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The Five Principles of Project Management for Event Planners

Project Management_Event Planners

Early in my genesis to becoming a project manager, I was exposed to event planning and noticed the distinct similarities and differences between the two. With project management, the process is well defined and flows from one step to the next in an ordered manner. Event management on the other hand is a whirlwind of ever-evolving planning and execution.

While at a previous company, I was beginning to learn the project management ropes when I volunteered as part of a group to plan our department’s quarterly team meeting, all the while identifying, prioritizing and addressing causes of the department’s poor morale.

Since the group had no event planners but multiple project management professionals, we undertook the task with the tools and techniques our training and experience offered and implemented the classic project management processes: initiating, planning, executing, monitoring/controlling and closing.

1. The Initiation process

The Initiating Process Group consists of those processes performed to define a new project or a phase of an existing project by obtaining authorization to start the project or phase." – A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK Guide) Fourth Edition

Initiation usually involves defining a project and gaining approval to begin working; in our case some of this had already occurred. We approached the issue carefully and had already determined it was best to hold our meeting in a central location with easy access.

The site had to seat our entire group, and we wanted a format that would keep the meeting fun while keeping the task of communicating business information to the team paramount. So, the group researched available, suitable venues and elements to improve the meetings.

2. The Planning Process

The Planning Process Group consists of those processes required to establish the scope of the project, refine the objectives and define the course of action required to attain the objectives that the project was undertaken to achieve." – PMBOK Guide

Planning an event is a series of seemingly never-ending tasks that most people never think about.

Our team met, reviewed the parameters and began brainstorming venue options while qualifying them against our list of requirements. We detailed the reasons to meet—team building, unity of message and gains in efficiency—and made recommendations that we meet off site as an entire team where everyone could hear all the questions and the responses. After some research we decided that a local movie house fit the bill—it served food and had comfortable rolling chairs. This was the type of environment that would help people relax, talk to their peers and make some new friends.

We learned from the group studying meeting effectiveness to make the meeting fun to keep people attentive and engaged. We offered raffle prizes and broke up the presentations with company trivia. At the same time, we endeavored to come up with a theme for the meeting and worked with the video production team to develop a short video to open the meeting.

As we developed the schedule of events, we quickly learned that this would mean more than just telling everyone to show up at a particular time. This was going to require significant coordination. Our CIO had a tight schedule and needed to know exactly when he was to speak so he could maintain his schedule. The venue wanted to know how long we’d require the space.

Every piece had to be coordinated down to the minute, which meant viewing the speaker scripts and presentations to suitably time them.We didn’t have the money to provide meals for the staff, but we knew food would enhance participants’ experiences.

We scheduled the meeting around lunchtime since with the venue and nearby eateries everyone could easily find something they liked. Instead of lunch during the meeting we established a candy station to match the theater setting.

One thing was critical to our success: We had to develop our communications plan to share progress with key stakeholders and meeting details with the attendees. I was not entirely sure the leadership team trusted us to do the job well, so keeping them informed regularly helped grow their trust in us—we were on pace to deliver the meeting on time and on budget.

Communicating the meeting details to the staff helped build the excitement that this event would be not just another boring meeting. Next, we verified that our tech needs would be met, arranged for microphones and made sure our PowerPoint presentations could be played on the big screen.

3. The Executing Process

The Executing Process Group consists of those processes performed to complete the work defined in the project management plan to satisfy the project specifications." – PMBOK Guide

The big day arrived and most of us showed up early at the office to go over our checklists one more time. We were eager, wondering if our vision for improving morale through improved communications would pay off. We had assignments and all the props necessary to pull off the event as planned, so we headed to the site to get ready.

This is where project management really diverges from event planning. The execution process in most projects is a series of predictable steps that you move through until you complete each deliverable. With event planning, the execution phase is your event, you are live and there is no time for standard project methodologies.

4. The Monitoring and Controlling Process

The Monitoring and Controlling Process Group. Those processes required to track, review and regulate the progress and performance of the project; identify any areas in which changes to the plan are required; and initiate the corresponding changes." – PMBOK Guide

In project management, as we work through the execution process we are constantly monitoring and controlling processes to ensure results match stakeholders’ expectations. This allows a project manager to really impact the results and achieve success.

Event planners don’t have this same luxury—when it’s time to execute, your event is in full swing and you better be prepared, because all you have time for is handling new and/or unexpected issues that arise. However, you can take the opportunity to learn from each event and make the next one better. We used a survey tool to assess our effectiveness and examined what worked and what didn’t.

5. The Closing Process

The Closing Process Group consists of those processes performed to finalize all activities across all the Process Groups to formally close the project or phase." – PMBOK Guide

Lastly, we took all our preparatory notes, status reports, schedules of events, video and especially our post-event lessons learned and closed out the project. We met with the leadership team to make sure our delivery met their expectations; we discussed the value to the organization that this meeting provided and compared it to what was spent to make sure that the value exceeded the expense. One+


About the Author

Blair Potter
Blair Potter

Blair Potter is managing editor for The Meeting Professional. He likes toys and collects cats (or is it the other way around?).