Special Events are Project Managements by Carl Sylvestre

The pictures are often glamorous.  Everyone is smiling and stunningly dressed.  There are also those heartfelt speeches.  How could we not have them? There are so many people to thank for making it all possible.  Welcome to this year’s Academy awards.  Not exactly! I’m talking about one of the many special event benefits that are held every night for various organizations.  If anyone of my readers has been involved in a planning these events, glamour is not the first word that comes to mind. Hell, anxiety, torture are more suitable words. 

Why is it that special events are often the tale of two cities?  It is a world that combines public glamour and the behind the scenes mayhem. One could argue that this is the case with any project that we have to bring to life: a theatrical production, weddings and dare we mention house renovations.  Let’s face it, in order to have great results there must be hard work.  Yet why do we insist in making the inevitable harder?  Why do some events or projects appear easier than others to manage?  The key could be in the application of some basic project management principles.

Project management has at its foundation the goal of successfully completing a specific task within a period of time by orchestrating people and resources.  Therefore, to manage an event successfully there must be a plan to answer the following: project manager, project planning, scheduling, and resource allocation.

It starts once you have decided to have the event and defined in board terms its content and outcome.  The project management plan begins by deciding when the event will take place.  How many people will attend? the event’s fundraising goal with a general idea of the funding sources.

Once the big picture has been indentified, it is time to break down in great detail all the different steps needed to achieve them.  Small items should not be ignored such as getting stamps for the invitations or who will be double-checking to make sure that the toilets are clean at the venue before the guests arrive. 

You need a plan to identify each stage with its own, segmented timeframe.  I find that a Gantt chart is a useful tool for keeping track of these time frames.  It shows how long each task should take, but it also shows which tasks can be done simultaneously and which must be done sequentially.

In the project management process, it becomes clear that it takes a village to put an event together.  We have the leadership volunteers who often carry the load of getting their friends and colleagues to open up their checkbook and attend the event.  Then we have the designers, the caterers, the printers, the finance department needed to be on standby to pay the various vendors.  Consequently, it is important to identify the individuals as early as possible, who will be responsible for each of the detailed tasks identified.  Most people are willing to follow as long as their task and timeline are clearly communicated to them. Because this is about human resources allocation the leader of the project needs to identify and be sensitive to the individuals who, for whatever the reason, are likely to disrupt the timetable.  Also who needs to be managed carefully as they will have different ideas on how to best proceed.

To keep your event on track it is important to remember these three “R”  – Review, Revise, and Reallocate.  Every week you need to review the status of each project component relative to that component’s completion date.  If a particular project component is ahead of or behind schedule, take a look at the Gantt chart and revise the start and completion dates of other components accordingly.  In reviewing the project, you may find that you need to reallocate resources; it could be money or people.  Most importantly, keep everybody informed.  There will be changes and new tasks to be added making it critical that all the project’s players are kept up to date.  This can be achieved by scheduling periodic meetings. These should include everybody involved with the project components under discussion.

If you are the project leader, identify yourself as such to provide on-going direction because many are looking to you.  Your role involves knowing what steps have been completed and what needs to be done next.  It often means confirming with various individuals that they understand what you’re telling them and whenever possible, it is important that everything is documented.

Of course there is more to this than a prescribed plan.   There is the good will of many others that must be depended on.  We often operate within politically challenging environments constantly informing our negotiation skills.  Resources are always limited thus have to be managed carefully.  

Managing a project is exciting, rewarding, at times frustrating.  The finish line is never what is imagined and responses are often unpredictable.  Yet, if it is plotted out, multiple elements can be better controlled and it can help you be in the driver’s seat just a little bit longer.  Remember benefits are also meant to be fun.