Project Management for Wedding Planning
Thinking about tackling your wedding planning on your own? Do it with confidence using this wedding planning advice from a project manager’s perspective.
By profession, I’m an Engineer. More specifically, I am a lead for running projects that have anything to do with implementing design changes to quality improvements, to vendor changes on products for my company. My experience has given me a unique outlook on how you can apply project management strategies to the wedding planning process.
I know that sounds a bit sterile, but hear me out. I’ve never been a bride that’s been overly excited to plan a wedding. To me, a wedding feels like just another project to manage. Truthfully, I’ve never had a desire to be the center of attention, even for a day. Before becoming engaged, I didn’t have any Pinterest boards already devoted to wedding ideas or themes. My fiancé wasn’t overly thrilled by my suggestions of going to the courthouse or eloping to Vegas and having Elvis officiate. Having a wedding with our loved ones is important to my partner, so I agreed we’d plan a formal wedding.
Applying Project Management Strategies to Wedding Planning
After managing projects all day at work, spend my free time managing our wedding plans wasn’t exciting to me. Granted, our wedding budget is much smaller than some of the hundreds of thousands or million-dollar projects at work. But thankfully, if everything falls apart or fails on my wedding day, I won’t lose my job over it. Regardless, it’s still another event that takes a lot of organization and planning to complete.
I’m trying to not sound stiff in regards to my wedding day, but part of being an engineer is to have that cut-and-dry outlook at times. I work in a mainly male environment, so if I start speaking in lovey-dovey sprinkles and sparkle terms… I’d receive some pretty odd looks!
After viewing Jessica’s segment on I Don’t Want a Fancy Wedding on Huffington Post and watching Ashley Hopkins reveal she had similar feelings, it was a relief to know I wasn’t alone. So I decided I’d share my experience and best advice on Project Managing Your Wedding– I hope you find this helpful.
How to Project Manage Your Wedding
In short, project management is the planning, organizing, motivating, and controlling resources towards specific goals. (Sounds like what you’re already been doing for your wedding planning, right?)
A project is a temporary task in which has a unique result with a beginning and an end. There are time constraints, funding, and deliverables that are all involved. Now you’re probably thinking, “Hey, this is exactly what I’ve been doing for my wedding!”
I do feel that my Project Management background has served me very well in planning our wedding. At work, I’m measured on how much savings or improvement I bring to our group and if I can do it within a set time frame. Who couldn’t use that in their wedding?
You know, things like cutting costs on a cake in order to splurge on a dress? While there are checklists galore out for telling brides what to do at certain time points before the wedding, I’d like to share with you how I’ve been managing our wedding planning process from a Project Manager’s perspective.
Project Management has five main steps:
1 • Initiating: Yea! You’re engaged! Start by deciding on the scope for your wedding, and which aspects are most important to you.
2 • Planning & Design: Getting clear on the look, feel, and aesthetic details, as well as the where and when.
3 • Executing: Choosing your venue, deciding on a caterer, putting deposits down to secure your DJ, flowers, cake, photography, and whatever else you have chosen.
4 • Monitoring & Controlling: Ensuring every one of your vendors are aligned with dates & details, and expectations for their services on your wedding day.
5 • Completion: Party time! It’s your wedding day!
For the DIY brides that want to manage their wedding themselves, without a
Wedding Manager… I mean, Wedding Planner… I’ll break this up a little further for you:
1 • Initiating
After our engagement, we established a timeline and a budget. We knew we wanted at least a year before our wedding to save. After crunching numbers, we decided on 15 months after our engagement and chose a date around the time frame we felt would have meaning to us.
Really take a look at what dates you are trying to aim for. Are you looking to hold your wedding in 12 months? Then consider how much you are able to save within those 12 months and how much do you already have saved?
If you don’t have any savings at the start and you’re able to save $500/month, then in 12 months you’d have $6,000 to work with. Don’t plan on a $10k+ budget on a 12-month timeline. The math simply does not work out in your favor here, and you don’t want to go into debt for a wedding.
I’ve had friends who started out with a figure they wanted to spend on their wedding and had what they *thought* was a plan, only to wind up with thousands of dollars in credit card debt by their wedding dates. A little upfront planning and knowing what means you have to work with helps tremendously!
2 • Planning & Design
After we set our budget and timeline, we began listing what we wanted in our wedding and assigned costs to each item. Mostly, these were rough estimates but the total for everything added up to our spending goal. I must admit, my love of Excel and spreadsheets comes in closely after the love for my fiancé. I created an Excel Budget spreadsheet of all the expenses we would have for the wedding that can easily calculate this for me!
