Each week, project management veteran Tom Mochal provides valuable advice about how to plan and manage projects. Tom first describes a common problem scenario, based on real-life situations. He then offers a solution, using practical project management techniques.

Project managers working on large, multifaceted projects or programs have a tough job on their hands. Not only must they monitor progress and manage the schedule, budget, scope, etc., they’re often also stuck with mundane tasks that steal precious time away from the larger task at hand. On larger, more complicated projects, enlisting the aid of a project administrator to handle routine tasks may be the answer.

The dilemma
Bill and I have been meeting every other week to review his current program (multiple related projects)—a manufacturing software implementation at our new plant. Bill recently relayed a common frustration: finding the time to keep up on all the organizational and planning work required to manage a project.

“I’ve been working 12 hours a day to get this program organized,” Bill said. “I don’t know how I can keep it up. We have five subprojects going on simultaneously. I don’t need to manage the details of each project, but I need to be able to roll the workplans together to ensure that the entire program is proceeding on schedule.”

“Do you think you’re personally providing value by consolidating workplans from the individual projects?” I asked.

“No way,” Bill said. “I’m also not providing much value when I’m trying to get status reports from project managers on time or when I’m collecting monthly statistics. I could delegate some of these jobs to the project managers that report to me, but that’s only shifting the workload. They’re very busy, too.”

“On most projects, these routine activities are just a part of the project manager’s job,” I noted. “They’re not sexy, but they just need to be done.

“But your program is larger and more complicated than most,” I continued. “Its size makes it complex and time-consuming to manage. On the flip side, the large size may also give you the flexibility to delegate routine project tasks to another person. Let’s talk about the possibility of assigning a project administrator to your project.”

Mentor advice
It’s commonly estimated that proactive project management activities add 15 percent or more to the total project effort. For example, if you estimated that a project would take 2,000 hours to deliver, add another 300 hours for project management. The most important proactive project management tasks involve managing the schedule, budget, issues, scope, quality, risk, and so on.

There’s no question, however, that part of the job involves routine follow-up and “administrivia.” This type of work might represent a third of that 15 percent, or five percent of the total. On most projects, the project manager can complete this routine work. But on a large project or program, this five percent can account for a lot of hours, and thus may be significant enough to justify enlisting the aid of a project administrator.

On Bill’s project, for instance, a project administrator can merge the detailed project workplans into one overall program workplan, ensure that information and reports are submitted on time, gather relevant statistics, distribute reports, and arrange for travel. Because Bill’s program is so large, he should utilize a project administrator on a part-time basis to perform these routine activities. This will free up more of Bill’s time to provide guidance to project managers and perform the proactive program management required to ensure that the entire initiative is completed successfully.

Project management veteran Tom Mochal is director of internal development at a software company in Atlanta. Most recently, he worked for the Coca-Cola Company, where he was responsible for deploying, training, and coaching the IS division on project management and life cycle skills. He’s also worked for Eastman Kodak and Cap Gemini America, and has developed a project management methodology called TenStep.

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