Five things that I do to help me when I come back to the office in the New Year.

As offices around the world start reopening after the holidays, many of us are preparing to return to work after a much-needed break. While it can be exciting to get back to work and tackle new challenges, it can also be a bit daunting to jump back into the routine.

For me, coming back to the office after a break often feels a bit overwhelming. Here are a few key things that help me get back into the swing of things.

Reconnect with my team

After being away from work for a while, it’s good to reconnect with my team and catch up on what’s been happening. This might involve setting up a team meeting or having a quick chat with my colleagues to get up to speed.

Set clear goals for the year

One of the first things I do when I come back to the office is sit down and make a list of my goals for the year. This helps me stay focused and motivated and gives me something to work towards.

I try to be as specific as possible, breaking my goals down into smaller, more manageable tasks. This might include professional goals, such as learning a new skill or taking on a new project, or personal goals, such as improving my work-life balance. I outline measures for my goals so I can tick them off once I achieve them.

Setting clear goals helps me to stay motivated and focused throughout the year.

Get organised

After a break, my desk can get pretty cluttered, so I take some time to tidy up and get everything in its place. I also like to set up a system for managing my tasks and projects, whether that’s using a to-do list or project management software.

Having a clear system in place helps me stay on top of my workload and stay organised throughout the year.

Reflect on the previous year

Before I jump into the New Year, I like to take some time to reflect on the previous year and think about what worked well and what didn’t.

I like to list all my achievements and successes for the previous year and have them on hand to reflect on when work is tough. It keeps me positive and motivated and reminds me that I am good at my job.

Reviewing the things that didn’t work so well helps me identify any areas for improvement and devise a plan for how to tackle them in the New Year.

Get back into a routine

After a break, it can be hard to get back into a routine. To help with this, I stick to a regular schedule as much as possible, including setting aside dedicated time for work, exercise, and relaxation.

Establishing a routine helps me stay productive and healthy throughout the year.

Coming back to the office after a break is never easy. Try following these five steps to make the transition back to the office a little smoother and get the New Year off to a great start.

Remember to be patient with yourself and take things one step at a time. With a little preparation and some self-care, you’ll be ready to tackle whatever the year has in store. If you’re not quite ready to jump straight into the thick of things, we’ve got some funny project management videos to lighten the mood. Check them out on our YouTube channel.

Final things to do before leaving for Christmas – project manager edition

It’s almost that time of the year when everyone downs tools for a well-earned holiday.

Like the rest of the Southern Hemisphere, we’re heading into Summer here in New Zealand, so our time off is longer than most.

Whether you’re leaving for a few days, a few weeks or even longer, you want to ensure that you leave your projects in good condition. There’s nothing worse than returning to work after a relaxing break to find everything in chaos or that you can’t remember where you left off.

Here are five tips to help you leave everything in good order so you can hold onto your holiday feeling once you return.

Annual leave

Ensure your team has their leave entered before heading off on holiday.

Double-check that there are no clashes, no changes you missed and that your forward workload is covered.

Don’t forget to enter your own leave; if you are gone longer than your team, make sure they know what to do until you get back. You can even schedule an email to remind them of tasks when they return.

Out of office

Don’t forget to set your out-of-office messages on your email and phone before you go – and be sure to spell-check them as well.

Ensure you let your suppliers and customers know when you will return from leave and whom to contact in an emergency.

Financial matters

Remember to get all invoices and expenses paid or authorised before you leave. No one wants to be left short over the holidays.

Ensure you also promptly submit invoices to your customers, as people often close their finances off earlier than usual.

Schedule management

Unless it’s really critical, make sure your project tasks are paused.

Identify tasks your team can work on as soon as they get back, especially if you will be off for longer than some of your team members.

Understand the impact all your team members have on the schedule, and let your stakeholders know if dates are going to slip.


Get all your reporting up to date so that you know exactly where you left off when you get back.

Also, check your reporting cycles for any reports that are due shortly after you return – maybe you can get some of those reports pre-prepared to minimise your workload and stress when you return from your holiday.

Our top tip is to take the time to sit back, relax and unwind during your break. Recharge the batteries, spend time with the people you care about and come back refreshed and ready to rule your projects in the New Year.


