Project management is often misconstrued as an activity that begins once the grant agreement has been signed off and the project begins. In reality, it begins far earlier than this – before you receive the results letter, before you click the submit button, and before you’ve even typed the first word in your proposal. It begins the moment you decide to apply for funding and lasts all the way through to when the timespan for retaining your project documentation elapses (this is typically five years after project completion). For EU-funded projects, the entire process can last anywhere between eight and twelve years.
Before the project begins
Before starting an EU funding application, you will need to ask yourself several important questions:
- Who do you need to partner with to deliver the project?
- What activities will you implement through the project?
- What will your deliverables and milestones be?
- How much funding do you need to deliver these activities?
- Do you need to recruit additional staff through the grant?
Each of these decisions will form part of your proposal for funding. If your application is successful, they will be annexed to the grant agreement. And although grant agreement amendments are possible, the project’s overarching objectives must align with the original submission.
On this basis, it is imperative that you include partners that you trust within your collaborative project. You must be able to fully rely on them to deliver the work they have included in the work plan. This will save serious headaches further downstream!
All project partners must understand the tasks and deliverables assigned to them in the proposal as they will be responsible for achieving them. They also need to be certain that they have created a sufficient budget to deliver these tasks. Too often we see partners submit budgets that they have put together last minute and do not truly reflect the level of work required. This will only cause future issues as the project progresses and some partners might require a budget transfer (which will bite into another partner’s budget!).
During the project
Hold a project kick-off meeting
Once the project officially begins, holding a kick-off meeting is paramount. Several months will have passed since the proposal was submitted and most will have lost focus on what the proposal promised to deliver. Use the kick-off meeting (typically two or three days) to ensure everyone is clear on the project objectives, budget, a timeline for delivery, and most importantly, what they promised to deliver!
Tip: Have each partner deliver a brief presentation on what their role is within the project to ensure they are up to speed with what is required from them.
Maintain regular communication
Communication is a key aspect of any collaborative project. Fortunately, there is no shortage of communication tools to aid the process, whether it be WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Slack, Google Drive, all-in-one project management software, or even state-of-the-art augmented and virtual reality platforms, such as Facebook’s Horizon Workrooms.
Tip: Regardless of the preferred platform, get it established at the outset and make certain all partners have access.
Appoint a designated project manager
We recommend that you appoint a designated project manager within the Coordinator. This person can deal with day-to-day questions which may arise, such as conformity with the grant agreement, arranging and supporting project meetings, and following up on action points from steering group meetings.
Tip: It is also advantageous to have a designated point of contact within each partner organisation who can follow up on queries at a local level.
Hold quarterly steering group meetings
Quarterly steering group meetings are an effective way to ensure you maintain sufficient progress throughout the project. Less formal monthly meetings are also useful for small-scale updates, which may be work package specific. To ensure these meetings remain focused and relevant, consider splitting them into technical and non-technical steering groups, which will also help control attendance numbers.
Use the steering groups as an opportunity for partners to highlight the work they have been doing. This tends to be most effective on a work package by work package basis. Other key items for the agenda would include updates with IP, risk assessment review, updates with communication and dissemination, an input from the monitoring office (if present), reviewing the Gantt chart (in terms of progress), reviewing the deliverables (both past and upcoming) and a financial review.
All steering groups should be well minuted with clear and concise action points. This will allow a clear action plan post-meeting, whilst also ensuring all partners are clear on what they need to do by when.
Simple project management tools such as traffic light systems may also be useful, especially with regards to monitoring the Gantt chart, risk register, and expenditure.
With regards to the latter, ensure each partner provides an update on their expenditure at every steering group. The Project Manager at the Coordinator should then compile a global project expenditure review, which they can cross-reference with the proposal.
Tip: Ensuring a good buffet and a nice hotel (within grant agreement eligible expenditure) is typically a good way to keep everyone happy!
Ask for help
Most queries will be answerable via the grant agreement, with the biggest obstacle being navigating your way around the +300-page document which bounces from article to article. But if you cannot find the answer you are looking for, please do not be afraid to contact your project monitoring officer within the European Commission (EC), they are there to help.
Tip: Remember each EC Project Monitoring Officer is responsible for many projects, so you may need to be patient (or continue to chase) until you receive a response.
If anything, remember these three points:
- Always make sure your timesheets are complete and keep a track of your expenditure (file your invoices!).
- Ensure regular communication with your partners and promote a transparent approach to avoid conflict and enhance team spirit.
- Remember that accessing grant funding from the EC’s programmes is very competitive and success rates are often low. You are incredibly fortunate to receive an EU grant and have an opportunity to make a genuine difference. In other words – enjoy the experience!
This article is written in a cooperation with our valued partner RedKnight Consultancy.
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