A Project Coordinator’s View

text by cjprater

We are sitting in our 7th project team meeting. Melissa and I are in Essex House 121 on the Sussex campus huddled around telecoms equipment to speak to our colleagues in Athens and Hyderabad. Christos in Athens is coming over loud and clear; while the Skype gods have decided to play havoc in the ether with our connection to Vinnarasan in Hyderabad. As the connection deteriorates to a point beyond endurance we move to plan B. Every project co-ordinator must have a plan B, possibly a plan C as well, and some circumstances it is prudent to have plans all the way to Z.

In this instance plan B was sufficient, we phone Vinnarasan on the Octopus phone, a technical term for the conference telephone; well it does look a bit like one doesn’t it? The plan is that Melissa and I will speak to Christos via Skype and Vinnarasan via the octopus, Vinnarasan and Christos will be able to hear and speak to each other across the Octopus/Skype fusion. As we wait for Vinnarasan to pick up and see if this cobbled together telephony will work, I take time to reflect on the past seven months.

I joined at the start of the project at the beginning of March, which as a Project Coordinator is a very good thing indeed. The first task was to sort out the office, not so much to clear it out as it was empty, more a case of filling it up!

Desks, chairs, laptops, a printer, two Researchers, and one Principal Investigator, all started to arrive in the office.

As is traditional with office set ups the IT equipment seemed to be acting like adolescents, either in a strop refusing to ‘recognise‘ each other or in the midst of some lovelorn drama by failing to ‘find’ each other. A quick e-mail to IT services did the trick and soon all were reconciled, peace and connections restored.

With the office up and running and colleagues in place, we could start working on our planning, our ‘Soft Time’, which for me meant having a clear idea of the direction we are heading; milestones, budgets and, even though I say it myself, some lovely spreadsheets soon followed; hot on their heels came protocols for expenses, communications, document version control. Activities and deliverables tumbled over each other, ‘blue sky’ thinking got a look in, mind maps were fun, project and historic timelines vied for attention as I tried not to get distracted by interesting half-forgotten news stories from years ago.

As I took it all in I did have a very slight existential crisis, what is a Project Coordinator for? What is our purpose? It seemed to me that it is to make sure the mechanics of the project are put in place so that the project runs well, providing a foundation that supports Melissa, Vinnarasan and Christos in their actual business of research for the Connectors Study. A one-stop shop for all the nitty gritty a project throws up from getting shelves put in to organising flights. If I can’t do it I’ll know someone who can!

Seven months have passed with alarming speed. Colleagues are now out in the field, settling into their new surroundings and at this moment waiting for our 7th team meeting to recommence.

Vinnarasan answers his mobile, our fused telephony works!

We carry on our meeting over three countries, thousands of miles and countless connections barely giving them a second thought as we discuss how the fieldwork is going, the complexities of data protection, and look forward to the next phase of the Connectors Study. We finish the project meeting on time with several action points each and, Vinnarasan’s overheated ear.

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