Picture this, a third year Event Management student going into the first dissertation lecture during their final year at university, absolutely no idea what topic to spend the next 6 months writing about, knowing there is a non-negotiable deadline and then being told “you need to write your conclusion before you write the introduction”. I was that student, sat in a lecture room, with a slightly raised pulse and wondering how on earth you can start with an ending.

It’s fair to say at that point I didn’t think I would see deadline day with a scrap of paper let alone a 10,000 word dissertation. It was by far the longest project I had ever undertaken. So I did what any normal person feeling the pressure would do, I panicked momentarily, and took a deep breath and got stuck into planning the next 6 months of the project that would take over my life.

Upon leaving university and entering full time work I realised that I naturally excelled at project management out of that forced learning environment. Suddenly those 6 months of work on my dissertation, and the words of my lecturer, really started to echo in my mind.

While university projects and client projects differ in their content I realised that the principle was exactly the same. When project managing an event, the end product or ‘conclusion’, in a literal sense of the word, is your go live date. The point of no return when your guests start to arrive or your branded vehicle finally gets on the road. The only feasible way to get there is to work towards the date and that’s the principle I apply to project management. If I have deadlines contracted to a venue, I work backwards to ensure I have client sign off on any decisions ahead of these dates.

Printers, for example, will have specific deadlines, so again, I work backwards to get sign off on the creative with the worst case lead times given. Not to mention the other aspects that fall under this term: people and budget management or the timeframes of our digital team.

If it’s a fairly straightforward project with minimal deadlines with just myself keeping track then I use one of my trusty Excel spreadsheets (and if you read my last blog you will know how much I LOVE those). For more complex projects, it’s a shared document with any number of multiple users linked to it to keep everyone in the loop. I use it as my central document for the whole project, making any notes and keeping track of a specific task’s status to ensure that the deadlines are kept to. But here’s the thing, even the best laid plans can go wrong. It’s not necessarily something within your control, but ultimately there’s always the risk that something or someone can throw a spanner in the works. So what do you do when it all goes ‘Pete Tong’?

Firstly, your plan needs to be flexible enough to allow for contingency to give ‘buffer time’ should you need it. Secondly, you always need a Plan B, which essentially comes from experience and having a great team around you to pass on their knowledge. Last but not least, you have to be that serene duck – who looks calm and collected on the surface, but underneath frantically working away to get the project back on track. So back to the dissertation, what did I learn from the experience?

That long term (or even short term) project management doesn’t have to be daunting and that sometimes it’s best to go against what you think is natural and to start at the end, because ultimately that’s where you’re going to end up. And if you get Corporate Innovations on board? You can guarantee a herd of swimming ducks working behind the scenes to make your project a success.