In the first Golden Nugget, we reviewed the importance of goals and objectives as the crucial starting point to achieve event success.  The second step is a detailed Critical Path, also known as a work plan.

Event management is a stressful activity – telling your participants to come back tomorrow or next week because you are not ready is not an option!  There are a myriad of tools that can be used to build a work plan from a “to do” list scribbled on a sheet of paper all the way through to an automated process using project management software.  To some degree, the process you use will be driven by the complexity of the endeavour and your comfort with the mechanism.  The basics remain the same however.  You need a plan to get you to the successful completion of the event.

With that in mind, work back from the start date of the event and plan all the components backwards.  For example, if something needs to arrive at the event facility the day before the first day of the conference, research shipping times based on the method of shipping you plan to use (air or ground) to determine the deadline for shipping.  If you are going to print a Final Program, generally allow two weeks for printing from the time of final artwork.  This means that you need to allow time before that for the graphic design of the final program which means that all the details in the program have to be confirmed before that.

When you are developing the work plan, it is best to focus on one component of the planning at a time.  For example, develop the list of tasks and timeframes related to logistics (and you can further break it down into subcategories such as audio-visual, room design, food and beverage, etc) and then do marketing and communications.

As you include all tasks that need to be accomplished in your work plan, consider who should “own” responsibility for it and assign this responsibility right in the work plan.  This way when you review the work plan (which you should do with all the members of your planning team on a regular basis), if someone is having a challenge meeting a deadline, you will know and be able to reassign resources or provide additional help.

Once you have completed the work plan, sort it in various ways (chronologically, by resource, by task area, etc.) to determine if you have accidentally created roadblocks.  If you find something that is scheduled to be completed after a task that depends on its completion is scheduled to start, adjust the timing of one or the other (for example speaker recruitment and program promotion).

Sometimes, your plan will have too many things happening at the same time which will likely result in a key task not being accomplished.  Periodically review the plan to see if there are different tasks scheduled to be started or completed at the same time and evaluate if the assigned resource(s) will be able to achieve the expected outcome.  If there is any doubt, add some time to the critical path for this task.  This will be an important component of your risk mitigation.

Events happen in real time so your work plan should be a living document.  Update it when circumstances change and tasks are completed so you are prepared if (and when) something doesn’t go as expected.

So remember the famous words, Plan to work and work to plan!  The quote may be anonymous, but a good plan will be remembered as yours.

Additional resources:

Sample Workplan template:

Written by Phil Ecclestone, CMP