You would like to venture into project management and do not know where to start. Perhaps you are not sure what requirements are essential, or what responsibilities a project coordinator has.
To help you along your path, I will share part of my history as a project coordinator in implementing electronic instrumentation solutions and telecommunication services and explain some of the relevant lessons learned during my role.
I’m Liliana from Colombia, now living in Canada. I first got my bachelor’s degree in Electronics Engineering, followed by a Master’s degree in Sales and Marketing Management, finally received a Diploma in Project Management.
My passion is giving the best in all aspects of my life because mediocrity is not an option. I advocate environmental sustainability and respect for cultural diversity.
When I started my professional career as an electronics engineer, a company that offered electronic instrumentation solutions for Colombia hired me. My first role was as an applications engineer, where I gained technical knowledge of a variety of measurement instruments.
Soon after, I was assigned to support the sales area, and I began to accompany the salesperson to visit clients to resolve technical concerns. That accompaniment role was perfect for me, and you might be wondering why.
It was because I learned how the salesperson offered solutions, and I saw his ability to negotiate and listen carefully to what the client wanted. After two years, the manager promoted me to a sales engineer. In a short time, I achieved positive results in winning contracts.
The contracts began to arrive, and the manager asked me to assist him in the execution.
Without realizing it, I was going to start coordinating projects – without being a Project Coordinator
But how did this happen?
My manager saw in me leadership, communication, and organization skills. Also, something important that I want to highlight is those innate skills that make us unique, which are not extraordinary. When these skills come together, they create a notable difference in our performance in any job we do.
Another relevant aspect to having excellent performance and being successful is motivation. Motivation is the engine that drives us to do things. It can be family, money, or simply giving the best of yourself in the service of others.
In my case, these three sources of motivation are still fundamental, but what most hooked my attention was travel. I knew that if I were successful, I would travel more, which fascinated me, and it filled me with great joy and satisfaction every time I got on a plane.
Besides the above, my alignment with the company’s vision, the excellent treatment I received, the recognition of my achievements, and the love of doing my best were essential factors for successfully coordinating projects and developing self-confidence.
As part of my duties as a sales engineer, I was also carrying out the role of project coordinator. Have you experienced this? You do many things under one role, but some of your activities belong to another position. Well, in my country it is pretty frequent. I am going to mention some functions that I exercised in the role of coordination, among which I highlight:
- Participating in planning for the project execution
- Maintaining frequent communication with stakeholders to report the project status
- Managing and reporting the activities carried out by staff in the field
- Supporting the procurement department in reviewing the completion of purchase orders
- Creating templates for the product quality checklist, identification of stakeholders, and their roles within the project
- Generating daily task reports
- Requesting permission to enter the client’s site
- Gathering the documentation required by the client to realize internal processes
- Coordinating follow-up meetings to schedule the deployment dates and establish the project’s priority within the control of changes
- Proposing alternatives for improvements to the processes in the area
- Following-up on the agreement levels defined with the supplier for the project
- Coordinating testing activities according to the project plan (scope, schedule, and quality)
The projects were executed and closed with the delivery to the customers’ satisfaction. However, mistakes sometimes impacted the project’s profits during the development, which could easily have been avoided.
The problem was that every time I worked on a new project, there were re-processes. I no longer liked this because I did not have training in projects. I needed to improve my performance and acquire knowledge to empower myself.
Despite my interest in improving, the workload was heavy and there was little time to study. So, I made a list of those repetitive failures to determine where the root of the problem was and how it could be solved.
Meanwhile, I was unknowingly organizing the lessons learned document, and I was increasingly involved in and dedicated to project management. Then I decided to manage another sort of project in telecommunication services in which the words project, planning, execution, monitoring and control, and closure were present.
That’s when a telecommunication services company hired me to coordinate xDSL ports expansion for internet access, software updates, and hardware modernization for Nokia 3G, 4G, and 5G technologies radio equipment projects.
The project coordinator must be familiar with the project. If it is a new subject, training is a good option. You do not necessarily have to be an expert, but you should have clarity in the terminology and basic technical concepts. It was then that the company sent me to specialized training where I had to be certified as an installation technician and then as a supervisor, as required by the client.
