The Processes of Event Management
27 November 2013
The process system and the terminology proposed, based on the widely-accepted process systems, is a sequential and iterative system that promotes a dynamic approach to the changing nature of events and the changes that emerge. This must be an on-going and dynamic activity as well as proactive and cyclical — facilitating communication, forecasting, and forward planning.
After reading this article you will understand how to
Please note: This process system varies from the International EMBOK Model; in this model, Communicate is replaced with Integrate.
There is a fundamental process system for event management, which includes assessment, selection, monitoring, integration, and documentation. As shown below, it is a sequential, on-going, and repeatable system that promotes a dynamic approach to the demands and changing nature of events. It should be proactive and facilitate future planning.
Overview of the event management process system
A process can be defined as a set of activities or steps that transforms inputs into outputs. These activities are interrelated and interactive, and in order to be effective, must be systematic. The inputs could include needs, opportunities, situations, conditions, obligations, data, and human effort. The outputs could include plans, reports, data, decisions, products, and other deliverables.
The general approach of this process system is to recognize and analyze a need or problem using a variety of techniques, select the best option and implement it, and monitor its results. If the results are not performing as expected and an adjustment or new approach is needed, the cycle goes back to assessment process. In conjunction with this is the need to completely integrate the implications associated with the choices made throughout the event project plan. In addition, all of the above should be documented in order to serve the current and future event projects.
Although many event organizers follow this process instinctively, they often do not recognize it as a system, and more importantly, one that requires conscious application in order to be effective, efficient, and consistent. The benefits of using this system include increased productivity and predictability, reduced errors and overlooked issues, and the ability to verify accountability. This process system is also scalable; its application is pertinent to a single decision in response to a problem to the entirety of an event project.
This system is based on numerous process models including quality management and decision making systems for manufacturing and service industries, project management systems, and risk management standards.
Assessment has two sequential facets: first identification, then analysis. This is the most critical and often the most time-consuming part of the process system. It lays the foundation for what will happen and how it will happen. It should also provide an understanding of why so that the decisions made will be effective.
Identification is a discovery and definition process in which all the needs, elements, issues, problems, and tactics are considered. The needs and event elements in each functional category are considered (such as the budget, entertainment, souvenirs, parking, or crowd control) to determine their inclusion and specifications. Issues or problems must be recognized and all tactics must be considered.
Each need, issue, or element included in a particular event project must then be analyzed to determine its importance and implications. The analysis process enhances predictive capabilities and facilitates proper prioritizing by qualifying and quantifying its characteristics. Prioritizing becomes particularly important in creating and managing budgets and action plans.
Example of a seating assessment for a commencement ceremony
Many of these elements, tactics, issues, and problems are identified using a variety of techniques such as a needs assessment, which might look like this:
Identify potential needs or issues to be considered
Identify what needs and issues will affect the outcomes of an event. An event of any size or type includes lots of components in order to achieve its objectives. These are often determined during the initiation phase. As the planning and implementation phases progress, tactics are devised and additional needs and issues arise that require assessment. Further issues and problems emerge during the event phase that must be solved.
The tools and techniques typically used in the identification process include staff meetings, stakeholder and vendor interviews, checklists, brainstorming, mind maps, and reviewing plans and documents (such as those listed below) from current and previous or comparable event projects. Emerging issues, problems, or opportunities are often identified through status reports, personal observations, and sometimes just plain luck.
Typical documents to be reviewed during an assessment (Silvers 2004, 2008)
Brainstorming is an idea-generation technique wherein a group or individual offers impromptu suggestions for potential obstacles or opportunities, unique approaches, or solutions to a problem. It can be conducted in a face to face meeting or electronically, and is most effective when participants include those familiar with and involved in the event.
Mind maps start with an item, issue, or idea, and then expanded by including related items and linking them to the primary item. The process is extended for each secondary item, tertiary item, and so on. You can use it to see all the threads or aspects about a given issue and their relationships.
The 35 management areas of the EMBOK could serve as an agenda for meetings, a roster for interviews, or an initial checklist for identifying needs, elements, or issues. The event manager or those responsible for each area could conduct a specific needs assessment, which could then be collated into a master checklist.
