As an administrative assistant, you are already a project management expert explains Rhonda Scharf
Regardless of your title, if you are an administrative professional you are likely also a project manager. As admins, we take care of deadlines, deliverables, people, reports. Those skills happen to be some of the fundamental elements of project management. So, as an administrative assistant, you are already a project management expert. And there is good news in that, because project management also happens to be one of the most in-demand skills in offices today.
The definition of a project is “a problem scheduled to be solved.” Project management is “a process by which a leader and team plan for, implement, monitor, and evaluate a series of activities designed to produce a stated objective.” Project management gives structure to a project through the application of a specific set of tools and principles.
Sound familiar? It should. As administrative professionals, we do those things all the time. At work, we manage events both big and small; we often help to create the budget for the department or the company; we are part of reorganizations, moves, and relocations. In our personal lives, we have probably all been heavily involved in a house renovation or a move, planned a wedding, were the team manager of a child’s sport’s team, or organized a fantasy football pool. These are positions that come naturally to us.
Triple Constraint: Time, Scope, Cost
A common phrase used in project management is “the iron triangle” or “triple constraint”. It refers to the fact that the quality of any project you manage will be impacted by three things: time, scope, and cost.
Time is the timeline of the project. Cost is your budget. Scope is how you define the boundaries of the project – what it will and will not include.
As a project manager (or coordinator, another common title), you must make sure that the team is delivering on time, on budget and following the boundaries (scope) that have been established for the project.
If any of the triple constraints are changed, the quality will change. For instance, if we cut back on the budget, the quality will be negatively affected. Similarly, if we shorten the timeline or broaden the scope of what we originally planned, the quality will suffer.
Think of those home decorating shows, where they completely redo a room in a house in a day. Unless there is a healthy budget allowing for many people to be involved and perform multiple tasks at once, the final result usually isn’t very nice.
If you shorten the timeline and still want a good result, it is going to cost more money.
If you don’t have extra money to throw at a project, and you want the result to be high quality, you’d better have a lot of time in which to do it. If you don’t have extra time, you will have low quality at the end of the project.
It is the project manager’s job to ensure that the project is delivered on time, on budget, and within its scope.
That is easier said than done.
Event planning is project management.
Assume you are creating an awards event. You are given a team to work with to ensure that you deliver a luncheon for all employees who have been at the company for more than 20 years. You’ve been given a budget and guidelines (for instance, everyone should receive a nice gift, all managers and executives need to attend, and only employees with 20 years of service should be invited).
Project management doesn’t mean you do all the work. If you do everything yourself, it is a task and doesn’t qualify as project management. You will need a team of people to help you deliver this event. As the project manager, you will make sure that deadlines are being met, deliverables are being delivered, and the communication to the stakeholders is happening.
Scope creep is a term you may be familiar with. It happens when the project gets bigger than originally planned. As project manager, managing scope creep is a crucial function. For instance, for your awards function, someone on the decorating committee notices that in the original plan for the event some things were missed, such as flowers on the table, place setting name cards, and programs. Those are certainly nice things to have and would add a lot to the quality of the event. But as we know, changing one of the triple constraints affects the others. So, if you are increasing the scope (by adding nice-to-haves), can you increase your budget to accommodate? Or, can you move the date of the event to give yourself more time to get everything ready?
It is easy “in the moment” for someone to say, “yes, we need that,” but the project manager needs to look at the bigger picture. Will this new idea cause the project to go over budget? Will the time required to add those things to your event take away time from doing other things?
Scope creep happens easily and often invisibly. As project manager, you may not even realize that the decorating committee did more or spent more than you originally asked them to. It is one of the most prevalent challenges in project management. As a project manager, you need to have a firm grip on each of the three constraints.
Budget is one of the hardest things to keep under control. There are always expenses that crop up at the last minute, or things that someone in management suddenly wants included. As well, there are outside factors that can affect your prices. What if the person buying supplies spends just a little more than you budgeted for? What if someone forgot about gratuities for the meal, or more people than expected end up attending? A few little expenses add up, and suddenly you are way over budget.
Time is the same way. Things typically take longer than people think they will, and at the last minute there may be a huge scramble to get things done. Since you likely can’t delay the event, sometimes there isn’t enough time to get everything done. That’s when quality will be affected.
Family dinners and holidays are a perfect example. Every year I say that I’m going to get a significant amount of Christmas baking done, but when it comes time to do what I planned, I never have enough time to get it all done.
Naturally, this means that when you are scheduling your project, you need to build in contingencies to time and budget. However, it also often means having uncomfortable conversations with your team members. This is the management side of project management.
Your decorating committee had the greatest of intentions. They had wonderful ideas and didn’t plan to go over budget. A few things went slightly over budget, but the value received for that spend was well worth it, from their perspective. However, they’re not looking at the big picture. A little spend here and there, a little extra time here and there adds up, especially if the other members of the team do the same thing. It makes the job of coming in on time and on budget very difficult. And that can mean a difficult conversation is in order. Although project management and coordination come naturally to administrative professionals, handling difficult conversations typically does not. Fortunately, like all skills, that is one that can be learned.
The role of administrative professional continually evolves. We learn new skills and we take on new roles. Transitioning to the project management role is a natural fit for most admins and fortunately, it is in great demand.