In managing a historic property, there’s always about 100 projects going on of varying scales and importance. At the big scale and important end of the spectrum would be the successful management of a half-million dollar storm water management project. The middle road might be a roof replacement project for an aging building, and the small project could be the planning and installation of new bike racks or planting a new specimen tree. Big projects take up the most man hours and resources, and have the greatest potential outcomes. Projects that require vast resources or uncertainties might be considered higher risk, while projects that have a guaranteed or known successful outcome might be considered a higher reward.
These days i’m in the business of deploying several low risk / high reward projects at a time in tandem with my current workload. Allow me to explain and clarify. First, guiding documents such as an organization’s strategic plan or capital campaign are usually going to determine about 60% of my workload [such as the storm water management project], whereas the remaining time is dedicated to current operational issues and essential workflows that are just arising and need to be addressed. This could be re-keying locks after a security breach, replacing damaged shutters, or putting down the first site-wide layer of mulch in the spring on all beds. Naturally, this leaves me with little time to pursue potential mission-driven projects that tap into my creative juices. The fact is that we all have a wish list in our head of new initiatives or projects that we’d love to pursue, but there never seems to be the time to throw these into the current project mix.
Enter the low risk / high reward mentality. For all of those wish list projects that i’d love to see into fruition but have little chance of making it to the current workload, i break the project down into a series of low risk / high reward tasks that are light enough to incorporate into any schedule. I’ve been able to establish a fig propagation program and grow historic vegetables found from a 1919 family record by using this method. But the example i’d like to share is tackling my desire for enhancing best management practices for rose care at the public garden that i manage. As one collective concept, this is likely a medium-sized project that requires the collection of case studies, site visits, research, requests for funds, and developing a program and schedule of trials. The time and resources needed to get this off the ground is likely too great and will more realistically require at least year to coordinate. However, instead of tabling the project completely, I isolated some low risk / high reward tasks to help create a small yet constant stream of work to build momentum. First, I remained cognizant of this desire and made sure to discuss rose care BMPs with any peer during unrelated site visits to peer gardens and networking events. Second, when budgeting for the next season, i made sure to leave some flexibility for additional supplies in our nursery production and IPM programs for conducting small experiments. And finally, I planned ahead to coordinate routine scheduled maintenance of the roses to coincide with garden volunteer sessions providing free labor.
My low risk / high reward mentality allowed for the culmination of these three actions to build some traction for the project and set it up for success. Soon after, we were able to conduct a fairly significant trial on rose cutting propagation of our heritage roses simply because we previously enacted a series of low risk/ high reward tasks that created optimal conditions in available time and resources to fold into my current project mix. We were able to dedicate an entire three hour volunteer session to pruning our heritage roses, process the hardwood cuttings, and then package for propagating. This trial is a great first step in understanding BMPs for rose care at my garden. Additionally, this task required no extra man hours or resources and brings the potential rewards of new material for the plant sale, extending the progeny of several aging rose specimens, speeding up the time needed to troubleshoot healthcare, and new staff knowledge for public education and workshops.