Define relevant specifications and criteria
Most items or activities included in an event have specific requirements or criteria that need to be met in order to be operational and effective. Most issues or incidents also have contributing factors affecting their occurrence and potential outcomes. These needs and factors must also be identified and included in the assessment.
For example, the seating assessment for the commencement ceremony discussed before specifies floor seating for 300 graduates, but does not identify whether or not any of those graduates (or family members or dignitaries) are wheelchair-bound and will require special placement, additional space, or access equipment such as lifts or ramps. Failure to identify this need will affect the site plan, procurement plan, and numerous other aspects of the event.
Specifications or criteria can be contractual, operational, regulatory, or ideological. Some might be negotiable, but others will be rigid such as regulatory requirements or mission-critical event components. Criteria established for site selection, for example, might be based on location preferences or spatial requirements. Without knowing the level of flexibility it will be almost impossible to devise alternative solutions that will be satisfactory.
Analyze identified need or issue
Once a need, issue, or problem has been identified, its implications and importance need to be explored in order to determine the factors that will influence the choices to be made. The more you know about the what, how, and why of a need, including its ramifications on the event plans and resources, the more likely you can find suitable and effective responses.
Think every element or issue through from a practical perspective to determine all the associated details. You should be or become familiar with technical and logistical aspects the products and services that will be needed for an event. When you are knowledgeable about what these providers do and how, the more likely it is that conflicts can be avoided and opportunities exploited.
In addition, standard analytical tools and techniques might be used. These tools often use graphical devices to enhance the logical and intuitive examination of the items and information being analyzed. Such tools and techniques are typically used for large event projects with numerous stakeholders, but the inherent procedures can be used for events of any scope or stature.
Typical analytical tools and techniques
Qualify, quantify, and prioritize needs or issues
Needs and issues must be prioritized in a well-reasoned manner. The number of items to consider or choices to be made for an event can range from a couple of hundred for a small event to several thousand for a standard event, to hundreds of thousands or more for a large event. It stands to reason that not all these needs or issues are equal or that there will be sufficient resources to commit to all options. You need some way to determine which are most important and realistically feasible.
This facet of analysis takes into consideration the reasons for the need or issue and the effects it will have on the event. Some needs are mission-critical; others could be advantageous or might just be attractive. Some issues or problems could be potentially disastrous while others might be simple annoyances. These have to be ranked in order of importance.
There is typically a wide range of options that vary considerably in cost, quality, level of effort, and demand on other resources such as time and space. These variables will be significant factors when considering the feasibility of an option or tactic. Resources should be allocated according to priority and necessity.
Overview of the selection process
Once the parameters of the needs and issues are identified and analyzed, you must make choices about which item or tactic will best achieve the goal or objective. These decisions might be made by you alone, in collaboration with stakeholders or specialists, or by the event host or another authority. Each decision also requires the allocation of resources, assignment of responsibility, and authorization to acquire and implement the option.
The options available could range from countless to only one or two. Some will be more costly, some more economical, some more efficient, and some more effective than others. There will also be trade offs, constraints, and acceptance factors to consider. Maintain the focus on what will best serve the event and its priorities within the resources available.
Determining these choices and making these decisions must be a conscious and intentional action based on the proper deliberation; otherwise the consequences might not be clear and controllable. And without understanding the implications and obligations associated with that choice, the assignment of the appropriate or necessary resources, responsibility, and authority will not be feasible.
Identify available options
There are usually lots of options when making decisions about how to fulfill a need or address an issue. Use the same methods you used for identifying the needs and issues for identifying the possible items and tactics for meeting or solving them. Research the available options by reviewing the event plans, talking to product or service providers, consulting with knowledgeable team members, and seeking specialist advice when necessary.
Some choices are obvious while others might require a little creative thinking. Some options are regulated by law or limited by organizational policy, such as “if this happens then that must be done” or “this product or service must be procured from that provider.” Even these, however, might be negotiable if the solution can be shown to be a viable alternative. For example, fire marshals have been known to accept a workaround (a strategy to overcome an obstacle) for problematic fire vehicle access routes and exclusive vendors will often subcontract certain products and services that are needed but not in their inventory.
