Smart-MEMPHIS was one of the first Horizon 2020 projects to start after the 8th framework programme begun in 2014. After 1.5 years in the daily management and administration of the project, Senior Project Manager Joni Turunen from Spinverse explains what it is like to manage a multi-partner international project and gives his tips for a coordinator still planning a project.
What does project management in a Horizon 2020 project consist of?
Mainly my work is practical: assisting the consortium in the day-to-day work, making sure we meet deadlines and that we make decision on time, organizing meetings, keeping the overall schedule, communication with the European Commission, helping people with various questions and problems, and so on.
Often people do not have previous background in EU projects, so a large part of the work is also advising on what are the best practices. Smart-MEMPHIS is an exceptional project as everyone has played together very well and see clearly how their work affects the others. Often partners tend to concentrate solely on their own part and do not see the big picture which then has to be reminded to them once in a while.
I do have to keep a balance in my job: I do not want to stifle the creativity of the experts and scientists doing what they know best. The role of a project manager is to give a deadline and make sure that it is kept – what happens in between is best left to the experts.
Have you encountered any practical challenges and how have you solved them?
There are of course always practical challenges in any given project. The latest that I remember was related to teleconferencing: when a majority of the consortium met in person and some participated remotely, even today relaying audio from the in-person meeting so that everyone voices could be heard proved to be challenging. That problem we solved by purchasing a wireless microphone that can be thrown around the table (see Project Coordinator Thorbjörn "Toby" Ebefors throwing the mic in the image on the left).
Another practical challenge in all projects is of course simply getting a hold of people at a specific time when you would need them.
Is there something that makes smart-MEMPHIS a unique project?
Most of the consortium knows each other from other projects beforehand. The typical situation in EU R&D projects is that perhaps two or three partners have done projects together before, but in smart-MEMPHIS almost everyone had worked with at least one other partner before. This has been a great asset when the consortium has faced challenges.
Another special aspect in smart-MEMPHIS has been that the primary objective – an energy harvester powered pacemaker – has been very clear from the beginning of the preparation of the project in 2013. As the goal is crystal clear, the sub-objectives for each partner are also well defined.
I must also say that the people in the consortium are exceptionally helpful and all have great initiative. They have kept the deadlines and delivered what they have promised – not that this is not usually the case in EU projects, but the smart-MEMPHIS consortium has performed exceptionally well in that aspect.
Should a potential coordinator planning a H2020 project take something specific into account already when preparing the project?
Yes: first and foremost, they should remember that project management itself takes time and resources. As a rule of thumb, 5-7 % of project’s person months are spent on management: there should be a dedicated person for this task.
Communication is a crucial aspect of multi-partner projects: you should put effort into weekly or monthly meetings with the consortium. The better everyone knows what others are doing, the smoother the project will run.
Another good tip to implement already in the preparation phase is that you should not write deliverables just for the joy of reporting. Each deliverable should have a purpose: they could be specifications, publications, outlines of patents, demonstrators… Progress is reported in the periodic reports, so deliverables should really serve a function.
One last tip is that if you do not have experience in the administrative side of project management or the desire to do it, you do not have to do it yourself. For example, universities often have internal services for this, and companies can also have people dedicated to EU Project Management. Companies like Spinverse also provide this as a service. EU projects often have separate people appointed for scientific management and administrative coordination – you can choose if you want to do only one of these tasks or both.
Anna Mannila, Spinverse