The Secret to Reducing Event Planning Stress: Project Management Tools

Working with event industry experts from across the globe, EventMobi has developed a comprehensive event technology program called the Meetings and Event Technology Certificate (METC) that covers the full scope of event management. The program equips event planners with an end-to-end process for integrating event technology into meeting planning, helping them market themselves in the job market and bring value to their employers. In this METC blog series, you’ll learn everything you need in order to become an event management ninja, starting with project management. 

Success Starts with a Solid Project Management Process

As a meeting or event planner, you’re constantly being pulled in countless directions and putting out last minute fires. Being an event planner is so stressful that it ranks as #5 on Forbes Top 10 Most Stressful Jobs.  At any one time you could be working on multiple projects, all of which are operating on different lead times and have both short and long-term goals. You need to keep track of so much information that it’s quite possible that you spend most of the time feeling like your head might explode. 

One of the biggest challenges is making sure you’ve got a solid plan in place before you start organizing and executing. So to set yourself up for success and reduce your stress levels, the most important things that can help you during the planning stage is a solid project management process.

‘Event’ is Another Word for ‘Project’

An event really is like a project, with a finite length, a number of tasks and people, deadlines, and fixed budgets. For meeting planners, it can include activities, such as establishing timelines, acquiring permits, planning menus, establishing budgets, managing risk and developing contingency plans.

When planning your event, leveraging a project management tool is a huge asset because it allows you to not only record your objectives, but also to track them.

Project management tools are specialized software products designed to help project managers (aka event planners) plan, monitor and take corrective action on any facet of the project management process.

According to a report from Meeting Professionals International (MPI) and audio-visual company PSAV:

  • 15% of organizations surveyed said “they are lucky to have a process” in place when it comes to strategic planning for event technology
  • 36% mentioned that processes exist by project
  • 24% have organizational standards they can follow, and
  • 21% of all meeting planners organize and manage resources themselves

That being said, about a third of meeting and event planners are responsible for selecting event technology, including project management tools.

Project-managementSo in many ways, event planning is a specialized version of project management. Similar to projects, events often have many stakeholders, which means a lot of moving parts must work together. Event planners are highly mobile people who are often required to visit venues or be onsite the day of the event. And many event planners carry a binder (aka your “event bible,”), to hold documents related to the event, such as banquet event orders, documents outlining standard procedures, and supplier contracts.

The Benefits of Project Management Tools

Project management tools benefit meeting and event planners in a number of ways. They facilitate collaboration across multiple stakeholder groups, release planners from being bound to a physical space, and eliminate the need to carry heavy binders. They also provide real-time access to information that enables:

  1. Forecasting deadlines using historical data from previous events
  2. Calculating return on investment (ROI)
  3. Making projections
  4. Estimating resource allocations
  5. Predicting limitations and potential risks

But before you shop around for a project management software, ask yourself:

  • How many projects will you be working on and how large are they?
  • How many people will be working on the project at once?
  • Do you need mobile access (remote team members)?
  • How much do you want to spend?

Recommended Read: 12 Tips to Prevent Last Minute Changes at Your Event

Criteria for Evaluating Project Management Software

So now you’re aware of the reasons why using a project management tool will help you and your stress levels. The task is not to find the best project management software for your meeting or event, but to find the best software for you and your team, whether it is installed or cloud-based (SaaS).

Here are the key criteria to consider:

  • The tool’s user interface
  • The ability to manage all aspects of your project
    • Forecasting, budget, to-do list, task management etc.
  • Tracks time and issues
  • Offers analysis and reports
  • Enables better team collaboration
    • Sharing documents, sending out notifications, automated follow-ups

Once you’ve determined your must-have and nice-to-have features, figure out how much you want to spend. Cost also plays a determining factor when selecting the most suitable platform. Will a free solution work for you? Can you use a tool that includes is paid on a subscription basis? Or do you need a solution that has a monthly fee per user? Your organization’s needs will be unique.

Consider whether you want to commit to a long-term solution that you have to update manually or a pay-as-you-go option that updates dynamically. Upon answering these questions, you’ll start to narrow down and compare what’s available. Know that the terminology for features isn’t consistent throughout the event industry (ie. communication tools can refer to an in-project alert or sending an email, etc.)

Best Practices for Project Management Tools

So you’ve selected the best project management tool for your event. Now what?

You can now use the tool to collaborate and track milestones by creating tasks. Design tasks for meetings and events in small increments. Even the most complex events can be broken down into simple tasks and checked off a to-do list. It helps you avoid errors or oversights, and allows you to easily delegate tasks.

Just like defining objectives for your meeting or event, create tasks using the SMART formula: specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely. In addition to the SMART objectives, incorporate two other attributes into your task creation process:

 Personal. Every task should have one, and only one, assignee. No task can ever be done by two people at the same time. If it can, you probably want to create two subtasks!

Accountable. Tasks need to be accountable, meaning every team member can check on the project status and therefore strengthen the team through transparent project management.

After you’ve created tasks within the tool, we have some best practices in order for you to get the most out of your software.

Define Success and Set Milestones

Based on your overall meeting or event objectives, define project success in a clear and measurable way. Use the project management tool to track those specific targets and redirect resources as necessary.

Break down project milestones into small chunks of time. Take a closer look at the work hours logged, typically in 10-15 hour intervals. This reduces redundancies and allows you to make more accurate estimations, assign the proper resources and track progress more thoroughly. Review lessons learned from past programs and apply them appropriately.

Communication

Most project management tools come with their own communication systems built in. For example, as tasks are checked off, the project owner receives an email notification. It’s essential to align the built-in communication tool with your team’s existing practices to avoid confusion and unnecessary emails.

You can use the communication tool to automate follow-up messages as deadlines approach for your staff. Use the comment function to remind your team members of upcoming deadlines, instead of walking over to their desks or picking up the phone.

Sit down with your team, and make sure everyone understands and abides by the rules you have established within your project management tool.

Summary

Project management may also be seen as a synonym for event planning since both include multiple stakeholders, dependencies and timelines. Within the world of project management tools, you can choose between cloud-based or installed software solutions, but it’s notable that installed products are on the decline. (SaaS products are becoming more popular because they’re easily accessible and allow for collaboration.)

It’s best to write a list of must-haves and nice-to-haves to determine your organization’s needs and test drive products before making a purchasing decision.

Once you select a tool, you need to create effective tasks that will allow you to specifically state the expected outcomes and measure success. This way, you can collaborate with your team to achieve project milestones.

When you introduce a new project management tool, ensure that your team is aware of all its functionalities and set rules on how to communicate within the program. The goal is to integrate the new tool into your existing processes and allow for a smooth implementation and work process in the future.

Project management tools are just one aspect of how today’s planner is taking advantage of event technology.

To learn more about how you can become an expert in meeting and event technology, get certified today.

 

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