I forsook my heels and dresses for dielectric boots and jeans. I came to the classroom to start my training, and I found that I was the only woman among 15 men. Those men, who were experts in the installation and configuration of radio equipment, were the ones I was going to coordinate.
After getting certified, I was ready to coordinate eight work crews nationwide, each made up of two or three technicians. I was in charge of coordinating the entry permission to the stations, the dispatch of materials to each site, the transportation for the crew to urban and rural areas, and monitoring the budget. The challenge is to keep these four activities under control to avoid rework.
In engineering, rework means the unnecessary effort of redoing an incorrectly executed process or activity in the first instance caused by diverse mistakes such as omissions, uncontrolled changes, poor communication, and poor management (planning, organization.)
Rework leads to wasted time and costs that are likely not considered within the budget, affecting the project profits directly. Assuming is another fatal mistake in project coordination. The following is an anecdote that happened to me leading my first project in this company.
I received a communication to realize a central deployment in a rural zone. The centrals within the same geographical area have the same name, followed by a number—for example, San Bernardo 1, San Bernardo 2, etc. The entry permission had to be approved, and the arrival time of the materials needed to be in the morning. Everything was ready.
The personnel arrived at the central, located on top of a mountain with difficult access. It could only be reached on foot or by riding a horse, while carrying heavy equipment. The material also reached the headquarters.
I received a call from the client’s project coordinator to report that the staff was not there to receive the material, so I called them immediately, and they said, “We are waiting for the material, but it has not arrived!” The customer’s coordinator had dispatched the material to San Bernardo 1. However, the email communication received said, “Deployment approved for San Bernardo 4. “What caused the mix-up?
The coordinator did not review and confirm the dispatch. When the shipping label was printed, the number was not on it, and only “Saint Bernard” appeared, so when dispatching the material, the logistics department assumed that Saint Bernard was Saint Bernard 1.
In the shipment materials process, mistakes often happen when you think that everyone is doing their job well. However, you are the coordinator; you must verify it yourself. This is possible with a good work plan, organization in daily tasks, and maintaining frequent communication.
Technical knowledge is not enough! Organization and follow-ups are needed to ensure the work crew completes each task on time and within budget. You must review tasks in detail and confirm the work before dispatching resources to a site. Sometimes a central security department experiences a delay in obtaining the permission approval.
Thus, it is necessary to ensure that the time approved for the installations is sufficient since sometimes two days are approved, but one more day will be required. This would mean making a new visit and starting a new permission process, which takes time. At the same time, the work crew cannot be moved to another site until finishing the installation, causing additional expenses to the project for each day of delay.
One tip I want to share is to identify the key stakeholders within the project to keep them involved in decision making and maintain courteous communication. You never know when they can help you streamline internal processes and solve an event in order to achieve the least negative impact on scope, time and cost.
Studying project management helped me considerably as a coordinator and gave value to each of the plans, especially the communication plan and its role within the project. I learnt that, in project management, changes are inevitable. Not having the flexibility to make changes and failing to follow-up can trigger errors that affect the triple restriction—scope, time, and cost.
I conclude this story with some of the most relevant lessons learned during my career as a project coordinator.
- Delegate: You can delegate responsibilities to team members; it is part of management, while still coordinating their actions. Make each member of the team feel worthy and trust them. Find the perfect balance between the two.
- Double-check—Make sure the entire list of materials is complete and the shipping address also. One of the most costly and frequent mistakes is when the material reaches to a site and does not arrive complete.
- Avoid rework—Before sending a work crew to a central, ensure that the permits are approved, that the personnel carry their complete work equipment, including the work safety equipment, and that they have validated their height certification.
- Organize—Keep the documentation updated. Save all project information in an organized way that any qualified person can easily access. If you make a last-minute change, you must record it, document it, and advise the team.
- Empower—Project plans must be within reach of the team. Please do not allow the procedures to be archived; you have to make them available to the team.
- Communicate—Maintain effective communication between your client, your team and the relevant people in the company. Good communication leads us to cooperate with people, and thus coordination will be easier to achieve, leading to success in projects.
Are you ready for the project coordinator job?
I hope this article has transported you to time when I was a project coordinator, and given you more information about the role, responsibilities, lessons learned, and challenges. My take home message is that good planning, organization, communication, and innate skills are crucial in reducing the chance of future project mistakes and promoting success.
Specific names in this article are fictional.