Published November 7, 2013 by Food Co-op Initiative

s philly cover pic

When Will It Open?

“When will the store be open?” This is a question that echoes in the ears of every food co-op organizer. If only there were an easy answer! It all depends on accomplishing a multitude of tasks. “We have to have this many members, and find a site, and find a general manager, and, and, and . . . ” Why not capture all these details in a simple-to-share timeline? Maria Sourbeer of South Philly Co-op tells us, “Having a timeline gives people something tangible to look at. It helps them understand why they need to become members now rather than waiting until the store opens.”

south philly timeline

Why Timelines?

Timelines serve a variety of functions during co-op development. In addition to being a great tool for communicating with the public, timelines create internal accountability, help coordinate volunteer efforts, and serve as a roadmap for the project. Without a timeline, groups tend to get lost, do tasks out of sequence, and lose perspective on the development process. As Bill Gessner of CDS Consulting Cooperative has said, “Start your timeline today, even if you don’t have all the information. You can always revise it tomorrow.”

South Philly Co-op started with an in-depth timeline development process led by CDS Consulting Cooperative, generating a multi-page document. “We pared it down to a snapshot to share publicly,” says Maria. “It’s something we use at every member meeting, when meeting with potential financiers, and to keep track of milestones.”

spiral timeline

Avoid Specific Dates

One thing you’ll notice about the timelines in this article: They do not have specific dates. As always in co-op development, we don’t want to make promises we can’t keep. A timeline is a dynamic tool, rather than a fixed schedule. Be sure to use time ranges rather than deadlines. (You will want to have a more detailed internal timeline with dates to keep people accountable.) Maria notes, “Our timeline links accomplishments tightly with the number of members. We have to remind people that the timeline is about goals, and many other factors are involved.”

Some specific tips for timelines include:

  • Create a one-page timeline to use as an overview. A more detailed version can be created for internal use.

  • Use the Three Stages and substages to organize tasks

  • Focus on completion date ranges, rather than start dates

  • Remember that within each stage, many things happen at the same time. Not all timeline items are sequential.

  • Revise your timeline regularly to reflect changes and progress

  • Use an editable graphic, rather than text alone. It doesn’t need to be fancy!

Download timelines

Editable Template