Not every successful Family Office project has a project manager involved in it ― but they all should, and here is my view on why.
“Management is, above all, a practice where art, science, and craft meet.” ― Henry Mintzberg
What Can a Project Manager Do to Help a Family Office?
Now, I realize that I am a project manager myself, and I am kind of ringing my bell here. But why not read on to find out what advantages this approach might hold for your firm?
First, let’s think about the basics: a project manager is usually hired to plan a project. Duh!
But what does that mean? That can be different for every situation! The general gist is that he or she will collect the information needed to set up the perimeters to bring the desired result.
What Information? It Can Be:
- What skills are needed
- What deadlines need to be respected
- What external factors can influence the outcome
What’s in a Plan?
A project manager will make it all tangible in terms of milestones, and keep people accountable for their parts. He or she will make a plan, write things down and discuss it with the whole team. This ‘writing down’ part is already a big chunk of the work. People do generally know what they need to do to finish a project, but it makes it a lot easier to have things written down and to know who does what in which order. You can always adapt it and put in more details later, but having an initial plan to start with is worth a lot.
Planning Pays Off
As an example ― a gazillion years ago, in a previous job, I initiated project discussions with a weekly planner in Excel – yes, highly professional. We had several tasks that needed to be finished by a certain deadline. Two or three tasks had deadlines defined by other departments, but the rest was up to us. The weekly planner made it easier for the team members to decide together which week would be used for what tasks (it was not more detailed than that!). It gave them more structure and also gave more focus to specific tasks; they knew what they would be concentrating on, and when. I kept them accountable for what we had planned together in our regular calls. Part of their responsibilities also required them to work outside the office, so it was good to know when these weeks were planned; that way, I knew, and could also let others know, that during that time hardly any office work would be done. Everyone understood that answers to emails would be delayed during that time since team members had no access to their email during the day. That avoided a lot of bad blood which could have potentially spoiled the team’s respect for one another.
Big Teams Need Tools!
The bigger the team is, the more people are involved, or the more projects you have running in parallel, the more you need plans. With those plans come the planning tools.
Depending on the tools a company uses for project management, a plan will usually already trigger emails or other forms of notifications to people who are involved. They can’t forget the project with these constant reminders. However, someone needs to set all that up, and most employees do not want the extra administrative burden. Having a dedicated project manager keeps these systems in order, so the system is serving the employees, instead of the other way around.
To Give the Whole Planning Thing a More Positive Spin
- It will give employees more clarity
- It will give the work structure, and
- People can also plan their other activities better when they have clearly defined the tasks and deadlines of one project
Planning Benefits Both Employees and Clients
At The Cecily Group, there are a lot of steps in seemingly simple projects with a lot of moving parts. We as a Family Office deal with clients, trustees, banks, and their asset managers. Projects for our clients always have the highest priority, but we also have projects covering future ideas, tool improvements, and design topics. We want to evolve and be able to offer more to our clients. We are working on Family Council Cards at the moment. These are related to the Four Abundances and help clients make financial decisions together with their families. With such a wide diversity of projects, you need to plan well.
We Here at the Cecily Group Do Project Planning in Three Basic Steps
- First, we gather the projects we want to be working on and we prioritize them
- Then, we set up the project by dividing them into different tasks
- Finally, the tasks are assigned to a person, carry a deadline, and are put in the right order
This process ensures that the principal, or project owner, will be able to complete a project properly and on time.
Unique Abilities in Project Planning
What is very important to us is that these tasks fit the unique abilities of the assigned team member to make the most out of their skills, and to assure the best results for the projects. All projects and individual tasks are discussed with the whole team needed for that particular project – it’s important to get everyone on the same page. Do not be fooled; not all our projects are defined by client needs. We also have projects running that were triggered by one of our amazing team members. However, the planning process is the same for both types of projects. Once the project is set up, we follow up on the progress through a tool, but we also have regular call-ins with each person individually to check if all is still running as planned. Then, we adjust tasks or timelines as needed.
With our planning, we can give feedback at any time to the principal on the current stage of his or her project.
Project Managers Can Focus on Administration
A lot of creative minds out there hate the administration. Administration of tasks, administration of hours, administration of budgets, administration of administration. Yuck!
Now I am not saying a project manager is not creative, but the work of a project manager is, by nature, to administer things: they can do it so well that the administration of projects comes to life. Projects or tasks are kept alive by spending time with them, even if it sometimes requires some extra push by the project manager. Having someone focus on administration, rather than doing it at the last minute and in as quick a manner as possible, will help Family Offices to keep the administrative side of projects both orderly and error-free, saving time and money.