If you’re looking for some more Christmas cheer check out our 12 days of project management video for a humourous take on the 12 days of Christmas song. If video’s not your thing, we have a blog about why Santa Claus is the ultimate project manager.

Natural Environment Stakeholder Engagement – achieving natural environmental outcomes across the Auckland region

Conservation of our natural environment is more important than ever. Both central Government and local communities are expecting their Councils to actively manage and protect biodiversity in their regions.

Auckland Council realised that to effectively manage this huge undertaking they would need to invest in technology. The result was the Natural Environment Stakeholder Engagement (NESE) Dynamics 365 CRM.


In July 2018, as part of the 10-year long term plan, Auckland Council established a Natural Environment Targeted Rate (NETR). This committed an additional $311 million over ten years towards achieving natural environmental outcomes across the Auckland region.

Local community groups support the Council’s work in numerous ways and part of Council’s statutory reporting obligations include the value community groups contribute.

Previously, all local community interactions and associated information was logged in various ways across multiple systems, including email, spreadsheets and paper.

This disparate approach to information collection resulted in duplication, poor data and a lack of visibility across Council. It also severely impacted Council’s ability to meet reporting requirements.

The project

Auckland Council made the decision to invest in a CRM to solve these problems. Microsoft Dynamics 365 was chosen as the preferred solution and was customised to Council’s requirements.

The CRM captures background information, contact details and can track interactions between Council staff and volunteers.

One of the biggest benefits has been the ability to centrally track volunteer hours across regional and local parks. NESE provides integrated views, graphs and dashboards as well as giving the option to export the data to MS Excel.

The tool also integrates with Auckland Council’s geospatial database (Ruru – Conservation Information System) and the Tiaki Tāmaki Makaurau | Conservation Auckland website.

The project’s budget was $581,891 and it came in under budget.


The NESE project has achieved the following objectives:

  • Consolidating existing information into a centralized system
  • Easily identify community group details, contacts and who they work with.
  • Eliminating inefficiency and duplication of effort across different departments.
  • Provide easy access to, and transparency of, critical information about the group’s activities.
  • Consistent processes for recording community group information and details of the support services Council provides to community groups to support their conservation activities.
  • Enable accurate and timely reporting
  • Spatial view of the community groups engagement areas

It is also contributing to Auckland Council achieving multiple high-level environmental strategies, including:

  • Auckland Plan 2050
  • Indigenous Biodiversity Strategy 2012
  • Auckland Regional Pest Management Plan 2020-2030

The awards

Award winners will be announced during the ALGIM 2022 conference in Christchurch

Other finalists

Find out about the other finalists:

Nelson City Council

Ruapehu District Council

Pūwhenua ki Ruapehu – Making better decisions using data and community experience

Making life changing decisions for your community is never easy, but when you rely on data that isn’t fit for purpose the challenge is magnitudes harder.

This was the problem Ruapehu District Council was facing. Good decisions rely on good data, so the Council commissioned the Pūwhenua ki Ruapehu study.


Ruapehu District Council has long been aware that their community’s data has been overshadowed by the wider district, and specific local needs and knowledge have been lost in the noise of the wider population.

Resources were not being allocated to the communities that desperately needed them and the suffering within the district was being hidden.

The Council wasn’t prepared to let the status quo remain unchallenged. This resulted in the “Living in Ruapehu” (Pūwhenua ki Ruapehu) study to redress the balance and ensure that they had rich, real life data specific to the Rohe.

The project

The original purpose of the study was to conduct a deep analysis of the challenges faced by the Ruapehu District population. This would give the Council a better understanding of the specific needs of the community and help Council develop work that would increase the quality of life for everyone in the District.

The study focused on seven key areas:

  • housing
  • health
  • education
  • employment
  • environment
  • economy
  • social wellbeing

Council worked with the Ministry of Social Development, Dot Loves Data and Datacom to gather both quantitative and qualitative data.

As each focus area has multiple challenges, it was important that all avenues of data collection were included. Partnering with other organisations meant that the study could combine official statistics with real community stories.

It quickly became clear that the study couldn’t be a one off exercise. To ensure that it lived up to its promise and became a well utilised resource, it needed to be live.


The result of all this hard work is a live, up to date, easily accessible web portal.

Pūwhenua ki Ruapehu has already facilitated productive meetings with Council, NGOs, government agencies and other key stakeholders where actionable plans have been made to deliver services and support to the areas with the greatest needs.

