Wrike is excited to welcome Krystal from GoSkills for today’s guest blog post. Krystal does all things marketing at GoSkills, an online learning company that helps anyone learn business skills to reach their personal and professional goals. When she's not at work, you can find her listening to podcasts or watching comedy specials on Netflix.  

With a GoSkills.com subscription, members receive personalized courses consisting of bite-sized and interactive content. For businesses, GoSkills provides a flexible learning platform for training teams of any size. It is the chosen Learning Management System (LMS) for over 600 businesses, including Fortune 500 companies and SMEs. Check out Wrike’s guest post on their blog to learn more about Professional Services Industry Productivity best practices.

Project managers and event planners have more in common than you might think. Both work on things that have a start and end date and require coordination between multiple people and teams to pull off.

So when facing down a complex to-do list, event planners can channel their inner project manager to run events like a well-oiled machine. Here are 8 of our top project management tools and tricks that your event planning team can start leveraging today.

1. Identify the event goals and constraints

If you’re an event planning professional services company, start by speaking to the client hosting the event to find out exactly what they want to achieve. Or if it’s an event your internal team is planning, meet with the stakeholders within the company to set goals. These goals can be tangible (e.g., selling a certain number of tickets or raising a certain amount of funds) or intangible (e.g., raising awareness or recruiting potential employees).

During these meetings, outline the constraints around budget, time, and other resources. If your team is funneling in new events constantly and finding it a challenge to prioritize, using request forms in your project management tool ensures your team receives all the needed information right at the beginning. A request form can act as a template that documents all the goals and constraints, making your meetings with stakeholders seamless.

When planning the event, periodically refer back to these goals to ensure that you and your teams’ efforts are directed toward these goals.

Knowing the goals and constraints of a project can be helpful as it narrows down the search for you. Tougher constraints, such as limited finances or planning time, can be tricky to navigate, but it also means that you have an opportunity to get creative.

Once you have your budget, make sure you stick to it by documenting everything that will cost money. Note down-payment deadlines and remember to keep some wiggle room for any unexpected expenditures.

2. Make a list of everything you need to do

Now that you know why the reason behind the event, it’s time to figure out the event requirements. For example, if you’re hosting a conference, you’ll need to find a venue that has a stage and audio/visual equipment.

Identify all the steps to get from the idea of an event to the actual event. Break those steps into smaller, bite-sized tasks and assign due dates to them in an event calendar template.

Project managers often call this the work breakdown structure. This is essentially the master to-do list of the project. You can use event planning templates to make this task a little easier. Breaking everything down will not only make planning an event more manageable but will also make it easier to assign tasks and track progress.

Another handy tool when planning out projects is a Gantt chart. It allows you to visually demonstrate dependencies between tasks (e.g., you can’t send out invites until you have made an invitation list). By viewing tasks visually, you’ll be able to easily pinpoint bottlenecks and potential delays.

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Image is a screenshot from Wrike’s template for Event Planners

3. Utilize your soft skills

Experienced project managers know how to lead, negotiate, and communicate well. As an event planner, these 3 skills will serve you too.

You’ll likely be in charge of a number of people throughout the duration of the project. It‘s essential that you’re confident in the decisions you make and are able to lead your team closer to the finish line.

Depending on the event, you may also be working with vendors. It’s in your best interests to be good at negotiating, as it can result in budget savings and shorter timelines for deliverables.

Finally, communication is a cornerstone skill that can help you in any profession. However, when it’s done well within project management, it results in happy and well-informed stakeholders and a team that’s on the same page.

Extra credit: When you’re in the thick of planning an event, it can be challenging to maintain consistent communication with your team, vendors, or other stakeholders. However, if you make communication a habit (e.g., a weekly roundup email to everyone involved) or create a communication schedule, you can take the “thinking” work out of the process. Another great way to help communication is to keep it all in one place within a collaborative project management tool. Using a tool like Wrike means that you can seamlessly communicate with all stakeholders from one centralized location.

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4. Set deadlines and milestones

Deadlines are fixed dates that (usually) can’t be moved, like the due date for a venue down payment or hiring caterers.

Milestones are like a goal post you can use to measure the progress of the planning. For example, selling a certain number of tickets a month before the event.

Set milestones and deadlines backward from the event date (e.g., timing speeches two weeks before the event, signing contracts with speakers 1 month before that, and searching for speakers 3 weeks before that).

5. Create a scope (and guard it)

Project scope is essentially a document of the specific project goals, deliverables, tasks, costs, and deadlines. Once you have the scope nailed down, guard it with all your might.

Clients and other stakeholders may want to make changes while you’re in the thick of it, which is fine as long as these changes are reflected in the budget and schedule and staff members are made aware.

However, if there are frequent changes that aren’t formally accounted for, it can be disastrous or the event. You may run out of funds, time, and support from your staff or (shudder) all 3.

6. Track progress

Use the Gantt chart and the list of milestones you created to track the progress of the event. Do this periodically (weekly or more frequently) to keep an eye out for bottlenecks.

If you do foresee any delays, assign more resources and manpower as needed. Real-time dashboards and automatic notifications keep both team members and clients in the loop.

7. Account and prepare for risks

Great project managers are experts at anticipating risks. With events, there are many unpredictable factors. Traffic jams and bad weather don’t stop for anyone, which is why you need to build a contingency plan for everything.

Make sure that your team has copies of said contingency plan so the success of the event isn’t solely resting on your shoulders. Having a single source of truth for communication and collaboration can ensure everyone knows their roles and feels like they are being held accountable.

On the day of the event, there’s a ton going on behind the scenes, and you don’t want guests to notice! Running through the event with staff and volunteers a week in advance will help everything run smoothly.

8. Learn and adapt

Get as much feedback as you can. This can begin as early as the planning stages. Were there vendors that were exceptionally easy to work with? Was there a team member that didn’t pull their weight?

Take note and apply your findings to your next event.

While you’re at the event, take some time to speak with attendees to find out what worked and what didn’t. A week or 2 later, you can send a survey out.

You should also debrief your team. Collect actionable advice and thank them for their hard work. By analyzing what worked and what didn’t, you’ll prevent your team from repeating any mistakes on future projects and keep your clients happy.

Over to you

What are your favorite project management tips for event planning? Share them in the comments below.

If you’re interested in taking your project management skills to the next level, consider taking an online course. GoSkills project management courses deliver knowledge in bite-sized chunks so you can retain information more easily and start planning your projects like a pro.