In addition, purpose-built venues often have sponsorship agreements that prohibit displaying signage for competitive products that could conflict with the event’s sponsorship plans. This might be overcome by devising methods other than signage for recognizing sponsors, such as within media advertisements and on program covers or amenities.
Specify factors associated with each option
Every option has positive and negative factors that affect its potential effectiveness. With each option there will be trade offs to be considered, such as novelty over efficiency. Constraints will likely include the availability of resources or capabilities. Acceptance factors can include tradition, politics, the need for consultation, or other issues that will affect whether or not the decision can be agreed upon.
There is rarely one single or perfect option because products, services, and tactics have variable levels of cost, effort, quality, functionality, and availability. One option might be easy to use but more expensive; another less costly but of lower quality. Deciding which is best requires recognizing the trade offs and constraints, and prioritizing the most important criteria.
There is also rarely a single option that fits everyone’s idea of what is best. There are likes and dislikes, things that are familiar or unfamiliar, and things that have “always been done this way.” Although innovation and creativity are admirable qualities and should be pursued, sometimes it can be pushed so far that stakeholders or attendees reject the outcome.
Determine best choice
When all the options have been identified and the contributing factors considered, you must make a choice about which is most likely to achieve the goal, objective, or solution. The decision might be made by you, a committee, or the fire marshal. It might require negotiation, a rating scale, or the alignment with policies or regulations. It might need to be made by a certain date or right now! These factors – who, what, how, and when – affect the selection process as well as the choices made.
Urgency is a significant factor in the selection process. It often limits the number of options available, as well as the extent of evaluation possible. This is when it is important to have a deep understanding of both the intended outcome and the range of possible solutions. Knowing what is possible and practical, given the current circumstances, comes from experience, and is often referred to as heuristics.
If urgency is not a factor, options are carefully weighed and measured to find an acceptable and effective solution that will produce the expected outcomes. The primary criterion, however, should be effectiveness. This evaluation could involve extensive consultations with stakeholders or service providers, applying multi-attribute scoring systems, and assembling quantitative and qualitative data; or it could happen in what seems like the blink of an eye. But it must be thought out.
The choice has been made. Now it must be implemented, which sets a whole chain of events into action. This includes acquiring or allocating the necessary resources and assigning the responsibility and authority for obtaining an item or executing a solution. Costs are factored into the budget, purchases are included in the procurement plan, tasks are assigned, stakeholders are notified, space is allocated, and dozens, if not hundreds, of other things must be arranged.
Someone has to be responsible for ensuring all these things are done, which should be reflected in the action plan. The person or position responsible should also be reflected in the organizational structure. With the exception of very small events that have only the event organizer and perhaps a handful of volunteers, these responsibilities must be delegated because one person can simply not do it all.
The person or position to which the responsibility has been delegated must also be given the authority to implement the decision. This does not mean, however, that the event organizer does not retain responsibility. Supervision will still be necessary, but micromanaging will likely corrupt the effectiveness of delegation and could lead to things not getting done at all.
The choices have been made and solutions selected, but they could prove to be ineffective or might need to be modified for a variety of reasons. Their implementation might be delayed or disrupted. Sources and resources might be reduced or eliminated. Hazardous conditions might arise or fantastic opportunities might present themselves. You have to pay attention!
Monitoring is a fundamental component of managing quality and facilitating improvements in efficiency, safety, productivity, cost avoidance, and stakeholder satisfaction. It must be a proactive, well-organized, and diligent effort. Information about the status and nature of conditions, opportunities, and outcomes must be collected and analyzed efficiently. Change control measures must be devised. The triggers or thresholds for identifying and implementing a corrective action must be factored into project and action plans. Responses must be timely and appropriate.
Nothing about an event project remains static; things are always changing. Budgets are cut, schedules are running behind, the sound system breaks down, volunteers don’t show up, or violent storms occur. On the other side of the coin, a desired celebrity becomes available, a lucrative sponsorship deal comes through, or the event is featured in a national news story. Monitoring facilitates the ability to respond to both the bad and the good.