Instead of being merely an observer, Council is now at the heart of community development and wellbeing for the entire District.

The awards

Award winners will be announced during the ALGIM 2022 conference in Christchurch.

Other finalists

Find out about the other finalists:

Nelson City Council

Auckland Council

Te Parikaranga – Bringing iwi engagement to the heart of Council

How do you bring your local iwi into the heart of your council and make sure community engagement becomes business as usual?

Nelson City Council didn’t take a half-hearted approach when answering this question. Instead they built a brand new digital communications platform, Te Parikaranga, in collaboration with the eight iwi of Te Tauihu o Te Waka a Māui.


Both iwi and the Council were finding the old way of working cumbersome and time consuming. Council staff were emailing iwi about every project, some of which were extremely important while others were of little interest. This resulted in cluttered inboxes, lack of transparency, duplication of effort and frustration all round.

There had to be a better way!

The project

Co-designed by iwi and Nelson City Council, Te Parikaranga will increase transparency and improve communication between iwi and Council.

It seeks to help redress the balance around Māori participation in Council decision making, support stronger partnerships and increase the Council’s cultural competency.

Council staff load their project’s information directly into the platform where it’s turned into a one page briefing document for iwi. The system generates a weekly notification to iwi representatives advising them of any new projects, removing the need for email conversations. Iwi can access the platform at any time and indicate their interest in each project using a traffic light indicator.

By having all of the information available at a click of a button it’s made the engagement process much easier. Now, everyone has easy access to information and can see exactly what stage each project is at from initial concept through to design and delivery.

The project took two years to complete and came in 22% under budget.


The positive impact of the Te Parikaranga platform cannot be understated. Not only has it increased productivity, it has strengthened and deepened the partnership between the Council and the eight iwi of Te Tauihu o Te Waka a Māui.

It has helped Council meet three of their eight strategic community outcomes:

  • helping create inclusive communities,
  • giving people the opportunity to celebrate and explore their heritage, identity and creativity, and
  • fostering an innovative and sustainable economy.

Plus enabled them to “strengthen the relationship between iwi and the Council, support communication and implement a genuine partnership.”

The Te Parikaranga platform has been such a success that there has already been significant interest from other Councils and Crown Agencies.

The awards

Award winners will be announced during the ALGIM 2022 conference in Christchurch.

Other finalists

Find out about the other finalists:

Ruapehu District Council

Auckland Council

How to be a successful project manager

Written by Rhona Aylward

Rhona is Deputy Everything Officer at Psoda, where she does everything except code. After starting life as a microbiologist she moved into PMO leadership roles around the world before settling in New Zealand with her family.

Getting your first job as a project manager is an exciting time! It’s a first step on a fulfilling and rewarding career journey.

It can also be scary and nerve wracking, with you wondering if you’re doing it right and worrying about bringing the project to a halt because of your inexperience. Having been there and felt the fear, I’ve put together this guide to help you become a successful project manager.

First things first. Remember you’re not alone. There are people inside and outside your organisation that are there to help and support you. They won’t let you fail!

What can you expect as a project manager?

You’ll be responsible for delivering at least one project.  Usually when you start  you’re given a relatively simple and small one, just to get you comfortable. Even if you’re given a huge complex beast as your first gig, just remember – the process doesn’t change – just the size of the work that needs to be done.

It’s your job to make sure that everything to do with the project happens when it’s supposed to.  We think of a project manager as the conductor of the orchestra. It’s your job to bring all the specialists together, at the right time to make the project work. Just like it’s a conductor’s job to bring all the musicians together to produce a piece of music. It’s not your job to do the actual work, that’s the team’s job!

When you’re a new project manager, as with any new job, it’s best to get to know the people before jumping in. Spend some time having meetings with your team, key stakeholders, steering committee and sponsors. You’ll  find you get better and more useful information over informal coffees than you will by reading screeds of documents.

On saying that, make sure you read the documents! There will be a few really good nuggets of information there. Pay particular attention to the business case, the risk and issues registers and the stakeholder matrix.

Another thing to keep in mind is that each organisation has their own way of managing projects, it could be waterfall, agile or a combination. You need to make sure that you familiarise yourself with the way they do things and stick to it – at least initially. Once you’re established you can push back if you need to.