Keeping the Ducks in a Row
A regular call-in between the project manager and individual team members will first trigger the ‘Call with a project manager today, I need to get all my ducks in a row to be able to show what has been going on!’-reaction. This reaction usually stems from the fact that work has been done – but it has not been properly documented or administered. Since you know the project manager will potentially ask uncomfortable questions, you see to it that all is in order before the call. Or another reaction is, the person in question is so happy to have the call – because he or she knows that during that call all the administration will be taken care of – and it won’t be necessary to do it all alone. The project manager will pull them along. Both reactions to a planned call usually bring the same outcome: ducks are in order! This is what I do in our regular call-ins at The Cecily Group. I pull. In the time we have set up for the calls, we go through the tasks running or coming up soon and check if all is still OK planning-wise. Sometimes, we adopt a task. Administration done! I have a bit of an outsider’s view on the project – I see the project as a whole; the individual parts are up to the experts with their unique abilities and I trust their skills. I ask questions but I also try to motivate during these calls. We all work remotely, and human touch is hard to come by. I offer this on top of taking care of the pulling.
Don’t Overdo It
One thing to watch out for as a project manager though is: do not to become a team’s secretary! You are there to plan and push projects along, not to do the administration for them. I had one case in another company where a colleague was so happy to have me plan things and kept asking me what to do next. He did learn over time to take responsibility for his working weeks and stick to the plan we made, instead of ignoring it and calling me instead.
Controlling Time Management
People generally believe they have a good sense of how long something they do will take. But you would be surprised at how often they are wrong. It is very unprofessional to rely on your gut feeling when estimating the time needed for a client project, particularly in a Family Office where taxes and other financial deadlines are looming. You need to calculate it and for this, you need a plan. Hooray, here comes the project manager to help you out.
Time management is something we all need to be doing – but controlling it is where the project manager steps in. The smaller the task, the easier it is to estimate the time.
So What Makes the Time Estimation for a Project Easier?
The answer is, to break one goal into tasks that need to be completed on the way, and assess the time needed for those. Then, just sum them up!
After that, you need to start recording the real time spent on tasks. Only then will you be able to show the difference between how long somebody thought it would take as opposed to how long it took. This is needed to potentially adjust the expectations of clients as the project is running but also to be able to better estimate future projects.
Indicate Where the Problems Are
A project usually requires several people working on it. Yes, they talk to one another and hopefully point out potential problems. However, the project manager has more of a helicopter view of things: he or she is further away from the work itself and keeps an eye on all the things going on at once. He or she might check several projects at the same time, have the same people working on more than one project, keep deadlines, and know and communicate the budget constraints. If one project runs into trouble, others might be affected. A project manager can not only indicate where potential problems might arise but also take action to either prevent the problem or at least minimize its effect.
Project managers monitor the progress of projects to be able to ensure they run as smoothly as possible. If obstacles appear, the bumps need to be flattened out as soon as possible. In the past, I have seen problems arise from such simple things as the distribution of the workload: when too much work was put on one person’s plate, and then he was out of the office for a few days, things started to pile up fast. Also, things like public holidays in a specific country can cause issues, if they are ignored. Working in an international environment, you need to keep in mind that your Christmas or New Year is not the same as the Orthodox ones, or that Turkish employees get four days off to celebrate the Sacrifice Feast. If you need their skills and language knowledge for a project, you need to plan with their calendars to rule out avoidable delays. Nowadays even a small Family Office will have these issues, due to the high mobility of their clients.
Bring People Together
“Collaboration is the best way to work. It’s the only way to work. Everyone’s there because they have a set of skills to offer across the board.” ― Antony Starr
Ultimately, a project manager is only as good as the people working on the projects. In the best case, a project manager will join the right people together in a Family Office project, and magic happens. He or she will use his or her lobbying skills, connections, and knowledge inside the company to know which people to tap and win for a project. Under normal circumstances, more than one person is working on a project and a project manager acts as the glue holding it all together. The success of a project, in the end, should be celebrated as a team effort. After that, people will remember the good results of collaboration, and be open to working together again.
“Unity is strength… when there is teamwork and collaboration, wonderful things can be achieved.”― Mattie Stepanek
I would like to conclude my reasons for celebrating project managers with the following: add one to your Family Office team if you do not already have one! You should be convinced now that you need one. We are a very special breed of managers that enrich the life of the people working on projects managed by us!