Proactively collect and analyze information
Be proactive about getting and analyzing monitoring data. Institute standard operating procedures for collecting information that indicates the characteristics and influence of elements, tactics, or situations in a timely manner. This information is required throughout the lifecycle of the event and its systematic collection and analysis must be integrated into all facets of the event, including administrative, design, marketing, operational, and risk management plans.
Establish checkpoints for reviewing budgets, receiving status reports, and achieving project plan milestones. Develop a schedule of meetings in which updates are communicated. Require confirmations of receipt and understanding of orders, instructions, or memoranda sent. Develop watch lists (items needing specific monitoring) for identified risks. Communication plans should include reporting schedules and procedures.
Analyze the information received to verify the status and effectiveness of plans, to recognize emerging problems or opportunities, and to understand the potential impacts. Carefully examine variances, situations, and incidents so you can determine the best response tactics. The more time there is to identify and analyze information, the more timely the response can be.
Establish thresholds and triggers
Enhance monitoring activities by establishing measurable target points that indicate a planned or corrective action is required, known as thresholds and triggers. Thresholds are typically related to time, budget, spatial capacity, and volumes, but can also include levels of quality, regulatory limits, or organizational tolerance. The threshold serves as the trigger for implementing a predetermined corrective action such as a contingency plan, or devising a response tactic.
Establish deadlines and check-in times, budget and procurement limits, site and proximity boundaries, quantity and quality measurements, and procedural requirements. Establish change control policies and procedures such as using change orders. Specify and communicate the who, what, where, when, and how. Specify and communicate the musts and must nots. Know when and if you can capitalize on opportunities. Link all these factors into your monitoring strategies.
Continuously observe progress and effectiveness
Monitoring must be a continuous process throughout the event project. The plans made might be running smoothly or they could be underperforming. The choices made might be successful or they could be inadequate. The status of these positive or negative results might fluctuate. Recognizing the status and its fluctuations is critical to the ability to make adjustments that might be needed.
In addition to establishing threshold-based triggers, observation and inspection are primary methods used when monitoring the progress and effectiveness of plans and choices. Checkpoints should be devised, but basic awareness is also important. The event manager and key members of the event team should all be responsible for watching out for variances. Inspections should be conducted routinely as well as spontaneously, from inspecting work output or product deliveries to site scanning throughout the event.
Respond to circumstances and conditions
If variances or problems occur, you should take corrective actions as appropriate and in a timely manner. Implement contingency plans for predetermined circumstances or conditions, and determine new options if not preplanned. Numerous options will have been identified during the selection process, which might now become viable solutions if the first choice is not performing as expected.
Keep in mind that not all variances or situations are equally important or urgent. Responses should be in relation to the priority, scope, and severity of the potential outcome. The first priority should always be the safety of people, followed by protecting property and then financial resources (Silvers 2008). In addition, the simplest solution can often be the best solution.
Integration includes the processes, procedures, and controls to ensure event project details and tasks are integrated throughout the scope of the event processes, tasks, and decisions. As shown below, each component of an event and each facet of the management of an event project will likely have an impact on and be influenced by every other one. This appears complex, and it is, but it is not difficult; it just takes thinking things through.
The scope of the integration process
Every aspect of the event is part of the whole. It is crucial to be able to see how all the components of an event project fit together and relate to one another, and to understand the interdependencies and influences each has on all others. This is particularly important when a change anywhere within the event project occurs. Integrating all the event project’s plans facilitates consistency, collaboration, and coordinating changes across the entire project.
The factors that influence effective integration include proper establishment of the critical path; the constraints or restrictions that could (or will) affect performance; the accuracy and completeness of assumptions and information; the consistency of system application; and the level and structure of communication. Always look for the linkages between roles, responsibilities, relationships, and requirements. And keep a picture of the whole project in view so all the pieces of the puzzle can be put in place properly and efficiently.
