Value-added project administration

In my last post, I mentioned that I didn’t want to be seen as the “mom” of the office. That reminded me of one of the sessions at SDA’s EDSymposium12. The speaker was doing a presentation on Project Delivery and he shared a video of what he called “PM Mom” (PM standing for project manager). Just for kicks, here’s the link to that video:  It’s pretty cool, and funny, especially if you have kids.  Go take a look at it now if you want, and then you can return to finish reading the rest of this blog.

So I worked at a large A/E firm, and I got the opportunity to work on a project team. That was my first introduction to project management/administration. They won the project and had to set up shop in another location to house the project team. I served as the admin support person, responsible for typing correspondence, doing the mail runs, running errands back and forth between the project office and the main office, serving as the receptionist, and doing just about any other admin-type tasks that needed to be done. It was my first time working solely for a project team and not supporting the entire main office. Life was good. That job was the first nudge that made me realize that working on a project was what I wanted to do—work on a project team, hopefully from the beginning of the project until the project was completed.

It was on that project that I first learned of the various project roles an administrator could do. In addition to my job of taking care of general project admin tasks, another admin person was responsible for helping with the subconsultant contracts.  At the time, I always thought of that position as number-crunching. You know how people sometimes classify themselves as a words person or a numbers person? I was learning that I’m definitely not a number-cruncher. Give me anything but playing with numbers all day and I’ll be a happy camper. Here’s proof: A manager offered me a promotion, which included a pay increase and title change, but I turned it down. Why? Because the position involved working with numbers. You had to make sure the consultant wasn’t going over budget (check their numbers against your numbers). You had to prepare the invoice (make sure the numbers add up to the total amount). You had to monitor cost-to-complete, and physical percent complete. Too much number-crunching for me. Give me words (typing reports, editing/proofing text, writing procedures), anything but number-crunching, please.

It was on that project that I also learned what drafters did. You know, the staff that drew up the plans (the drawings) the engineers needed. Back then, drafters were using computers, but there was this one drafter guy who still used pencil to create the drawings. That guy was absolute art in motion. He sometimes hand-drew drawings faster than the CADD (computer-aided design and drafting) staff. (I’m not going anywhere with this; just thought I’d tell you of that amazing pencil drafter. Hey, we could have called him the PADD staff.)

So I was project administration mode while working on that project. I said earlier that project administration was one of the five areas that the Society for Design Administration (SDA) focuses on. Some firms have staff they actually call project administrators (PAs) and those staff typically handle contracts/agreements, do the invoicing, track insurance requirements, handle project closeouts, track unbilled costs, and pretty much anything to help the project manager with the scope, schedule and budget of a project. There were two admins on that project—me, doing the general admin work, and the other person doing the PA work. I was so new to project work that I couldn’t think about the bigger picture of how I could begin to add value to the team, to the project, and to the client. It was all I could do to just keep up with my job, while still trying to learn about the mechanics of completing the project. And by that I mean what it takes to move a project from the design phase to the construction phase. Unfortunately for me (and I would like to think, unfortunately for the firm), I wasn’t on that project very long. Remember the manager who called me a name? I decided that I wouldn’t get anywhere else in that firm as long as she was my manager, so I quit to take another job, and I didn’t get to work on the project until its completion. However, I’ve since worked on enough projects that I can envision how an administrator can add value to the project, the team, and the client.

It’s all about adding value

As you gain more experience and come to understand the lifecycle of an A/E project and your job responsibilities, trust me, you will be able to add value. (Unless, of course, A/E/C administration isn’t your career, and you are just working for the paycheck and could care less about anything but putting in your 40 hours and getting the heck out of there.)

Think above and beyond your scope of work. Think in terms of what maybe hasn’t been done before. Think about the end users or the end results. What can you do that will make processes or procedures more efficient, or more routine? What can you do that will enable greater understanding of, for example, reports? What can you do that will become a best practice (a standard) for the next project?

Here are a few examples of added value:

Making processes and procedures more efficient/creating best practices:  Using Microsoft Word, I created a form to use for onboarding new team members. We needed to make sure they had their workstation assigned and set up with basic desktop accessories, their e-mail working, their keycard badge ready, and their welcome package ready; the things they needed in order to start working the day they arrived. So the form was the checklist for making sure all those things were taken care of.  And it was a form, which meant it was easy to use and fill in the fields. Later on, the person who took over that job added even more value to that checklist by turning it into an on-line form for completing all the information. Between my initial concept, and that person taking that one step further, we had a foolproof way of ensuring things were in order when a new team member started.

Enabling greater understanding:  I was responsible for keeping track of the number of cubicles and offices available for the project team.  The information was easy to understand in the table format it was in. However, knowing that some people are more visually oriented than others, I used Microsoft Excel to create graphs based on the information in that table, and I added additional information to show how many team members each consultant had on the team. Those graphs were much more easier-at-a-glance to understand than having to mentally convert the numbers in the table format.

Sometimes the little things an administrator does adds up to increased productivity. In your career, what have you done to add value to your firm, to your team, to the project, or to the client?