So how does a successful project manager spend their day?

There’s no such thing as a typical day when you’re a project manager. There’s always something unexpected coming out of the woodwork. However, there are some tasks that are pretty much constant.


Most successful project managers will check their emails 1st thing in the morning.  It’s a good way to make sure you stay on top of any crises that happened overnight.  And let’s be honest here, there’s likely to be at least one fire that needs putting out before you do anything else.. Go through your emails and prioritise what needs to be responded to and when. Try and work through them in quiet spots during the day and  check your inbox just before leaving for anything urgent that might need attention.


Successful project managers spend at least 40% of their time in meetings so it’s likely you’ll be in at least one meeting a day.

It’s a great idea to start the day in a briefing with your coordinator.

Discuss what actions, milestones and tasks are coming up, what’s due to be completed and anything that’s slipping.

Cover any urgent emails, phone calls or meetings that have appeared in the last day plus anything else that needs attention.

By the end of the meeting you’ll have a rough outline of the day. This isn’t set in stone as things will change but it gives you both something to work from.

Then move on to a quick standup meeting with the project team. Aim to keep this as short as possible. Each person gives an update on what they did the previous day, what they’re working on today and any problems they need help with.

Project status meetings are usually once a week, unless there’s a major development. We like to have a standard meeting agenda. It covers

  • task updates
  • schedule updates
  • budget updates
  • quality updates
  • risks
  • issues
  • assumptions
  • dependencies
  • staff matters (leave, rotations, issues)
  • vendor matters
  • customer matters
  • change management
  • stakeholder management

Switch up the topic order depending on where you are in the project. So, if you’re getting very close to a vendor milestone they’ll be at the top of the agenda but if you’re getting ready to transition to testing then staff matters relating to that will be higher.

Stakeholder meetings take up a huge part of your time. You could be meeting with a concerned senior manager, gathering requirements and agreeing deliverables with a client, sorting out resource requirements with different departments or attending quality review meetings.

Chasing deliverables 

Not only do you have to make sure you stick to your schedule, you also need to make sure your team sticks to theirs! This isn’t always easy, especially if you’re not the line manager of the people working on the project.

You need to have the negotiation skills of a top diplomat and the courage of a warrior! No, we’re not joking when we say that. We know of one project where the project manager didn’t keep on top of deliverables and found out 2 weeks before the project was due to deliver that a key component hadn’t been manufactured and it would take 3 months to fix! Needless to say there were a lot of VERY unhappy people that day, and no – it wasn’t one of our projects – thank goodness!


An inevitable part of any successful project manager’s job is reporting. This is where you and your coordinator will be working very closely together.

You’ll be expected to produce and discuss a number of different reports at varying times of the month. This could include:

  • the overall progress of the project
  • detailed risk and issues reports
  • financial reports
  • resource forecasts
  • deliverable reports
  • milestone reports

What do you need to do to be effective in the job?

Now that we’ve given you a brief summary of a day in the life of a successful project manager, let’s take a look at some skills you’ll need to do to be effective in the role.

The first and by far the most important thing is – treat your coordinator well!  We can’t emphasise that enough. The relationship between the two of you is going to be one of the most important in your work life. If the two of you don’t get on it is going to make doing the job extremely difficult.

You’re going to need to be pretty unflappable. This isn’t a job for someone who gets frustrated easily or who can’t think on their feet. Life in a project is rarely stable and calm and if it is, it definitely doesn’t last long.

You need to be able to stand your ground but without being confrontational. As a project manager you’re going to have to negotiate for everything. Whether it’s getting something done in the agreed timeframe or asking for more money – it’s your job to get it!

You want to be an analytical thinker and good with numbers. We don’t mean accountant or PhD level but being able to grasp how budgets work and spot discrepancies quickly will be a distinct advantage.

Finally, you need to know how to switch off. Being a project manager is a really stressful job so being able to switch off and relax is vitally important. Make sure you take at least a small portion during the day away from the stresses of managing the project and once your work day is done, keep it done! That isn’t always easy or practical but if you make a habit of switching off at the end of the work day both your physical and mental health will be protected.

We hope you found these tips helpful – Good luck with your new career!

Psoda plug

If you’re looking for a flexible, easy to use tool to help you manage your projects, then look no further than Psoda. Sign up now for a free trial.

