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Project management

How do I ensure the project runs to schedule and budget?

Category: PlanningName: Jenny Oates, Project Manager
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Why?

Running a large scale project involving over 15 staff from five multi-national partner organisations requires good project management to ensure work is completed to schedule and within budget, and that effective communication between partners is achieved.

Step by Step

  1. Agree a clear strategy and objectives with all the partners at the start of the project to ensure that everyone is working towards the same goals. It will be important to acknowledge that this may have changed since the original proposal was written.
  2. Agree a realistic work plan and deadlines, create a Gantt chart to monitor progress. Establish a risk register for the project.
  3. Hold regular in person team meetings with all partners to share interim products and report on progress. Also hold regular in person bilateral meetings with each partner to monitor progress and address any challenges directly.
  4. Conduct out an external evaluation of the project part-way through and draw up a management response to the recommendations of the review. Ensure that actions in the management response are implemented.

Top Tips

Have regular face to face meetings. It was important to understand the different perspectives of the partner organisations in terms of their own priorities and working styles. Having regular face to face meetings was really beneficial in this respect, giving everyone the chance to hear from and get to know each other.

Time the production of outputs (reports, information, websites etc.) for different points of the project so you always have something to communicate about. In the Celtic Seas Project many of the products. were finished at the end of the project.  This meant that, 1) we didn’t have a lot of materials to talk about in the beginning or middle stages and 2) there was some pressure at the end to get everything finished, translated and disseminated to everybody. This made it more difficult for individual products to stand out and there was a lot of information for people to absorb at once. However, it did provide lots of opportunity for stakeholders to input into the development of the outputs during the project.

Make sure that you have enough support with the financial side of the project. No matter how big or small the project, balancing the books can be time consuming. In a large regional multi-partner, multi-currency project it can quickly overwhelming.  For the Celtic Seas Project WWF was the lead partner and took advantage of their in-house experts which saved money on contracting services.

Ensure the lead partner (or whoever hosts the project staff) has the capacity to deal with regular human-resource issues. Every staff member required a line manager and an annual performance review.  Each member of staff needed to be paid wages, pay pension, tax, have health and safety training etc. Over the course of the 4 year project we had people leave, join, go on maternity leave or need time off.  Having a project manager familiar with human resource issues and supported by a larger team saves time and effort when staffing issues occur.

Plan for the unexpected. The project developed a risk register which assessed the potential impact on the project of not only external influences but also personnel issues, such as people leaving.  It is common when people work on short term contracts that when that contract is nearly finished they will look for other work.  In our case we had a communications officer and a stakeholder engagement officer both leave during the last few months of the project when we needed full capacity to tell everyone about all the projects outputs.  With only a few months left remaining we were unable to recruit new staff into those positions and  so we needed to sub-contract work in order to deliver on time.

Consider commissioning an independent mid-term review as well as a final evaluation. The mid-term review of the project was a really useful opportunity to receive an independent evaluation of the progress of the project, which resulted in some very useful recommendations which improved implementation over the remainder of the project.

Resources

Time

The amount of time required for good project management and administration shouldn’t be underestimated, particularly with an EC project. This should be considered when planning the capacity requirements for the project.

People

It is essential to have a full time project manager with support from a project officer.  Additional services such as administration, accounting and human resources are also needed for large scale projects.

Cost

Project management is very resource intensive.  This is reflected by the fact that with most projects, even small ones the first member of the team is often the project manager.  It is that person’s skills and time that can determine how smoothly a project is run.  Resources spent on training and support services (such as accounting, human resources and administration) can be good investments.  There is also a lot of specialist software that can help with project management, but picking a good project manager is probably the best advice!