An Assistant’s Guide to Project Management

Mar 5, 2019 | Organization, Procedures

Many assistants balk when they hear the term “project management.” Being asked to take on a large project can seem overwhelming, especially if it’s something that falls outside your typical job description. But all project management really entails is breaking the big, complex goal into smaller, more manageable chunks. For this, organization is key.

At All Things Admin, we periodically conduct Five-Day Challenges on topics ranging from professional portfolios to procedures manuals and beyond. At the beginning of every challenge, the participants are filled with trepidation and we field dozens of messages and comments along the lines of, “I’ll never get all this done in a single workweek!” At the end of each challenge, those same participants are absolutely amazed at the progress they have made in such a short amount of time – all while performing their regular work duties as well!

The secret to the success of these challenges? An action plan. Each morning, our participants get an email detailing what needs to be done that day. By breaking a big task into smaller pieces, it seems easier to accomplish – and whether you realize it or not, each of those small pieces is getting you a step closer to your goal.

Create Your Action Plan

To create your plan of action and get things organized at the outset of any project, you need to answer these questions:

  1. What are the end goals of the project?
  2. When is it due? Are there any built-in “checkpoints” or internal deadlines that need to be met?
  3. Who is the lead on the project? Who is responsible for key decisions? Who should you contact if you’re unsure of something?
  4. What tasks need to be completed to achieve the end goal?
  5. Who should be involved? (Include members of different departments or outside support staff – for instance, remote team members or IT staff.)
  6. What resources will you require? Is there a set budget for the project? What office supplies are necessary for you and other members of the team to get the job done?

Now, you can begin to work backwards and create your custom plan of action. Develop a realistic timeline and communicate it to everyone involved with the project. This will keep you and your team accountable to each other and constantly moving forward toward your goal.

Create Systems for Staying Organized

Once you have developed a plan of attack to move your project from conception to completion, it’s time to get organized.

What tools do you need for organization, and which do you already have at your disposal? Are there forms, templates, or checklists that you can recycle from previous projects? Will you be using dedicated project management software?

You also need to create a system to manage your time. Use time-tracking software or manually track your time each day to ensure you stay on schedule. If you stray from the schedule, make sure you “build in” time to catch up as soon as possible.

Organize your desk, paper files, digital files, and email inbox so everything is consistent. It’s all too easy for things to get misplaced or overlooked in piles of clutter. You should have designated spaces to keep your project materials separate from the rest of your work. Your paper folders should mirror your digital folders so you can easily find what you need when you need it in any format.

Remember, the ability to stay organized over the course of the project is key to being able to competently complete the project within the expected time frame.

Tips for Better Project Management

Keep the lines of communication open. All too often, admins tend to have an “I’ll do it myself” mentality, but regular status checks and meetings improve collaborative efforts and allow everyone to benefit from the experience.

Choose milestones to celebrate, and build them into your action plan. When you have something to look forward to, it makes the work more enjoyable.

Look for ways to improve. If you hit a roadblock, document it, as well as how you overcame it. This will create a resource for the next time you experience a particular hurdle.

Find a mentor. If this is your first time managing a large project, a mentor can help you better understand the process. Even admins who have managed projects for years can benefit from a helping hand or someone to keep them accountable.

Expect the unexpected. Nothing goes smoothly all the time. If your system breaks down, treat it as a learning experience, fix it, and move on!

The term “project management” can instill fear in the hearts of even the most seasoned assistant – but when you utilize systems, stay organized, and develop a solid action plan, you’re sure to succeed!

This article first appeared in Executive Support Magazine, a global training publication and must read for any administrative professional. You can get a 30% discount when you subscribe through us. Visit the website at to find out more. Or to get your 30% discount, email and tell them we sent you.

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