If you want more project management tips then check out our YouTube channel. Whether you’re a novice or an experienced project manager we have something for you. Our project management videos cover everything from funny videos to advanced project management techniques, tips, fundamentals, trends, top 10s and of course our own software.


Long term planning – shaping the future of your district

Written by Rhona Aylward

Rhona is Deputy Everything Officer at Psoda, where she does everything except code. After starting life as a microbiologist she moved into PMO leadership roles around the world before settling in New Zealand with her family.

Long term planning is hard work. You never know what is around the next corner. Case in point with Coronavirus and the impacts that it will have on the way council residents will work, rest and play in the immediate, medium and long term.

The long term plan is the way a council outlines its expenditure across a range of projects that will not only keep the districts and cities functioning well but will also help them grow and flourish into the future.

Balancing all those different needs with the requirements under legislation and the strategic goals of the council makes long term planning a time consuming and delicate job.

As you move into the next planning cycle, what are some things you can do to make the process easier?

Phase 1 – Set Up and Prioritisation

When you’re setting up the structure it’s important to make sure that it maps to the activity structure in the plan. That way you can quickly and easily see which programmes and projects contribute to each activity. 

A good way to do this is to have a portfolio level folder for each strategic objective or activity. You can then have the programmes and projects that contribute to that objective or activity in that folder. This will make data aggregation and visualisation much easier.

It’s also worth making sure that supporting processes are set up and documented in that folder. It’s time consuming and frustrating to get deep into planning only to find out that you’re QAing on the hoof when you could have had the process agreed and documented up front.

Getting a document numbering structure in place and/or creating links to your document management system is also good practice. 

Prioritising the long list of programmes and projects is often a case of who screams the loudest or who has the most political points to score. Avoiding this takes diplomacy and tact – plus the magic weapon of data.

Using a prioritisation matrix, where you score projects and programmes based on pre-agreed metrics is a great way to reduce, if not completely remove, the problem of loudest voice and political influence. Any decisions on what programmes and projects to include are solely made based on where each lies on the matrix. 

Phase 2 – Scenario Planning

Put simply, scenario planning is working out what projects and programmes are going to give you the biggest bang for your buck. 

It’s one of, if not the biggest and most time consuming parts of long term planning. Trying to get the right balance across the plan within the agreed budget takes skill and time.

In most instances it’s best to set up an entire project to manage this part of the long term planning process. 

Using spreadsheets can work but  they get big and very quickly become bulky and unwieldy. This is especially true where you are trying to combine hundreds of different spreadsheets in multiple ways to build different scenarios.

Each scenario you build will need to take into account the different streams in your organisation. Some typical streams are:

  • Strategic
  • Financial
  • Growth
  • Development contributions
  • Asset management
  • Rates

Some of the biggest pain points when running scenarios is the time it takes to complete them. It can take upwards of 3 to 6 months to build different scenarios for approval using spreadsheets.

When people want to get access to the latest data they need to phone the team and make a request. Then wait for the answer (which can take weeks to provide).

Version control is also a huge problem! Running that many spreadsheets means that things can quickly get out of control and people many not be working with the latest data.

Having a scenario planning tool that allows you to quickly and easily change certain metrics and see the impact of those changes in real time makes this job a lot easier. 

A dedicated planning tool means anyone with access can extract the most up to date data at any time, cutting down unnecessary delays and reducing frustration.

Another huge benefit is consistent reporting across the programme. This also speeds up the decision making process.

Phase 3 – Internal Review

Scenarios that meet the threshold are presented to the long term planning committee for discussion and, when finalised, approval. 

This is another process that can take a long time to happen, so make sure you incorporate some contingency in case of overruns or requests to rework scenarios.

It’s not uncommon to have to rework the various scenarios multiple times at this stage. Again, this is where a dedicated scenario planning tool really comes into its own. 

Make sure the rationale documents that explain the scenarios are as clear and unambiguous as possible. Also make the options as diverse as you can so that there are real choices available.

Phase 4 – Public Consultation

This is always an interesting exercise. Getting feedback from a diverse community takes diverse methods. Some options that are used are:

  • Open days
  • Newspapers
  • Letterbox drops
  • Website

One not to ignore is social media. Most of the community will be on Facebook or other channels such as Instagram and Twitter so posting the consultation information there will increase reach particularly in specific demographics.

