InfoComm: Project Admin Support: Overhead or Force Multiplier?

Cost center 450x300 300x200 0313

Cost-center_450x300-300x200-0313Before anyone thinks I’m denigrating the importance of the administrative support function at an AV company, please read this entire post. I’ve worked with hundreds of firms and trained thousands of project managers, and I often see the project manager’s role full up with administrative tasks. These are in addition to (and sometimes instead of) important project management functions, such as making travel reservations for themselves and their project team; making copies of documents and getting them to the correct people; spending an inordinate amount of time in Outlook scheduling meetings; or taking minutes in those meetings and ensuring they get to the participants.

Important tasks? Absolutely.

But if project managers are busy doing these important tasks, what are they not doing? Proactively coordinating the interdependencies among a project’s subcontractors; ensuring that the deliverables preceding their teams’ tasks are on-schedule to be completed; identifying, assessing, preventing and/or responding to risk events; keeping all of the key stakeholder’s expectations aligned; managing the integrity of the performance management baselines; and requesting and implementing change requests when necessary.

Too many small and mid-sized (and some large) companies eliminate their project administrative support staff because they see it as a cost savings — a way to cut their overhead. They then add all those administrative tasks to the project manager’s role and assume they will magically get done. Now the project manager has two jobs, and in my experience, administrative tasks are not high on a project manager’s wish list or skill set. Especially for project managers who come from a technical background.

So what’s the myth of this overhead? I would much rather have a project coordinator or administrator, billing a project at $20 to $25 an hour, working on that first list of tasks, than have a project manager, billing out at $80 to $100 an hour, fulfilling those same tasks. Not to mention most good project coordinators can support more than one project manager.

Companies that utilize their project administrative staff well, and bill them to the project, usually see a cost savings to the project because it frees up the project manager to go and proactively solve problems and/or dramas, which typically increase the ultimate cost of a project.

So I’d like companies to consider: What’s really the role of a mature project manager? And what’s the true value of a project coordinator?

This column was reprinted with permission from InfoComm and originally appeared here.