Management Of European Funded Projects – Challenges And Best Practices.

By , and on May 5, 2014
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SOME BEST PRACTICES

Having managed collaborative European R&D projects at Eurescom for more than 20 years, we have collected a vast number of best practices. In the following we selected five, which we consider crucially important for such projects.
Management structure: separate the role of Administrative Project Coordinator and Technical Project Manager in large projects
The role of Administrative Project Coordinator and Technical Project Manager require different skills and should be separated at least in larger projects. The Project Coordinator has mainly to communicate with the funding authority (for Horizon 2020 the European Commission), ensure proper reporting, control resources and budgets, handle payments to partners, control milestones and deliverable schedules. The Technical Project Manager has mainly to coordinate technical work, ensure technical results, handle technical problems, and maintain the quality of technical results. There is one potential danger though: when these roles are split, there is a team of two hierarchically very similar persons, whose responsibilities could be overlapping. It is crucial that these persons have a very good personal relationship, work together well and not begrudge the other’s success in his/her role.

Main roles of technical and administrative project managers
Main roles of technical and administrative project managers

Management style: it is all about trust

Proud to be part of the team

The normal case of a project consortium is an international, multi-cultural group of people with different backgrounds and agendas. In addition there is the lack of executive power within the project, since the partners are more responsible towards their organisations that towards the project. This can only be overcome by building trust within the consortium members. In the ideal case they feel like a group of friends working on a great common thing towards a great common vision. Only then can controversial decisions be taken unanimously, and only then partners will put the project work higher on their priority list than work for their organisation in case of resource conflicts.

Resource management: use appropriate reporting and controlling tools

Effective resource management is of high importance for any project. For funded European projects the importance is even higher, as the funding rules make it impossible to get any additional financial resources after project start. Resources to be managed are labour effort by project participants measured in person months, financial funds, and the available time to spend both of them. In large complex projects keeping the overview on resources is challenging.

Reporting in EU projects has an internal controlling purpose as well as the function of preparing formal reports for the European Commission. The use of resources is usually reported to the EC in very formalised and detailed quarterly and annual management reports. In order to be able to deliver this, a project needs to first capture the information. A resource management and resource controlling based on clear processes, which are supported by a Cloud-based reporting tool is needed. EuresTools Reporter, which is one of the modules in Eurescom’s management tool set, provides this function and has proven its essential importance for project managers in hundreds of European projects.

Screenshot of EuresTools Reporter
Screenshot of EuresTools Reporter

Communication management: make it easy and personal to communicate

Effective communication is the basis of success for any project. It is crucial to establish clear and simple rules for communication within the project. The basic rule, which has helped to build a trustful communication environment within the project, is that you should communicate openly and keep everybody who needs to have specific information in the loop. The other rule is that you should make use of the phone and face-to-face meetings as often as possible. Relying too much on e-mail can be a dangerous trap, as some potential misunderstandings might linger on without being resolved. Direct communication helps clarify issues much faster. Although it sounds trivial, it is important for project communication to maintain updated address lists including every project colleague’s phone number and business address details and make them available to every partner.

Quality management: establish an Advisory Committee with external experts and stakeholders

Many of our projects have a very good experience with an Advisory Committee consisting of some high profile industry and academia external representatives from the relevant topical areas. The Advisory Committee advises the project on its scientific direction and on business opportunities. It reviews on a regular basis, e.g. annually, the progress made and gives advice on the scientific and business aspects. This advice could, for instance, include new academic or technological achievements the project should consider, new important trends, new societal developments the project should take into account, concrete proposals on how new business may be generated, and how the exploitation of project results should be organised.

CONCLUSIONS

The management of international collaborative R&D project is a difficult task. The main specific challenges are due to the fact that such projects are characterised by geographically dispersed multi-cultural and cross-disciplinary participants, multiple organisational partners without direct executive power by the project coordinator, diverse teams of experts, and specific administrative requirements from the funding authorities. In the article we have identified these challenges and proposed ways to successfully address them, based on many years of project management experience at Eurescom and some best practise examples.

The most crucial issues for successfully managing collaborative R&D projects are an atmosphere of trust and friendship within the project team as well as effective tools and processes for reporting, controlling and communication.

For more information:
Horizon 2020: http://ec.europa.eu/programmes/horizon2020/
Celtic-Plus: http://www.celtic-initiative.org/
EuresTools – Cloud-based project management tool set: http://www.eurescom.eu/eurestools.html

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Peter Stollenmayer

Coming originally from Deutsche Telekom, Peter Stollenmayer has managed ICT projects for more than 20 years at Eurescom, mostly as coordinator of FP6 and FP7 projects. Currently he coordinates the FP7 multimedia project Vconect.
stollenmayer@eurescom.eu

Milon Gupta

Milon Gupta is marketing manager at Eurescom and has 14 years of European project management experience. He is currently the dissemination manager of the 500 million-euro Future Internet PPP programme and coordinator of the EU-funded research project CI-FIRE.
gupta@eurescom.eu

Peter Herrmann

Coming originally from Alcatel Optical Fibre Division (France), Peter Herrmann has since 10 years been in charge of the Celtic-Plus Programme Coordination. During this time about 100 Celtic projects with an overall budget of about 800 M€ have been realized.
herrmann@celticplus.eu