• Dealing with Murphy: Use Planning Templates, Not Guesswork

    POSTED July 31, 2014

Special events are different from other projects. An event is a one-time activity with fixed boundaries and there is little to no wiggle room. Once the date, time and location are set, you face a hard deadline. Ready or not, the show must go on!

According to Murphy, if something does go wrong, the client looks to the event planner—whatever the circumstances might be. This is why meticulous planning is paramount, and using templates will streamline the process.

Templates and forms relieve managers from re-inventing project plans from scratch and relying on memory or guesswork. It may seem time consuming, but in the end the methodology can save time, money and considerable heartache.

Whether high tech or not, templates are effective tools for organizing, executing and managing successful events. Otherwise, a lack of formality and thoroughness is fodder for Murphy’s Law—anything can happen, anytime and anywhere.

Imagine being on site, running out of time, rushing to finish a setup and guests begin walking through the door! Like a river’s rapids, sheer panic can run through your veins; but if you’ve covered all the bases in planning, alternate options can save the day.

In one particular case, the event was a platinum wedding with custom drapery hung on a thirty-foot high truss. A drawing of the truss outlined specifications for the drape, topped by a valance.

On the day of the install, Murphy dropped a big surprise. The A/V people had reconfigured the truss, which meant a different design and more valance. The venue was 300 miles away.

Fortunately, additional fabric and a full set of construction tools were in the truck and a quick trip to the local hardware store for supplies allowed the project to be completed just in time—but a little over budget. No matter how well you plan and coordinate, things can and will happen. Perhaps you overlooked something, you were short-handed, deliveries arrived late, or as in this case, the A/V people changed the truss without notice.

Surprise changes can be disastrous, but formalized planning will help mitigate this problem. Templates and forms help cover “what if” scenarios and stimulate out-of-the-box thinking. Augment this process with information from past events and it takes the guesswork out of the equation.

In the example above, additional fabric, tools and building material were included in the on-site inventory (bringing extras is a good idea in any case).

Templates do not have to be complicated. Some may be computerized and others manual. Think in terms of a simple checklist—a form that itemizes practically everything needed to plan, produce and deliver events. Build the list on experience and known standards in the industry. Obviously, the list can become huge, but if you want to divide it up, organize it by types of events and find ways to automate the process.

Computerized templates, such as spreadsheets and project management programs, can further expedite planning. These tools can help produce a tight plan, minimize time and cost overruns, and ensure desired profit ratios. Draft a preliminary plan first, and then reduce it to a final project plan, which should detail the following functional categories:

  • Project Initiation: discovery, contract, budget, scope, team formation
  • Design & Technical Readiness: theme, design, materials, technical plan
  • People Readiness: schedule resources, team orientation, vendor selections
  • Logistics & Deployment: transportation, installation, project timeline

The above is a generic outline, but central in planning. Functional categories need to fit your business model—your modus operandi. Make a checklist as detailed as you like, but it should be easy to manipulate and integrate into final documents.

Checklists—or templates—make it difficult to forget something, and can spark new requirements. Over time and experience, the list will grow, but it will ensure a proficient, thorough pre-planning process. Again, it depends on the organization, scope and mission of your operation. Here are some generic phases to consider:

  • Discovery: questions for client, site survey, theme, develop requirements
  • Pre-production: resources, budget, lease, buy/build schedule, vendor orders
  • Production: materials, construction, SWOT analysis, technical readiness
  • Post-production: project plan, resources, people, logistics, ROI analysis
  • Execution: installation, show management, issue control, de-installation
  • Post-project: performance,  profitability, lessons learned and success factors

Incidentally, a good method of developing a timeline is to “schedule in reverse.” That is, start with the install date and work backwards. Determine what steps are necessary and how long it will take. Quantify work, time and critical path tasks, and then establish the earliest start date to meet the deadline. Be sure to include lead-time for ordering supplies, working capital needs, set construction, meetings and other activities.

By using templates and computer programs, it is difficult for Murphy to blitz your project!


Lou’s background covers over 25 years in the IT industry, and over 10 years in the events business. He is currently with Production & Event Services, Inc., a Houston based firm. An avid writer and novelist, Lou publishes technical, business and creative work. Contact Lou at: Lou@Gallio.net or Lou@EventsPlanning.com

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