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Mise en Place and the Database

Mise en Place and the Database

By Susan Vogel

I am not much of a cook and the biggest challenge for me is getting the entrees and side dishes done at the same time, plated and served. I’m in awe of chefs who, through craft and precision, can serve beautifully presented plates of food (often customized) to hundreds of people each night.

The art of mise en place (French for “everything in its place”) is considered best practice for the culinary world and I believe serves the field of grants management as well.

The steps are simple:

  1. Read through your recipe and identify all the ingredients and utensils you need
  2. Gather everything 

To translate the practice to grants management, the steps are equally simple:

  1. Read through the application directions and identify the information you need and the people you need
  2. Gather everything

The Database

At first I thought of the database as a utensil – a food processor. But it’s not; it doesn’t do any work. We simply put things in, store things, and take things out. While there is a universal desire to have a database that effortlessly tracks the lifecycle of our grants, the reality is that we are responsible for putting everything in its place (mise en place).

The database can function as point-of-service (POS) where we can track grant orders, a countertop where we can set up our mise en place, and a pantry to store information on grantors and projects.  

POS: Ideally, the database is where each order starts. If the waiter doesn’t take the order back to the kitchen, it never gets made. It’s also where the waiter can tell the cook about special orders to leave off the onions. An organized grant professional must be equally disciplined in getting the grant order placed in the database right away and fill in the “special orders”. This step is ESSENTIAL if one is working with a team. It allows for everyone to monitor expectations and status. It also places the new project within the workflow of other grant projects.

mise en place database

The Countertop: The lovely thought I have with this one, is that I imagine each unique section of the grant proposal and milestones along the grant lifecycle as one of those little tiny bowls for spices used in mise en place. While these bowls facilitate the assembly, they also serve as checks and balances.  I can never remember if I added the salt, so sometimes its forgotten or put in twice. If my station is set up with a little bowl of salt, I can quickly identify if I forgot or not.

The advice here is that each data point in the database is an ingredient that needs to go into a little bowl, separate and discrete from the other ingredients. Each ingredient has an order in which it is used. Envision how easily the proposal will go when the countertop is properly set up. 

The Pantry: Who does not love a well-stocked and organized pantry? The ingredients set out during the mise en place work, in aggregate, make up the content of the data pantry. 

Most databases work pretty much the same, some have a few more bells and whistles than others. If one doesn’t have a database system, a spreadsheet can help put everything in its place. Below are some suggestions. I track both the dates when tasks are due and when completed, so if I run a report (or filter by blanks) and the field is empty, I know there is work to be done. 

  • Calendar year (this is useful for multiyear  reporting)
  • Project title
  • Grantor
  • Submission due date
  • First proposal due date
  • Date proposal was completed
  • First draft of budget due
  • Budget completed
  • Date submitted
  • Date notified
  • Status (In process, awarded, declined)
  • Check received
  • Report due date
  • Next steps (text field)

A special note for those of you that use spreadsheets, if you don’t already know how, learn how to use the sort and filter commands and pivot tables. It only takes about 15 minutes and will make your life easier and impress your friends and family.

many projects at once

Like chefs, we are never preparing one dish or one project at a time.  We have multiple projects in various stages where the proposals need to be served according to a defined schedule. Taking the time to electronically track deliverables and milestones may seem cumbersome and even awkward at first. (Let go of the fear of micromanaging.)  By taking the extra time and embracing the art of mise en place, one will save time and energy in the long run and help minimize the effects of inevitable mishaps, delays, and drama that happen over the course of the project and keep submissions on track.

A well-stocked database (i.e., data points/deliverables) allows one to combine and view the data to get perspective on workflow and deadlines across multiple projects. Additionally, the comparing or monitoring data points can function as checks and balances. Thinking of the database as a pantry, I can regularly inventory projects, deliverables, and resources. I can create a to-do list for the week across all projects, rather than just working linearly one project at a time.  Imagine if a pantry were organized by one recipe at a time and you only had a bunch of little bowls. It wouldn’t be very functional and it would make retrieval of ingredients a bit challenging. 

At 911, we have a centralized grants management department, which provides the luxury of a team solely dedicated to grant work. We spend a lot of time on this, dictating the need for a high level of organization. Just to frame it up, last year we submitted grants for over 80 projects, with over 90 awards. 

I like the vision of mise en place as one of our project management tactics. We have tweaked our CRM database to capture this preparation work and I believe it has made us better at our jobs.  I also think that communicating the mise en place activities to the colleagues involved in the project makes them more engaged because they have a better vision of their role, deliverables, and deadlines. 

Often we may feel pressured to quickly show results so we rush to get to the end. The culinary world offers us a glimpse on how mise en place can offer a thoughtful, mindful approach to any project – no matter how chaotic things may seem. The beauty and efficiency lies in that mise en place provides checks and balances to outline the sequential order of activities and ensure that everything needed for the final project is on hand.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I still can’t get my meals plated on time. But my family and I haven’t starved yet and there’s always a restaurant nearby who can do a much better job.

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