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Case Study: Managing projects at The Trussell Trust

The Trussell Trust is a charity that supports a UK-wide network of more than 1,300 food banks, providing emergency food and support to people facing hardship and campaigning for change to end the need for food banks in the UK.

The Challenge

The number of people needing emergency food has increased significantly in recent years. Figures released in April 2023 showed that over the previous year food banks in the Trussell Trust network gave out almost 3 million food parcels.

This is the most parcels food banks in the Trussell Trust network have ever distributed in a single year and represents a 37% increase compared to 2021-22, and more than double the amount distributed by food banks in the same period five years ago.

In 2020, the Trussell Trust published its five-year strategy, Together for Change, setting out their vision to end the need for food banks in the UK, which focuses on three strategic themes: Changing Communities, Changing Policy and Changing Minds.

Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, the Trussell Trust had to quickly adapt to a rapidly changing environment, as many charities did, and be extremely agile in meeting unprecedented challenges. The organisation also grew in size during this time, with a particular focus on teams providing on the ground support to food banks.

A decision was made to move towards a more consistent approach to project management to help achieve the maximum impact through their work. At the same time, it was recognised that there would need to be agility within this and an ability for any approach to be applied in a proportionate way depending on the nature of the project.

=mc brief

Following a tender process, we were selected to work with the Trussell Trust to advise on and help deliver an organisational approach to project management. This included:

  • providing advice on the overall approach and project management lifecycle
  • quality assuring new guidance and set of templates being created internally
  • creating a handbook for project managers and project sponsors
  • designing and delivering bespoke project management training
  • advising on the development of support for programme managers

Collectively this aimed to:

  • ensure all projects are effectively defined, planned and delivered
  • enable the organisation to better track programme and project results
  • support people to manage and coordinate complex stakeholder relationships
  • provide a consistent language to enable effective cross-team working
  • ensure that the completion of project lifecycle supports organisational learning
  • align project management and collaborative working to the organisation’s behaviour framework

What we did

This was a real partnership approach. We worked closely with two key teams at the Trussell Trust: the learning development team and the lead for Project and Programme Management.

There was a clear sense of the kinds of projects the Trussell Trust had undertaken and would be focusing on in the medium term. These ranged from delivering financial inclusion services, supporting food banks in strengthening their volunteer base, conducting and disseminating research in the drivers of food bank use, delivering campaigns to change perceptions and advocate for policy change, and supporting food banks to trailblaze new ways of bringing about change in local areas. Many of these projects involve collaboration across the organisation and with external stakeholders.

As consultation had been carried out internally around current levels of experience and priority areas of need, we had a clear sense of the level at which to pitch the tools and training and were also able to advise on useful approaches to embedding a positive approach to project management in the organisation’s culture.

We created a handbook that provides advice for project managers in how to think through and plan their projects from conception to delivery to review. A range of real Trussell Trust projects were used as examples throughout the handbook to bring each section to life, showing the theories, structures and tools in a practical context.

It was really important for the Trussell Trust that its values and culture were reflected – including the way in which it works with food banks and the importance of considering diversity and inclusion, and the participation of people with lived experience, in its approach. This means the handbook is bespoke to the Trussell Trust, what it stands for and how it works.

After compiling the handbook, we then designed the training. Working with the Project and Programme Management lead, we identified the key areas of project management that the organisation wanted the most consistency in, and these became the focus of the training. Specifically, these were creating a robust rationale, setting measurable results, clarity on roles and responsibilities, stakeholder management and closing down projects effectively. The Trussell Trust’s Learning and Development team was able to provide important advice so that this training was aligned to the wider context of the available learning pathways for Trussell Trust staff, and could complement other learning opportunities such as coaching, peer to peer mentoring and action learning.

We designed training that includes an introduction to the Trussell Trust project management lifecycle as well as tools and models to structure critical thinking and support key skills. The online training, delivered by our lead trainer, is interactive and practical so that participants can apply the approaches to their real work projects immediately.

Impact

The new project management lifecycle, templates and handbook have been widely shared internally. We have also delivered the Project Management training six times. This has ensured that staff managing the highest priority projects have had a consistent set of training and a community of practice is starting to build.

“I have just read the Project Management Handbook in preparation for my training next week. It’s absolutely brilliant! I wanted to thank you as a user for a concise, well laid out, clear and very easy to use toolkit. I’ve seen lots of these – most of them impenetrable. Yours is a delight – the best I have seen.” Head of Department

The new approach has been positively welcomed by project and programme managers. They recognise the need for structure with so many complex projects being delivered. People also appreciate the focus on outcomes and gaining a shared understanding of what each project is aiming to achieve.

“This training was really relevant even if someone has completed project management training in the past. It was both a good session for general good practice, and also about the way Trussell Trust would like all projects to be set out going forward. I found applying the methods to our chosen project, and being able to discuss these with colleagues, very useful. I will now regularly use the templates and handbook for all new projects.” Financial Inclusion Development Manager

People are also very appreciative that they can adopt the new approach in a proportionate way – the Trussell Trust has set expectations about what is essential for the large strategic projects, and that for smaller projects people can work with their sponsor to agree what needs to be done.

The Project and Programme Lead is also ensuring that the new approach becomes embedded into both organisational culture and ways of working. She is running drop-in sessions for project sponsors and identifying short learning sessions on specific aspects of project management. She contacts projects sponsors and managers to find out how the approach is working and to get feedback.

“It’s great to have a consistent approach to project management at Trussell Trust. Everyone knows what process to follow, and how to manage their planning, project work and relationships with their sponsor and stakeholders.” Strategic Project Manager.

All these efforts are paying off. People are using the language, templates and handbook. They are more comfortable with their roles, responsibilities and accountabilities for projects. The Project and Programme Management Lead, Gill Moffett, said:

“Working with the Management Centre has been incredibly helpful. We’ve been able to draw on their expertise across so many areas – ranging from the best practice to aim for in project management, to how to build it in to an organisation’s culture around this over time rather than expect an overnight change. The training that the Management Centre has delivered has been very engaging and has really energised people. Overall, our partnership has helped us build some really strong foundations that will help us continue to increase the impact of our work.”

Learning and Development lead Neil Van Niekirk said:

“The Trussell Trust wanted a development programme that would not only enable our people to plan and deliver projects, but also to build confidence managing multiple partners, so that the work we do is better co-ordinated, more people centred, serving the work and needs of other teams in the organisation and the food bank network.  It’s not easy making time to attend training days, but The Management Centre always recognised challenges the learners may be facing, ensuring the sessions were engaging, dynamic and relevant. The training has helped our people feel better equipped to deliver what needs to be done, with the ability to adapt and respond to the changing demands that projects can face.”

How to find out more

If you’re interested in embedding a new approach to project management, then please get in touch. We can support you in a variety of ways including:

  • introducing a straightforward project framework, avoiding jargon and using easy to understand language
  • providing training to develop project management skills
  • embedding a consistent approach that enables collaboration across teams and departments
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