How to manage the schedule and preparation for a very busy public official.
April 2, 2012 7:24 AM   Subscribe

Can you help solve a public official's staff project management woes?

I work for a public official, but I imagine that this could apply to CEOs or organization leaders of any kind. Any leader who has a staff of 10-15 of people managing public events, private meetings, etc. Here are some of the challenges:

The calendar. My boss has dozens of meetings, speaking engagements, and other events every day, and not all in the same city. We use Outlook to manage his calendar, but the only way that we staffers can see his events on our mobile phones is if we ourselves are invited to them by the scheduler. So, most events have about 10 staffers confirmed with them, though many of them have nothing to do with preparation for the meeting or the event.

Who's in charge of preparation? In the Outlook event calendar notes area we assign a key staffer for the event. But sometimes the staffer throws a memo into the field, and no one sees it, and sometimes doing that works but it requires a new invitation to be sent out and accepted by everyone.

Finally, if you are assigned to be the key staffer to the event, the only way you can find out is by going through the calendar one by one and looking. Not ideal. In addition to pasting memos in the event fields, we also throw documents into Dropbox to be viewed on the go.

The boss needs:
To be able to see his calendar on his computer and on his iPad
To be able to read associated materials (legislative memo, bio of person he is meeting, etc)

We need:
A way to see the boss's calendar on our computers and iPhones without necessarily being invited to events
A way to assign specific staffers to events and track progress
A way to share documents in the office and on the go

Do you have suggestions for teams that manage not a company but an individual leader? Apps? Project management systems?

posted by metamush to Technology (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Have you looked at sharing a Google calendar? It wouldn't check all your boxes, but it would let everyone see events without being invited to them, and there's an experimental feature that allows you to attach google docs to particular events.
posted by jon1270 at 8:11 AM on April 2, 2012

I used to be a scheduler for a high level public official. Here are some thoughts:

1) Using Outlook you should be able to share the boss's calendar with other users so that they can look at it without being added to every calendar invitation. You can manage permissions so that some users can edit and others can just view. It's also possible to mark events as "private" so that not everyone can see them. That's very useful for the boss's vacation plans or dinner with his wife or what have you.

2) Sounds like your boss needs a briefing book. We decoupled briefings from the Outlook calendar entirely. Every day we used Dropbox to send my boss a PDF of all of his briefings for the next day that he read on his iPad. That way he didn't have to keep tracking changes to the Outlook event.

3) Managing who does what in terms of briefings and staffing is hard! I assigned briefings to staffers once a week and then had daily follow up to make sure they were on target. It was a huge pain. On the Outlook calendar we only invited staff to an event if they were expected to be there to staff our principal. That cut down on some confusion.

I actually love scheduling logistics, so if you have any questions, feel free to MeMail me!
posted by fancypants at 8:14 AM on April 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

2nding - Outlook has some pretty sophisticated tools under the hood for sharing available times, scheduling, etc. Someone should spend some quality time figuring them all out.

10-15 people scheduling his events sounds like a lot of cooks in the kitchen. Can 1 or at most 2 of you be given primary responsibility and authority to add something to his calendar and the rest of you coordinate requests with these 1 or 2 people?
posted by randomkeystrike at 9:03 AM on April 2, 2012

I agree with randomkeystrike. No more than two or three people should be able to edit the principal's calendar. Everyone else should look but not touch (and ideally that should include the principal himself, but good luck with that!). I scheduled for a federal cabinet secretary and we had two schedulers and a personal assistant and those were the only people allowed to edit the calendar. It really cuts down on chaos if you develop a system for having events added to the schedule and rigorously stick with it.
posted by fancypants at 9:23 AM on April 2, 2012

Response by poster: I think part of the problem is the fact that even if we have permissions to see the boss's calendar on our computers, we cannot see that information on our mobile devices unless we are RSVP'd to the same events.
posted by metamush at 12:58 PM on April 2, 2012

That's a problem that we had too and I honestly don't have an Outlook solution. Limiting the number of people who can make edits to the calendar helps with that issue to an extent because it also limits the volume of schedule changes that you would have to keep track of from your mobile device.
posted by fancypants at 1:20 PM on April 2, 2012

Outlook is very good at managing this sort of thing, but you have to use it correctly to make it work. Set up permissions so that everyone can see the calendar, but the minimum number of people (ideally one, plus back-ups) can change it. Briefing documents can be attached to meetings and, therefore, added to or altered at any time and the primary record remains accurate. You can allocate individuals to a meeting without them having to be invited, you can allocate resources to a meeting etc. Note that some of these functions need a specific mailbox set up on your server to work.

As far as mobile access goes, this is pretty easy if you are using Exchange behind Outlook and if there is a Webmail service enabled, which is pretty typical for public or large private organisations. You can enter the webmail server URL as the server name in the settings on your iPhone or iPad and everything will sync up. I'm not sure if you can see other people's calendars without having their log-in credentials, though. You may be better to use a 'shared' calendar rather than the one attached the the person's e-mail account.

Given that you already have Outlook and everyone is familiar with it, it is, I think, you best bet by far. Look for resources to help you make the most of what is a very powerful tool.
posted by dg at 4:12 PM on April 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

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