Project Management Lessons from the Summer of 2011 (A note to self)

This summer is about to end and for now, the project that I was handling since February is about to approach its closure.

Before I dive into new activities (hopefully I get a chance at school) and new work (Metro Manila is expensive! Physics tutor, anyone?), it’s important to lay down the lessons I learned this summer, or let’s just make it the first half of 2011. From managing events, writing documentation, ensuring participants get their flights to lay-outing posters and understanding how a web server works, I managed to survive (barely) as I learned everything from scratch (meow).

Organizing a morning of tech talks with 150 students is easy-peasy once you have your team briefed and speakers confirmed. But managing a 50 audience-event (including participant accommodation) for three days with 10 speakers is well… equivalent to sleepless nights and disoriented mornings! So here are tips on organizing workshops and seminars for the noob like me.

1. Don’t do everything.

Delegate your tasks to your team. You’re the manager, your job is to ensure everything works. When you take all the tasks to yourself, you’re bound to fail in one or all of them later… or you just might succeed but end up sacrificing other parts of your life outside the event (yes, you have a life outside this project!).

2. Do one thing at a time, but before you do make sure you have everything else on track.

There’s nothing better than sitting back, mixing colors and lay-outing a nice orange poster. But it gets bad when that’s all you’ve done in three days! You tend to spend so much time on one task especially when you’re enjoying it and you might end up forgetting the rest of the parts that needs to be done. The event’s success does not lie on a single component like a poster (especially not the poster!). The success of the event lies on every little piece working together nicely to bring about a nurturing and educating experience for its participants and facilitators.

3. Create a separate coordinating team for the participants.

Communicating to speakers is difficult enough while studying up on the event background (especially if you’re very new and unfamiliar in the field), once you get started sending out invitations for at least 10 speakers, you’ll be busy replying to emails and adjusting the program. A separate team or individual can manage the invitations and answer the calls and texts of excited attendees while you answer the questions of your guest speaker.

4. Create a separate team for technical needs.

It’s difficult to start planning technical requirements like venue, food, print materials and Internet services when you’re not sure if people will show-up. You’ll tend to panic and focus more on the attendance and resource speakers ’cause that will make the event run, with or without a roof! But to make sure that you do get a nice shade, some food and hopefully, a wireless Internet connection, you must have dedicated people that will focus on these details. They don’t need to work on this full time. Planning and taking care of these details might take at least a full week of work and subsequent follow-ups of a couple of hours or half-a-day every week.

5. Get the job done!

For now I have five tips… I’ll make sure I’ll have the other five on managing the event itself and documentation by the end of the week. Hope these reminders will be useful to new event organizers out there!

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