Specify linkages and interdependencies
An event project is similar to an ecosystem or a living organism. All its parts are linked together and interdependent to one degree or another. Adding, removing, or changing one part can alter the whole picture or create a domino effect of causality or casualties. Identify all the interactions and connections between event tasks and activities, as well as all the linkages between roles, responsibilities, relationships, and requirements.
As noted with the commencement ceremony discussed before, the needs of a wheelchair-bound graduate will have an impact of how the seating is arranged, how the stage is designed, and possibly the order in which graduates enter and go onstage to receive their diplomas. And these decisions will need to comply with accessibility legislation, be factored into the budget and procurement plan, and be incorporated into the evacuation plans.
There are several approaches that might be taken to identify these linkages. Each event element or activity might be examined using the 35 management areas of the EMBOK as a checklist; by conducting a cause/effect analysis; or by creating a network diagram or influence diagram (both graphic tools for seeing interactions). The skills and knowledge of product and service providers and other stakeholders will be important participants in this process.
Recognize impacts of decisions made
Practically every decision or choice will have an impact on all aspects of the event project. For each decision or choice made, think about who and what it will affect. Does it have specific timing or proximity requirements? Will special equipment or services be required? Are there features that could be added for design enhancement or that might conflict with other design elements? Who will be in charge of it? What happens if it arrives late? What happens if it breaks?
Yes, every decision made seems to generate a whole new set of questions to be answered. These questions are typically asked and should be answered during the assessment process. The answers should be considered and verified during the selection process and integrated into the monitoring process, and, finally, fully documented.
The impact areas of most concern include time, scope, cost, quality, performance, and risk. These are also interrelated – an increase or decrease in one typically causes an increase or decrease in the others. As the saying goes “You can have it fast, cheap, or good; not all three.”
Merge and synchronize dependencies and information
The various factors, dependencies, and information surrounding an event project needs to be collected and merged then synchronized for effective integration. There are often silos of responsibility and activity within an event project, such as the domains of administration, design, marketing, operations, and risk management; each a self-contained unit with their own perspective and focus. These might be committees, departments, function teams, or supplier groups.
Set up methods to facilitate information sharing within the event project so that shared dependencies, concerns, root causes (the origins), or impacts are properly identified and integrated. Create a master plan that combines all aspects of the event project in a way that links time, tactics, and decisions. This is typically the event’s action plan, but you might need a separate overview that displays the network of activities, interdependencies, and responsibilities in relation to the timeline and organizational hierarchy.
Standardize the way in which activities and their dependencies are described. Establish indicators or codes for impact areas so that they can be quickly recognized and easily aggregated. Merge matching needs, dependencies, and impacts so that they can be dealt with and communicated efficiently. Keep in mind that this is scalable – smaller events might accomplish this with a simple checklist or chart; larger, more complex events will likely need a formal system.
Implement communication strategies
Devise and implement a structured communication plan with strategies to advise affected personnel, vendors, and stakeholders of decisions, conditions, and changes. It must encompass the inbound and outbound flow of information, and include methods for receiving and disseminating data about what has occurred or been decided.
Reports or written notices could provide updates. You might use media releases, Web site announcements, or social media to inform audiences of changes or cancellations. You could create call lists for confirmations or advisories. You might use text messages to inform personnel or providers of onsite changes. You could use two-way radios onsite for checking conditions or reporting incidents. The point is to get the information needed to the right people at the right time to avoid conflicts and costly mistakes.
Comprehensive documentation is the foundation of an event’s business intelligence and sustainability, which should include all aspects of an event project. This includes the documents listed before as well as the current outputs from all the management areas. There should be a record of anything that will assist in the evaluation, validation, verification, and transfer of knowledge activities associated with the event project.
Make documentation a standard operating procedure so that the information surrounding the event and its operations does not disappear or “walk out the door” if a key individual or an employee leaves the organization for some reason. Establish procedures, forms, and formats for data collection and preservation. Make documentation a deliverable throughout the event project, and a requisite for all team members.
Documentation is never more important than when it is needed but is not there. It will provide the “paper trail” (even if in electronic form) that proves what, when, and by whom actions were taken, products or services were ordered and received, and information was given or received. From courtrooms to boardrooms, or tax audits to contract disputes, documentation can provide the necessary evidence.
