We all have that one home or personal project that is so overwhelming we just give up before we start. Maybe it’s deep cleaning your house, planning a family vacation, or moving to a new home. The excitement of success is overshadowed by the dread of not knowing where to start or how to make it happen. For some projects, we put it off, and for others (like moving) we make it happen even though it is stressful and overwhelming.
Similarly, professional projects can be overwhelming and stressful without effective project management to guide you through the process. Developing and growing this skill will ease the stress of a project-big or small, personal or professional-and make your life, and your leader’s, that much better.
Read on to learn why EAs are project management experts, the five steps of successful project management, more tips to pull off a successful project, and more.
Why an Executive Assistant is a project management expert
An Executive Assistant is in the unique position to lean into project management for their leader(s). This can range from a solo project like cleaning out their inbox, to complex collaborative projects like starting a whole new business. Your executive relies on you, trusts you, and knows that your attention to detail, strategic thinking, and follow-through are what set you apart.
Executive Assistants already have the necessary skills and specific business knowledge to build plans, so when you apply your core EA skills to project management you are setting yourself, and your leader, up for a win.
What is project management?
Project Management is more than just keeping track of tasks and timelines. It is a leadership role that involves strategic thinking, managing competing priorities, and a proactive mindset.
Projects will range from simple (ie. recurring fundraising campaigns) to complex (ie. starting a new office in a new location). But no matter the project, the foundations are the same: Initiate, Plan, Execute, Monitor and Control, and Complete.
The five steps of successful project management
Initiate – Before you do anything else, you need to determine the reason, value, and feasibility of the project. This includes asking questions of the proposed project and looking at it from all angles. Ask for stakeholder input and assess the cost and benefits of the project before even starting. You can have a great idea-but if there is no solid business reason for it, it’s not a good project. Once you have identified the cost, benefit, and purpose of a project, you can move on to the planning phase.
Plan – In this phase of project management you are building the framework. This includes a detailed timeline, breakdown of tasks and responsibilities, cost, individual goals, and finally deciding on which personnel will be involved and what types of organization and communication will be used. Detailed and proactive planning that looks beyond individual goals to the ideal end result will make or break your project.
Execute – Once you have a solid plan in place, it’s time to make it happen! While the project may be challenging, with the proper plan this phase will be a piece of cake. Knowing what to do, when to do it, how to organize communication, and how to manage ownership takes much of the stress and guesswork out of complex projects.
Monitor and Control – As you progress through the project plan utilize project management tools to help you monitor and control the project. These tools give accountability and transparency to others involved, and are an easy place for your leader to see progress. Good tools will also ensure your productivity, tasks are completed on time—and track tasks that are stalled. They are an essential way to ensure stakeholders are all on the same page.
Complete – After the project has come to its end, finish strong by reviewing the process, deliverables, and roadblocks. Be sure to note learnings for the next project, as any process can be improved. Finally, communicate the wins to your leader, and any other contributors, celebrating their accomplishments. This will set a fantastic tone for continued growth and improvement!
Tips to pull off a successful project
Think ahead and always plan for the worst. Anticipate the questions and concerns that stakeholders will have and proactively address them by building them into your proposal. Will the HR team be nervous this new location will increase their workload? Include an item in your plan about staffing up and anticipated HR changes. This will show the stakeholders that you are aware of their priorities and are considering them.
Live in the details. While you may be managing the overarching project you still need to live in the details. When you do this, nothing will catch you off guard! The details will help you anticipate budget, deadline, or outcome changes and plan accordingly. Staying current on the details of the project will also help you answer any questions that arise before they are even asked. For example, if the technology budget is running over, you’ll be able to switch to a different service and alleviate the problem before it becomes an issue!
Collaborate with others. While some projects are accomplished solo, many projects will involve a small team. If you’re at the helm, always look for ways to leverage your team’s strengths. Do you have a finance wiz? Delegate the budget oversight to them. If you have someone who is a visionary but struggles with the day-to-day, pair them with a team member who can help them stay focused. Always remember to ask for your team’s input-you’ll be surprised with the creative solutions they come up with! You may know the deliverables you’re after and think you have the best way forward, but opening yourself up to feedback and new ideas can only help improve the outcome.
Get comfortable leaning on technology
If you are new to project management, make a conscious effort to develop your skill set and look into project management tools and platforms to get comfortable with them. Many of these tools are now AI-powered, which make your job even easier and ensures you keep your technological skills sharp. Find the one that works best for you and learn how to use it well. The nice thing is that most of these platforms share similar core functions with minor interface differences. Master one, and be comfortable with others!
Think back to the beginning of this article. Was there a personal project that came to mind? Use that as a practice run for those project management skills and tools! Practice will build confidence in your skills and knowledge so you can become a Project Management expert (and you’ll get something out of it too)!
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