy to access as possible, with good public transport links, fully accessible for people with mobility issues and easy to find with clear directions as to how to get there and who to ask for, and let the staff on reception know when to expect participants and where to send them.
  • Consider a neutral venue: for example, if you hold the session in your company HQ people may be reluctant to share negative opinions about their employer whilst under their roof, while this is especially relevant for internal staff focus groups any focus group can benefit from being held in a neutral setting.
  • People need to feel comfortable sharing, set up seats facing each other, remember it is a conversation and not an interrogation.

3: Incentives

  • These can be tricky to get right and divide opinion, some people swear by them others think they skew results.
  • If you do choose to offer an incentive be clear on why you are offering it. An incentive to get someone to attend at all means something entirely different to one that only covers their transport costs.
  • Remember it is not always appropriate to offer an incentive, in fact, if you suspect people may only attend to gain the “gift” the data you gather may not be relevant anyway.

4: Questions

  • These need to be open-ended, they should act as springboards for discussion, not a show of hands.
  • Think about how long you have and how many attendees, for an hour-long session with 10 people 6-8 questions would be the absolute maximum we’d recommend in order to rattle through in that time.
  • Read them out loud, check they make sense, try to run them by a colleague or captive friend. Just because you know what you mean doesn’t mean that others will! Don’t waste time explaining yourself that you could spend in discussion instead.

5: Prompting Answers

  • Sometimes discussion may stall – but be very cautious when you try to prompt any answers.
  • You are there to encourage the conversation – not to put across opinions of your own. A few stock phrases that can help get things going again are:
    • “You haven’t shared your opinion with the group yet.”
    • “Please can you give me an example?”
    • “Does anyone here feel differently?”
  • Remember to include all participants – don’t let one or two dominate the proceedings.
  • Don’t be afraid to interrupt if you need to move the discussion along, thank people for getting so involved in the discussion but tell them that you must be mindful that the time you have is limited and you have a lot more ground to cover.

6: Impartiality and Confidentiality

  • It is vital that participants know why they are being asked these questions and what the data will be used for.
  • Will answers be anonymised and kept confidential?
  • Consider using a Consent Form – we have a great Cheat Sheet to help you gain consent available here.
  • Tell people how you will protect their personal data.
  • If you are recording the session tell them how this will be used.
  • Consider using an impartial outsider to chair the session – this can ensure you get more honest answers.

7: Admin

Everyone has their own way of doing things but we find these tricks usually help the session run smoothly:

  • Number stickers: assign participants numbers to ensure anonymity.
  • Record: an audio recording allows for more accurate transcription – digital recorders are relatively inexpensive and can ensure that you don’t miss anything, otherwise, your trusty smart phone is quite likely to have a voice record function you could use.
  • Consent: get the group to sign a consent form and include the rules of behaviour for the session, i.e. one at a time, all opinions are valid… check out our Cheat Sheet for more info on this here.
  • Refreshments: offer drinks, snacks, they help people feel comfortable.
  • Activities: sometimes an activity helps prompt discussion, e.g. get people to write down their own top three ideas on sticky notes and then work as a group to establish an overall order.

    Focus Group
    Focus Group Refreshments

The Fundamentals of Writing a Case Study

What exactly is a case study?

In the simplest terms, a case study is a short story that provides a snapshot and gives an insight into what you do and how you do it. It is a method that an organisation can use to illustrate the way you work and the impact that your service has had on an individual, company or client.

A good case study will tell the reader three main things:

  1. WHAT: the specific problem you needed to address
  2. HOW: your approach to solving this problem
  3. WHY: the end result


Why should you bother?

Case studies can be powerful and persuasive tools and, here at Active Outcomes, we feel they are one of the best ways to tell the world what you can offer. When they are done right they tell a story, giving real-life examples that fully explain to people exactly how you solved the problems of your customers, clients, or service users.

They can highlight your success and generate some great publicity. As an added bonus, they are far more interesting than statistics, facts and figures, though, of course, these can be integral to the case study too.

What really sets a good case study apart is the fact that it is personal. It tells the story of an individual set of circumstances, detailing the journey you take with your clients to achieve better outcomes for them and for your own organisation.


Our Approach

When Active Outcomes write a case study our starting point is always to establish your exact reason for wanting one. By understanding what you hope the study will achieve we can decide how to structure it and will consider:

  • Target audience;
  • What kind of language and tone of voice to use;
  • Where will it be published;
  • What situation to cover – a typical interaction, a specific story with individual circumstances, your ideal client, your greatest achievement;
  • Who to interview; and
  • The kind of questions we’ll need to ask to gain the information needed.

We use this information to create a framework that will inform us as to what you want the case study to say. We can then ask far more strategic open-ended questions when we interview people, this helps us keep the conversation flowing and ensures that the information we gather will meet the needs you’ve identified for the case study to fill.

When we interview the Case Study subject, we endeavour to capture the essence of their story and to tell it using their own words as much as possible.

As firm believers in the “less is more” mantra – we like to keep Case Studies brief and prefer to work within the constraints of a single page of A4 as a rule, this is around 500 words of text.


Example Case Studies

We have worked with a local Home-Start charity to draft two Case Studies to highlight the fantastic support they provide to families with young children. Home-Start offer home-visiting volunteer support to help the parents of young children who are struggling overcome various issues.

Home-Start Hull asked us to write two studies, one to tell the story of their service users, the family; and the other to tell the story of the volunteer who worked with that family to deliver their service. This gave a great insight into the way that both family and volunteer viewed the service and what they felt they had achieved as a result of their interaction with Home-Start.