Once the consultation period is over the feedback is collated and presented to the planning team via the elected representatives.

Long Term Planning In Action with Hamilton City Council

Psoda worked closely with Hamilton City Council to develop our scenario planning tool to exactly meet council planning requirements.

In Hamilton City Council’s case we have reduced the scenario planning process by 50%. A process that was taking upwards of 3 months a turn is now taking weeks. 

This means that the long term planning team can not only get the elected members the information they need to make the decisions much more quickly, they can also run many more scenarios to get the best results for their communities.

You can find out more in our case study.

In conclusion, building the long term plan is time consuming and complicated. You can make it a bit easier by following the steps outlined above as a guide. If you want to find out how Psoda can help you make your long term planning process easier get in touch. We’d love to help.

When you are a natural born project manager and you need to bake a big Star Wars cake…

Written by Rhona Aylward

Rhona is Deputy Everything Officer at Psoda, where she does everything except code. After starting life as a microbiologist she moved into PMO leadership roles around the world before settling in New Zealand with her family.

Most project managers have had at least one project that has challenged them like no other. It was probably complex with many tasks to complete, tight deadlines and for a demanding customer.  And there will have been no room for overruns on delivery or budget.

The one

My ‘one’ project like this happened very recently. The important and demanding client was Mr 5-turning-6 and his request was for a Star Wars birthday cake. This was hardly surprising as he’s a Star Wars fan and spends most of his free time waving a lightsaber around and saving the planet!  For him, it was an easy request, for me it became a challenging project.

I work pretty much full time in and on the business and wanted to make the cake while Mr 5 was at school.  It’s a very busy time for us so I put my project manager’s hat on before my toque (white baker’s hat!) and planned and prepped like never before. There was so much to do – where to start?

Like any good project manager, I started at the end – with what I needed to achieve and by when. Then I worked backwards on a timetable of the individual steps and how long I thought each one would take. I put everything on the list including the time it would take me to do battle with the online shopping and hide the evidence when Mr 5 got home! I’ll admit to not taking it to the level of using a Gantt chart, spreadsheet or software solution to do the planning – paper and pen were enough this time!

The end result was the completed Star Wars cake (and hopefully a happy Mr 6)


The stages were: 


  • Check the pattern for the cakes and decoration.
  • Make a list of all the ingredients and the shops I’d need to visit to get them.
  • Check that I had all the baking tins, colouring and decorating tools.


  • 1: Bake the sponge cakes, allow them to cool completely overnight.
  • 2: Make the buttercream for the entire cake, cut cakes into shape, sandwich the cakes together, crumb coat the outside and store well.
  • 3: Colour and roll out the fondant icing, ice the sponges – which would probably need a degree in trigonometry to complete – leave to set, decorate with all the intricate detail that my ‘client’ would be expecting and look for final checks and touches, finish and hide until his birthday…

So now I had all my activities and deliverables, next was to assign time estimates and schedule the time available across the tasks. Using more of a daily sprint approach, I planned out each day’s time allowance and what was achievable in those time frames.  At the end, I established that I actually needed three days to complete the project in time for the party!  


Each morning after taking Mr 5-turning-6 to school, I’d think through the morning’s work (a bit like having a stand-up with myself!) and get going. I planned each day’s work with the same level of detail as the overall plan – shopping, preparing and weighing out the ingredients which made me feel like a TV chef where they have all the ingredients in bowls before they start! 

The biggest challenge of the whole project was mixing the fondant to the right colour. Usually I’d cheat and go pre-coloured. Unfortunately the shops don’t sell battleship grey so I had to make it by hand. The amount of effort it took to mix and blend was insane! Not helped by it sticking to and ripping the gloves that I’d sensibly put on to avoid dyeing my hands grey. 

As school pick-up time approached each day, I’d tidy-up and the next day, I’d check the plan and set out my day’s work. 

A happy customer

After a week of planning, and three days of making, decorating and finishing, the end result was most definitely a Star Wars cake. And a very happy Mr 6!

Cookery tip of the day – do your prep, make a plan and follow-it – just like a project manager at work! 


My finished cake’s in the photo at the top of the post. Let me know what you think of it in the comments.