Create and maintain a record of activities and decisions
There should be a record of every action and decision associated with the assessment, selection, monitoring, and integration processes conducted throughout the lifecycle of the event. These records should include the dates, individuals, and tactics involved, as well as any supporting data. Every incoming or outgoing physical or electronic document should be dated, have senders or receivers listed, and the actions taken in response recorded.
These are just a few of the hundreds of ways to create these records. Find the methods most suitable for the scope, nature, and complexity of the event project, its operations, and its team members. Then make certain these records are assembled and saved in a manner that ensures this information is safe and accessible when needed.
Capture information that facilitates evaluation
The data and details surrounding an event project help evaluate the efficacy and suitability of activities and choices. This information can illustrate the allocation of time, money, materials, equipment, space, and human resources. It should facilitate the measurement of levels of acceptance, usage, efficiency, effectiveness, performance, and return on investment or objectives.
Capture anything that could provide guidance for future event administrative, design, marketing, operational, or risk management activities. Collect anything that could assist in developing better strategies or refining goals and objectives. Assemble anything that can be used to analyze, describe, and communicate outcomes. This includes both the advantageous and unfavorable data and details so that successes can be replicated and disappointments can be avoided.
Keep in mind that not all this information will be made public. Much of it will remain internal to the organization for a variety of commercial and legal reasons. Some information, both positive and negative, will be proprietary or subject to privacy regulations. Other information will be communicated externally to various constituencies and in an array of marketing efforts. This range of uses means that although the data collection must be comprehensive, access controls must be established.
Collect evidentiary and verification data
It is important to collect data that provides evidence of and verifies the decision activities, processes, and outcomes. The decision outputs of every research or planning phase, committee or department meeting, scoring or rating activity, or implementation activity need to be documented. The decision methods and results need to be recorded.
This data should identify who made the decision and when, the rationale and supporting data that contributed to the decision, and how the decision was implemented. It should verify that a decision was made, the person or process that made the decision was authorized or appropriate, and the criteria used were suitable or flawed. It should identify the quality and impacts of its outcomes, and reveal constraints or assumptions that affected the results.
Although this evidentiary information might be used for the resolution of commercial or legal disputes, for which it will be critically important in achieving prompt and satisfactory outcomes, this information is not meant to assign responsibility. It is meant to facilitate continuous improvement by identifying what worked, what didn’t work, why, and how things could be done better.
Assemble business and archival information
Information is knowledge that should be used to improve current business activities and be transferred to the next event. Just as you don’t want information to “walk out the door,” you don’t want to leave it on the table or toss it out in the trash. It must be collected and archived in such a way that this knowledge is accessible and usable.
Scrutinize all the documentation generated for a particular event to find the data that will add value to assessment, selection, monitoring, and integration processes for future events. Budgets, schedules, designs, marketing materials, site plans, contracts, contingency plans, evaluations, and countless other records should be saved and securely stored. These are an event’s information assets, which are just as valuable as any other resource.
These historical records, the institutional memory, will provide data on who, what, where, when, why, how, how many, and how often. This information will be invaluable in the research phase for future events, and will help in the identification and tracking of growth and changes in the event’s market. It will also help prevent the need to “reinvent the wheel” every time an event project occurs or reoccurs – saving time, money, effort, and pressure.
To review, this article discussed the process system used in event management, and the value of its sequential, repeatable, and scalable characteristics. At its essence, it is a decision making system but it also encompasses the need to integrate all decisions throughout the event and its operations. In addition, this system stresses the importance of creating and retaining documentation that will benefit the event’s future obligations and endeavors.
The facets of the process system – assessment, selection, monitoring, integration, and documentation – and its terminology will be found throughout this book because it should be applied to every event decision and activity. Although often instinctual, the system must be applied consciously and consistently in order to assure proper consideration is given to the multitude of decisions involved in creating and producing an event of any size or type.
Silvers, J. R. (2004). Professional Event Coordination. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons
Silvers, J. R. (2008). Risk Management for Meetings and Events. Oxford, U.K.: Elsevier/Butterworth-Heinemann