We interviewed the volunteer and family over the phone and told their stories in the two case studies we’ve included below. These were submitted to a funding body as evidence supporting a funding  Evaluation Report that Active Outcomes produced.

Check out the PDF versions of the family and volunteer case studies by clicking on the links below:



As you can see from the two examples, the case studies included:

  • Direct quotes that helped tell the story;
  • A summary of the issues faced by the volunteer/family;
  • Details of how Home-Start worked with them to overcome the problem;
  • Pictures to help illustrate the work they did;
  • The end result and outcomes achieved; and
  • Guaranteed anonymity for the family as they asked that their name be changed.


Our Top Tips

  • Keep it simple: don’t use complicated jargon;
  • Have a strong opening: hook the reader right from the start (think about the beginning of a newspaper article, how the journalist will cover the “who, what, where, why and when” in a few sentences, straight away, and then go on to give more detail);
  • Less is more: people are busy, respect their time and your own, and keep your story brief to leave them wanting to know more;
  • Consider your audience: it is so important to think carefully about who will read the Case Study and what you want them to take away from it, if it is a funding body you may want to stress the added value you gave and the eventual outcomes for the service user that their money funded the interaction with, if it is for a potential new client, on the other hand, you need to show how your approach to solving a similar problem can tie in well with their company culture;
  • Use direct quotes: wherever possible, let people tell their story in their own words;
  • Permission: as best practice, you should aim to get the person or organisation who is the focus of the case study to sign off on the draft before it goes public, that way you know they are happy with the way you have chosen to interpret and present their story. This becomes more vital when the participant asks that you respect their privacy by using a pseudonym to maintain their anonymity.

For more information about gaining consent for consultations check out our Cheat Sheet to help you gain consent – available here.

If you’d like to discuss our case study writing services you can chat to us at, Tweet @ActiveOutcomes, or visit

Cheat Sheet: Gaining Consent for Consultation Activities

Here at Active Outcomes, we work with a lot of organisations, both within the private sector and with non-profits such as charity, community, and voluntary groups to deliver consultation and community engagement activities.

We’d like to share the expertise we’ve built up with you and today we’re going to explain exactly how to go about gaining consent from participants in your consultation activity.

Getting Started

Firstly, it is not always necessary to ask for consent, especially when the person being consulted has decided to do it without you prompting them, for example, if they click on a link to complete an online survey to leave feedback about the delivery service they experienced when your product was delivered. This implies consent as they understand what they are providing the information for and have a good idea about how it will be used.

For other kinds of consultation, and in particular, those that will ask for information which the respondent may feel is personally sensitive, it is best practice to provide a short explanation about why you are asking these questions, what the data will be used for and how you will protect any confidential information.

So, for example, while it may not be practical to ask a person you speak to during a telephone interview to complete and sign a written form, you can read out a pre-prepared statement that explains the reasons for your consultation and then ask that they provide consent orally in order to proceed any further with the consultation.


If you are going to speak with respondents directly, one of the easiest ways to record consent is to create a form that participants can sign. This could be as simple as a table that they can each sign and date to say that they have read and understood the text explaining the consultation and agree to the terms. See the example below:

Consent List Template-page-001

This type of form helps people understand what they have been asked to do and can be passed around a group quickly so that it does not take a lot of time if you are limited on that front. However, it does only cover the basics. If you are undertaking more in-depth consultation, we recommend you create a form that each individual can read and refer to alone so that they can make a better assessment about whether they feel comfortable proceeding, without feeling pressured to scan the text, sign their name and pass it on to the person next to them.

What to Include

When designing a consent form we suggest you include the following information:

  • Purpose: Explain why you are asking the questions and what their answers may be used for. Try to be as specific as possible, you can consider having tick boxes so people can consent to one aspect and not another (for example, they could agree that their answers can be used anonymously to feed into an evaluation report that is sent to a funding body but not that they can be made available online on your website).
  • Confidentiality: If you will be maintaining anonymity for participants tell them, if you will not then explain your reasons for asking for this. Tell participants how you will store, process and protect the security of any personally identifiable information they provide to you.
  • Introductions: Some participants may not be familiar with you or your work, introduce the facilitator of the session by name and any other assistants or observers who will be present, tell them about your organisation and what it does.
  • Duration: Be up-front about the amount of time that will be required. If you run the session as a drop-in and participants can leave at any time let them know. If they are required to take part in the full session and it is vital they are present for every question, tell them so before you get started.
  • Procedural Information: Let participants know any important safety information, such as emergency exits, and the location of any facilities they may need to use in the course of the session. Consider explaining how the consultation activity will work as your participants may never have taken part in a focus group or round-table discussion before. Tell them what behaviour is appropriate, for example, not to talk over others, to allow everyone to speak, to help themselves to refreshments.
  • Recording/Photography Consent: As an additional aspect of the consent process, if you will record the session in any format, video, audio or photography, ask for permission to do so, especially if you intend to share images of the people involved publically.

You may have specific requirements to add to this list and some of the information we suggest you include will not be relevant, but we think the above bullet points provide a good starting point for creating a Consultation Consent Form.

We have attached a link to a simple Focus Group Consent Form to help you get started and we’ve placed an image of the document below, click the link that follows to see the PDF version: Focus Group Consent Form.

Focus Group Consent Form-page-001

Remember, try and keep things simple so that everyone understands what information you want and what you are trying to achieve in your consultation.

For more information about the range of consultation and community engagement activities that Active Outcomes offer visit