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The Peanut Butter and Jelly Approach to Event Project Management

If I asked you to list, in detail, all of the steps for making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, what tasks would you state? Try it…

Did you include the specifics? How granular did you get?

For example, your task list might look something like this:

  • Clear an area on the counter for sandwich assembly
  • Gather one loaf of sliced Wonder brand whole grain bread
  • Gather Mr. Nutty’s all natural peanut butter
  • Gather one squeeze bottle of Smuckers grape jelly
  • Grab a butter knife
  • Untwist the tie on the bread packaging
  • Remove two slices of bread (skipping the unwanted heel)
  • Lie the two slices of bread on the cleared area of the counter side by side (one on the left and the other on the right) with large, flat side up
  • Open the jar of peanut butter
  • Use the butter knife to put approximately 2 tablespoons of peanut butter on one side of the slice of bread on the left
  • Set that slice of bread back on the cleared counter with peanut butter up
  • Pick up the other slice of bread
  • Squeeze approximately 1 tablespoon of jelly on the front side of the bread (not the crust edges)
  • Place the jelly side of that slice on top of the peanut butter side of the other slice with the tops and bottom edges aligned
  • Eat, already – you’ve worked hard!

Chances are the list above is different from yours. Perhaps you thought about a different brand of products. Or, perhaps you continued going into detail about how to cut the crusts off if you’re feeding a child (or yourself – I don’t judge!), or you outlined all of the clean-up tasks, and so on.

Some tasks on my list may have seemed so obvious they were unnecessary to list, but imagine what could have happened without the minutiae. If the details around using sliced, whole grain bread weren’t included, you could find yourself smearing peanut butter and jelly on top of an entire loaf of Italian bread! Now, hopefully quality testing (the sandwich eater, in this case) would reveal the errors, but re-work is costly.

From sandwich creation to event management

task-sequencingWhile less critical than constructing a sandwich, project managing your events requires a similar breakdown of tasks and understanding of the details.

However, depending on the event project at hand and your level of experience managing a particular event, you may not have the expertise to know every task that needs to take place or which sequence of tasks make the most sense. In which case, there are a few ways to resolve this issue.

History can help

As a first step, if available, you can research historical data about the previous year’s event or to see if a similar project has occurred, and review the tasks and sequences. Then, adjust your project schedule using that data. Each project is unique and while you may not have an exact task match, you can make it work if the projects have enough similarity.

However, what can an event project manager do there isn’t any history available?

Call on the experts

The subject matter experts (SMEs) and stakeholders of the project are valuable resources. As outlined in a Project Management Institute article called The ABCs of SMEs, “Skilled SMEs can help project managers circumvent much of the uncertainty that comes with getting a project off the ground.” The SME knows the technical processes and works within the project area on a daily basis. Who knows more about what it takes to get a peanut butter and jelly sandwich made than the person who makes it every day?

SMEs are aware of the granular tasks and sequencing of them, so use their expertise to develop your timeline and sequencing so important tasks aren’t missed. Avoid rework by listing the tasks out to a granular level with the assistance of your SMEs.

Task sequencing: The best thing since sliced bread

As a project manager, I have seen seemingly simple tasks turn into long, drawn out initiatives. And adversely, I have seen people take months to do something that could have taken a fraction of the time with the right task sequencing.

It’s important to get the work breakdown structure somewhat granular from the start, but not to the point that it is more work to manage the project schedule than to do the tasks.

What do you think? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Feel free to contact me via email or connect on LinkedIn or Twitter. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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