A project manager’s guide to Valentine’s Day

Written by Rhona Aylward

Rhona is Deputy Everything Officer at Psoda, where she does everything except code. After starting life as a microbiologist she moved into PMO leadership roles around the world before settling in New Zealand with her family.

Valentine’s Day. You either love it, or loathe it. Every year you’re guaranteed to read on various social media platforms about hero partners that have gone all out and made the day amazing or zero partners that have failed to deliver even the most basic of surprises.

One year in my naïve youth I had a boyfriend that suggested we go out for dinner on the day. Only to find out when we got to the restaurant that he hadn’t booked and was very surprised to find there was no room and no – they couldn’t just squeeze us in. On saying that, the smoked sausage supper from the local chippie (fellow Scots will know what I mean) was pretty good.

So how can you be a Valentine’s Day hero? By using your project management skills to plan and execute the perfect event for your partner or spouse! Here are some tips to help you avoid being a Valentine’s Day zero.

Plan in advance

Don’t be like my poor old boyfriend and try to organise something at the last minute. You’ll likely find that the restaurants are fully booked, flowers sold out (and/or extortionate pricing) and the couriers are so busy that your gift will be delivered three days after the big day.

Set your budget

Everyone I know has got a tale of being ripped off on Valentine’s Day. Whether it’s a surprise bunch of red roses that ended up costing the same as a weekly shop or an over-     expensive meal that was mediocre at best. The best way to avoid an unexpected bill is to plan in advance. Florists will give you a price over the phone and restaurants have menus online. That way you can plan a lovely day that is within your budget.

Know your stakeholder

No-one wants to receive an unsuitable gift and end up in the returns queue on the 15th of February. It sounds obvious, but pick something your sweetheart will like. Not something you’d like them to like. All my girlfriends (and some boyfriends) have at least one example of a Valentine’s Day gift that was more for the giver than them.

Have a disaster recovery plan

Especially now, when the dreaded COVID is still hovering, plans can change on the flip of a coin. Have a back-up in case the unexpected happens. Food delivery services can be a good option if you can’t get a restaurant booking. Even in COVID times as most are still delivering under the red setting.  If you are buying a gift, do it a few days beforehand and hide it so there are no last minute panics when all the good chocolates have gone!

If you want to make sure you’re a Valentine’s Day hero, apply your project management skills to the job – plan and prep.  It’s a guaranteed no fail and you will (both) enjoy the project benefits!

Ask a Project Manager – Help! I’m a clinician, I’ve been asked to run a project and don’t know where to start!

Written by Rhona Aylward

Rhona is Deputy Everything Officer at Psoda, where she does everything except code. After starting life as a microbiologist she moved into PMO leadership roles around the world before settling in New Zealand with her family.

Welcome to our latest Ask a Project Manager blog. This time I’ve been asked how to help a clinician run a project they’ve been given when they have no project management experience.

Hello, I’m looking for some advice please. I’m a clinician in a hospital and I’ve been handed a project to run. I’ve got no project management experience, what should I do and where can I start?

My first bit of advice is don’t panic. Whether you’re a doctor, nurse, physiotherapist, pharmacist or other specialist you already have a lot of the skills needed to be a good project manager:

Team player

Healthcare workers constantly work in multi-disciplinary teams and the skills that are applied there are easily transferrable to project management teams


Clinicians are constantly having to meet inflexible deadlines and that ability is very useful as a project manager

Subject matter expertise

When managing a project, having first-hand experience is a real bonus and brings significant advantages. In the healthcare setting no-one has more relevant experience than someone with a clinical background

Stakeholder management

Managing your stakeholders is something that clinicians do on a daily basis; this part of project management should be second nature.

In terms of running your project there are 5 key things you need to do to help you deliver successfully.

Make a plan

This can be as simple as a one page document. As long as it covers what you’ll deliver, how much it will cost, when it will be delivered and how you’ll measure success you’re good.

Sort out your budget

  • Break your budget down into CAPEX & OPEX
  • Make sure you update your forecast & actual budgets regularly

Look at the risks

Document any actual and perceived risks to the project up front and proactively manage them when they eventuate

Work out a schedule

A schedule is just a way of visualising tasks and showing you what has to happen when. It can be as easy as creating an excel spreadsheet with the task name, who will do it and how long it will take.


Keep it simple. Show how you are tracking with your budget and tasks against the deadline.

I hope this has given you some ideas on where to start!