By: Sarah Matheson, PMP
The past year has been a busy one for me. I got engaged and obtained my Project Management Professional® (PMP) certification. One of the great parts of being a PMP®, is that I have developed skills and knowledge that can be extremely helpful when it comes to my wedding planning, and I’d love to share some practical tips and tricks with others.
Like many brides-to-be, I’ve been planning my wedding in my head my entire life. But when I actually got engaged this past March, I realized there is a HUGE difference between imagining a beautiful dress, elaborate dinner, and an amazing party abstractly vs. actually turning those dreams into a reality. So if you are like me, then you have search high and low on every wedding blog, website, and magazine out there for guidance. Nearly every source will give you their version of the “ultimate” wedding check-list and send you on your way.
Now, if these checklists were actually helpful and effective planning tools, I wouldn’t be writing this article… but the reality is that I’ve seen countless post from brides BEGGING for more help keeping track of everything. These brides are stressing over the details they may have forgotten, and worried that they aren’t sticking to the “time-line” prescribed by these checklists. They feel unprepared, confused, and guilty – this is NOT how you should feel planning a joyous day with your soulmate. Most brides have never planned a wedding before, and we need more than just a checklist before we start scheduling tasks and establishing a budget.
Photo by Bench Accounting
Why wedding checklist is a bad place to start:
1. The suggested timeline on most of these checklists will not work for brides planning on an untraditional schedule or with specific time constraints. You may have to shorten your timeline for a variety of reasons, and those traditional checklists might make you feel like it's impossible to pull off the day of your dreams with the time you have
2. Weddings are NOT one size fits all - from the get-go, these checklists may include items not applicable to your situation AND leave out the items that are really important for you to consider for your big day
3. Checklist do not help organize your priorities and don’t consider you might not plan your wedding the same way as everyone else
What if there were a better way? What if you could visualize one-hundred percent of every task you will need to consider and complete while planning? I’m here to tell you there is a tool that can help. Project Managers have been using it for years, and it is so important to project management that we are tested (Project Management Institute, 2015) on knowing how to create one to get professionally certified.
This document is called a Work Breakdown Structure, and I am going to teach you how to make one for your wedding.
Photo by Jeremy Wong
The Advantages of Using a Work Breakdown Structure
The first thing we need to understand is that your wedding IS a project – it is a temporary endeavor with a definite beginning and end. We can use project management best practices to help fine-tune the wedding planning process and eliminate some of the stress and worry that come with putting your wedding day together.
The Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) is a visual representation of all the work you need to do to make your wedding happen, and it is meant to be put together with help (Project Management Institute, 2013). You can go through the exercise with your fiancé, your family, your wedding party, or whoever you think will help you organize your thoughts and provide valuable input.
It’s important to note that you are not making any firm decisions here. This is the first step to planning your wedding; we are defining your overall vision and identifying the decisions you will eventually have to make.
So you shouldn’t have to worry about screaming matches over color schemes, or the fact that you are already over-budget! Going forward, you will have this document to help you define your schedule and cost. As a bonus, you can also use the WBS to tell your future mother-in-law later on that, no; you won’t be hiring a magician for the cocktail hour.
Where to Start
Step 1. Assemble your team of experts.
Schedule some time with your VIPs, and let them know you’re using their help to plan. You can maybe turn this into a fun girls-night event or an unconventional date night with your partner-to-be. Pro-tip: BRING SNACKS!
Step 2: Get some post-it notes, white boards, or presentation paper and get a big blank wall.
You will be doing some brainstorming and organizing your thoughts into something that will look similar to an organizational chart. We start with a top level and move down into lower levels of more detail.
Step 3: Start thinking BIG.
Hopefully, you and your fiancé have already talked about why you want to get married and have some idea of what will make the day special; but if not, now is the time. Go through these questions and jot-down all your ideas and thoughts:
· What needs to happen in order for us to be able to say that we are married when the event is over?
· What elements will NOT be part of our wedding?
· What things could happen that would cause us to believe our wedding was a failure?
· What things will make our wedding a success?
You can even establish SMART goals for your wedding. These are goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound – they can help you determine your overall objectives. The answers to these questions and your overall goals will help guide you from now on.
We can now define the components and categories that you will need to plan for. Project Managers call the highest levels of our WBS the deliverables. Deliverables are nouns, which describe the end products, results, and achievements of your successful wedding.
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Step 4: Create your deliverables, and then describe their acceptance criteria.
They may include the following categories suggestions:
· Planning/Research/Back-up Plans
· Guest List
· Save-the-dates/Invitations/Thank-you Cards
You need deliverables that you can evaluate and identify when they are and are not completed successfully. Your acceptance criteria can be a brief statement that begins with “We know this is completed when…” or “We know we are successful when…”. For example, next to invitations you might write “We know invitations are completed when they have been printed, sealed and addressed, and we have delivered all of them to the guests on our guest lists” SIMPLE RIGHT??
Step 5: Break-it-down!
So perhaps you identified that “Music” will be a part of your successful wedding. That’s extremely broad, and we need to define what that means in more detail. We have to drill down into the lower-level tasks and activities that make up “music” as an end result. We call these work packages, and they are defined as the activities that can be scheduled, can have estimated costs associated with them, and can be evaluated regarding performance. Now is where you get really creative and tailor your wedding requirements. You might have “DJ,” “Band,” or “ceremony musicians” as work packages.
Photo by Brooke Cagle
Step 6: Break-it-down further!
If “DJ” is a work package for the “Music” deliverable. Now you need to think about how you will get to your DJ acceptance criteria. You might further breakdown “DJ” to packages to lower levels such as “research and selection” “payment,” “playlist,” “set-up”, and “evaluation.”
When do you stop breaking it down?
· You understand and are comfortable with exactly what work will be required
· You could assign the lowest level of work to someone else, and they would clearly know what they needed to do *see step 7
· The sum all the activities on the lowest level of the WBS combine to equal all the work required by the work package above it. Have a discussion with your planning team and try and think now about anything you might have forgotten!
Step 7: Define your work packages
Get as specific as you want, but define lower-level work packages in a similar fashion to your overall deliverables. Remember, you want to establish measurable acceptance and success criteria.
Step 8: Marvel at your accomplishment!
Thank your team for all their input. Take a picture of your wall, now covered top to bottom in post-it notes and save your documents. This is your ultimate vision and requirements for your special day. Now, you can move on, and start thinking about how to use your work packages to help research, plan, and develop a realistic schedule and budget.