How to Manage Projects

Over the past ten years the secretarial role has changed dramatically. As a result, many secretaries and PAs are now in charge of projects for which they have full responsibility.

What is a project?
  • A project is a commitment to produce a specific result by a specific date and time, with the necessary actions broken down into clear, manageable steps.
  • Project management is significantly different from day-to-day operational management, which is concerned with the ongoing operations of an organisation. Operational management is usually the task of an office manager. The aim of the project manager is to achieve a specific set of objectives within an agreed time and an agreed budget.
  • Project management demands highly developed planning skills, leadership qualities, an understanding of the team's priorities and concerns, a sensitivity to the culture of the working environment, the ability to know when to take a calculated risk - and a high level of personal commitment.
At the start of your project:
  • Identify with help from your manager and other relevant people, the project's scope and definition to the level of detail needed for effective planning.
  • Try to get as much information as possible.
  • Write all the information down and ask everyone to agree with what you have written down.
A minor misunderstanding at this early stage may lead to delays and irritation later
  • How does your project fit in with what others in your organisation are doing?
  • What are interests and priorities of the main people involved in the project?
  • What problems do you anticipate during the running of the project?
  • What do you think are the main risks associated with the project?
  • How difficult do you think the project is? How much time, money and energy will it take? Provide realistic and informed views on the feasibility of the project to relevant people within your organisation (and outside your organisation, if applicable).
Your role as project manager
  • What will be your own level of responsibility for the management of this project, activities related to the project, required resources and decisions? How much freedom will you have to 'run your own show' and where are the boundaries? To whom will you be reporting?
  • Discuss your understanding of what the project is about, what needs to be done and what your role will be with your manager and other relevant people. Take account of their feedback.
  • Are you sure that your plans for the project are consistent with the agreed scope and definition and known constraints? Is there enough money available? How about time and people?
  • Can you break the project work down into tasks that are manageable, measurable, and achievable? Don't think you can do everything at once. Be realistic.
Preparing your project
  • You will need to specify links, dependencies, schedules, evaluation methods and handover procedures that are appropriate to the project and its work. Develop a system that will enable someone else to take over should you suddenly fall ill, go on holiday or move job. Check with other secretaries or PAs whether they can make sense of your system. If not, change it.
  • Can you propose effective solutions to deal with identified possible problems and risks? How can you prevent possible problems?
  • What do you realistically expect will be the human and physical resources required to carry out the project's tasks? How much will it cost your organisation, including overheads?
  • Has a similar project ever been managed by one of your colleagues? Do you have a friend with relevant experience? It?s a great advantage if you can base your plans on previous experience and the good practice of other people.
At the end of this round, you are ready to go back to your manager and other relevant people. Check with them all aspects of your plans for the project and take account of their feedback when you make revisions.

Other optional tasks
  • As a project manager you may assist in the selection of team members who are able to make an effective contribution to the project?s objectives.
  • You may also recommend roles for the project team, and allocate tasks in a way that is realistic and equitable.
  • You may recommend clear lines of responsibility and accountability that take account of team members' other responsibilities.
  • You may recommend meeting schedules, reporting, control and communication methods that are consistent with the overall project plans.
  • You may contribute to effective opportunities for team development.
  • You may be asked to research and recommend feasible and cost-effective methods of obtaining the necessary physical resources (what people and materials do you need?).
  • You could research and recommend efficient and effective methods of managing the necessary physical resources and finances that are consistent with organisational requirements.
  • You could check all aspects of the project's resourcing and control methods with relevant people and take account of their feedback when making revisions.
Support the project team
  • You should consistently provide team members with clear, accurate and up-to-date information appropriate to the role that they play in the project.
  • You will provide opportunities for team members to undertake activities that will contribute to their own development and that of the project.
  • It's your job as project manager to actively chase up information from team members on project progress and their views on the project?s effectiveness.
  • You will need to identify problems which team members are experiencing in good time to take counteraction.
  • You provide team members with the support and encouragement they need to achieve their objectives throughout the lifetime of the project.
Co-ordinating activities, resources and plans
  • It's down to you to monitor and evaluate project work in a way that is consistent with the agreed plans. Is everything going according to plan?
  • Can you accurately measure progress against plans and identify emerging risks and difficulties and their causes?
  • It is essential that you obtain clear authorisation for all stages of work to start, continue or finish.
  • Ensure you clearly inform your manager of any emerging problems or risks in good time for remedial action to be taken.
  • Keep activities and resources in line with the project's plans. If you feel you need to make any amendments to plans and resources, please seek approval from your manager or the most senior person in charge of your project.
  • If you feel certain things could be done better or differently, you may wish to recommend changes in project activities, plans and resources in a way which keeps disruption to a minimum.
  • Keep a record. If you do need to make adjustments to activities, resources and plans, never do anything without the knowledge and agreement of the team. Make sure you accurately record and store these adjustments.
  • Whenever you have any need to review the project's scope and definition, always discuss this with the person under whose budgetary responsibility your project falls first. As ever, make sure you also keep your manager or the most senior person in your project team updated.
Providing information
  • You will need to provide the most important people with timely, forward-looking and relevant information which is consistent with the project plans.
  • When you provide team members and higher-level managers with your information, you will also need to offer them effective opportunities to contribute to the information you provide. Explicitly ask for their input and feedback.
  • Does the content of your information satisfy the main players' needs? Don't forget you will all have to maintain agreements on confidentiality.
  • Different people have different needs. You will have to provide information in styles and formats most appropriate to the needs of the people involved.
  • Did everyone get your information on time? Your will have to check whether your distribution methods are effective in reaching the key people.
  • Actively seek and assess information from the key people inside and outside your organisation that may affect the running of the project.
At the end of your project
  • Confirm that all the project's goals have been achieved to the agreed schedule, costs and quality criteria.
  • Ensure that all deliverables are handed over according to agreed procedures.
  • Make sure that the person under whose budget your project came is completely satisfied with the way in which you finish it. Discuss proper handover procedures, so that the results of your project can be used at a later stage.
  • Clearly inform your manager and any other person to whom you are reporting that the agreed project outcomes have been achieved. Seek their approval to close the project.
  • Collect information from the relevant people on the effectiveness of the project and their level of satisfaction with it.
  • Confirm the completion of the project with the team and promptly bring all associated work to an end in a way that is consistent with your project plans.
  • Complete all the necessary procedures relating to finance, resources and personnel in accordance with the requirements of your organisation.
  • Ensure that all records and documents relating to the project are accurate, complete and securely stored for future use.
After your project
  • As soon as the project has been finalised, you can start to collect, check and collate information relating to the planning and implementation of the project. This will need to be processed in a way that will assist effective evaluation.
  • The information you are collecting must cover the perspectives of all the main people involved in the project.
  • On the basis of the information you have collated, you will be able to assist the main people involved in the project to compare what was planned, what actually happened and what changes had to be made to plans, project scope and definition.
  • Evaluate your project. Try and explain what caused the differences between the original plans and the way in which the project was actually run. What are the main lessons to be drawn from the project? What would you do different next time?
  • Keep a full record of your project, the way in which it was run and its evaluation. Be selective. Ensure that you store your evaluation in a way that can be used to inform future projects

Share this page with your friends


Share this page with your friends.