Month: June 2016

What all project managers want project assistants to know

and are too shy or too “busy” to say it. 

This text comes with No obligation to subscribe. From either side. These are based purely on my observations and project assistants’ feedback I got over years. 

We are Sorry for being plain ignorant about what you do. The systems you process payments in, the logs you enter data in, the time it takes for the next in line to process our requests etc. We may act as we know it though. Do not hesitate to tell us about the impact (ex ante please) of these on project activities. You may get us listening if you tell us that it takes more than 24 hours to get a contract processed and approved by people beyond your control. 

We value you as gate keepers. You let what is important to get in and keep the rest respectfully out. If you have doubts about what’s important, just ask. Same is valid for info flowing off the project office. You may become privy to many internal situations, which need to remain internal. E.g. a notification about a consultant’s contract termination, interview panel debates, tender boards discussions. 

We love to delegate. Even those who deny it, agree off the record. Projects are complex beasts so knowing that we can “eat an elephant a bite at a time” is relieving. If we do not communicate the level and extent of delegation in a clear, concise and compeling way, tell us. 

We trust you and rely on you. This is why highest ethical standads of professional behaviour are expected. In case of doubts and dilemmas, just ask. Ask your project manager or Human Resources. You are part of the team so your reputation is the team’s reputation. The opposite is equally true. You are entitled to demand highest ethical standards from us. 

You are a project assistant, not a personal assistant. It is therefore ok to say No to any personal requests such as “make me coffee”, “call me a taxi to take me somewhere personal”, “order flowers for my wife/partner/girlfriend/boyfriend//mother/lover” and other alike. “Please, can you order a taxi, for us to get on time to the meeting” is a project matter. 

We may get into tough love if there is any danger or risk for the project. Try not to take it personally. It is usually short and a one time occurance, as any events in projects. If it gets into a tendency or shows signs of becoming recurring, tell us. 

We thank you for investing time and effort into your professional growth. Ask us or Human Resources about training opportunities. Ask for coaching or mentoring, if you feel that you need one. We may not be the best coaches or mentors, but we may know someone who fits the role. 

We have at least one thing in common: the word “project” in our job titles. This makes us accomplices. Whatever happens, you need to know that we got your back. Because it’s mutual. 

PM feat. PM

The story of a project with two project managers, who

– are on linear relationship within the organisation,

– have pretty much the same job description,

– share the time and energy of one assistant,

– work with the same client, but at different dynamics. One is there daily, at a phone call or walk-in distance, in the field, as it is called. The other is 2000 km away, visiting from time to time.Scenarios can differ. The questions remain: how to stay sane, enjoy the experience and bring the project to a succesful completion.

As in any work relationship, three things matter: professional communication, ethics and chemistry, as once put it my dear colleague Peter. Project work is no exception.
It is professionally expected and desirable to communicate well right from the beginning, aspiring to set an optimum framework. Sort of who does what and when. Sometimes it is possible to get it straight from the very beginning. E.g. I write the reports for the steering committee, you communicate with the beneficiaries; you do the welcoming remarks, I wrap-up the event. Sometimes, you take the situations as they come. E.g. you call the client and i follow-up with an email for the event’s invitations. The role of the project assistant is undeniably critical. He/she needs to always make sure both project managers get the same info at the same time.

It is ethical to create and project an image of equal effort and equal responsibility. No naming and shaming for whatever happens in the project. And projects can get pretty cheeky. It is important that your supervisors see that. It is critical that your partners and project beneficiaries see that. They will mirror your collaborative and cooperative style, we try so hard to teach them in development management. So, try to manage by example.

And, last but not least, the chemistry. It is either there or not. Although you can get inspiration from “Memoirs of a Geisha”, a historical novel by the American author Arthur Golden, published in 1997. No, it is not a project management book, but gives plenty of inspiration on human interaction not requiring anything physical. Listen, communicate, exemplify loyalty to your job and profession.

Feat. is for harmony. Projects are no exception. If it still does not seem to work, choose a musical or any other “partners in crime” duet you both like to get inspiration. I like Eros Ramazzoti feat Anastasia.  

Try to make it work, at least for fun and for the opportunity of learning more about yourself. It will not always work. I admit, i try to practice what i post, to the extent i can. 

It is fun as you get to play the good guy-the bad guy game. Or allow yourself to disconnect, while on leave as you know that your partner-project manager has your back. 

“Successful Project Management” by Trevor L Young

I was in a library when I got a phone call from a client across the ocean who wanted my services for a project’s monitoring and evaluation assignment. I knew the country and the project and gladly accepted the job. As our conversation ended on a positive note, my eyes fell on a book. It had the word “succesful” in its title. It resonated with my aspiration for the upcoming assignment. So I bought “Successful Project Management” by Trevor L Young. It is among my first books on project management. It still has my notes made on post-its inside.

The book is based on the presumption that the reader has already some experience of involvement in one or more projects. I think it contains valuable guidance on project management for beginners. And not only. I get back to it from time to time to refresh my basics or to get inspiration in explaining more complex issues to a non-project audience.

The book starts with explaining how success is or can be defined in the projects environment. It takes you then to “The climate for success” and then introduces one by one the key steps in the project process for success. It focuses a great deal on managing risks and the planning stage of the project, two critical areas in a recipe for success. Each book section contains a “Watchpoint” to draw attention to usually forgotten basics or critical issues.  It offers a list of standard formats for data recording and a list of Further Reading I keep finding handy in day-to-day project life.

Back to my assignment, the book helped me produce a structured and well articulated evaluation, based on which the client decided to recover the project. So it went from “near-to-failure” to a success and innovation example, to the satisfaction of the client and the beneficiary.

The glory of the project management glossary

The head of a Project Management Office found this email in his Inbox one lovely  morning:

“Dear Andrew,

thanks for putting together a great project team. img_0944

I have though a feeling there is an alien on the team. “Milestones”, “benchmarks”, “critical path”are only a few of the sounds coming out of his mouth that I was able to record. And there was something about something broken.

Please either send it with an interpreter or  just give it an user-friendly upgrade.




Sounds familiar? The “alien” was the new project manager, with his shining  top-of-class graduation certificate, ready to impress. I easily recognise the junior-me in this “alien”. Believing i can impress with an ammunition of fancy terminology. It did not get me credibility. It only increased the gap between me and team members, partners and beneficiaries. The results were misunderstandings, miscommunication and other easily preventable issues.

It took me some years of practice to speak the audience language, for projects sake. And my job’s sake. Written project documents are still loyal to the fancy project management glossary.

It will make you feel as going back to ABCs. And rightly so. Your audience will appreciate it. Couple of examples:

I speak of

– Intended effects to explain “the project objective”.

– What the project intends to produce to explain “outputs”.

– The project To Do List to bring the “work breakdown structure” in the discussion (that broken something, Nick mentions in his email).

– The logical flow in a project’s life for communication and accountability when bringing in the “logframe”.

– Process documentation when bringing “logs” (communication log, risk log) into communication.

To explain my role, I say “I am the person who brings resources together to achieve the intended benefit within the timeframe of the project”. I thus became a less of an alien around the table. Although, sometimes it is fun to be an alien.

Drawing – courtesy of my daughter, Sofia.