Now here is where all of those handy bridal timelines will come in helpful. Create a timeline with dates of when you need to accomplish each task based on the date you’ve chosen so you’ll stay on track with your planning.
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I’ve also created spreadsheets listing the guests we’d like to invite, in order to start generating a headcount. How many adults do you plan to invite? Are kids invited? These numbers and questions will play into estimates from vendors like your caterer and how many invitations to order.
Tip – as you’re filling out your Christmas cards this year, add the addresses to your wedding guest list for those you plan to invite. It’ll save you time searching for them later!
3 • Executing
This is where you begin calling and securing your vendors and establishing what is expected from them. That Excel spreadsheet I made came in handy here. It’s a living document and I’m constantly updating it. Once I have actual prices and quotes from vendors, I’m able to plug in actual costs. If something is higher priced than we expected, we’ll just have to make sacrifices in other areas to stay within budget.
Tip – when we’re looking for suppliers at work, whether it be for tooling or materials quotes we’re required to have quotes from three different suppliers before making a decision. While it may not be practical for every aspect of your wedding, I’ve found it’s a good rule of thumb to lean on.
For instance, when I was choosing flowers, I spent time speaking with a local florist to establish an estimated cost range. For the flowers I wanted, this ran about $700. Then, I checked out Sam’s Club prearranged packages. These came to roughly $300. After that, I priced out bulk flowers for DIY arrangements. This again came to roughly $300 for what I would want!
In the end, Sam’s provided what I felt would be the best value to me. Since I did thorough comparisons, I feel very confident in my decision. When we created our initial budget, we estimated we’d be spending $500 on flowers. Had we gone with the florist, we’d be $200 over budget. Now that we’ve chosen Sam’s Club arrangements, we’re $200 under budget! Yea!
4 • Monitoring & Control
Now the word ‘Control’ may set off images of a Bridezilla, but that’s not what I mean here. I’m not sending out meeting invites or project status updates on a daily or weekly basis to our wedding party. I am, however, giving them heads up here and there as things start coming together.
During this phase of wedding project management, you also continue to monitor your progress. Ensure your vendors and budget are still on track and on time by thoroughly tracking your spending – something many wedding checklists leave out.
You made your budget at the very start of your wedding, but are you still on track? Granted, you may have only gone over your invitation budget by $20, and your flower budget by $50 which may not seem like a lot but these overages add up quickly! It’s important to frequently review your overall spending and check to see if you’re still on target to meet your initial budget.
In regards to monitoring, this week I sent a quick email to my caterer asking for more clarification on a few items. I needed to verify children’s menu pricing & age restrictions, and also how many entrees we were allowed to have within our price point. I’m getting ready to start preparing my wedding invitations and want to include meal options on the RSVPs that I order. Are we allowed two entrees at the price point I had been expecting, or can we choose three? I then went back and was able to adjust my Excel spreadsheet budget based on the caterer’s responses. (Bonus, the info I found out from my caterer brought me under budget again!)
Also understand that things can go wrong during your planning. Are you planning an outdoor wedding? What will you do if it rains? Start considering worst-case scenarios and if it’s worth it to you to have a backup plan. I’ll use my flowers again. After reading online reviews from other brides, while the majority were positive, there were a few instances where their orders were canceled right before the wedding. What would I want to do if this happens to me? Well, I feel I’m pretty laid back. I know in the back of my mind running to the local Costco or Sam’s Club and grabbing a few bouquets of the fresh flower cuts they already have in stock wouldn’t be the end of the world to me.
5 • Completion
The final phase of wedding project management is completion. This is your finish line, where everything you’ve worked so hard organizing and planning for comes together! Sure, surprises may come up that you hadn’t accounted for, it’s Murphy’s Law. But, overall since you’ve spent time focusing on your budget, timing, and organizing and informing everyone, the overall Wedding should run smoothly!
The Project Triangle
One last aspect of Project Management: there is also a nifty little idea of the ‘Project Triangle’.
That is where either your timing, your budget, or scope of your project cannot be changed without affecting one another. All of these center around the goal of ‘Quality’ (For wedding planning, I’d suggest changing ‘quality’ to ‘overall wedding experience’). You should also check out this post on the Good, Fast, Cheap theory.
Think of the ‘scope’ constraint to be all of your wedding details (Photographer, venue, caterer, etc). If one changes, are you still within budget? Can they still meet your wedding date? And how will this affect your wedding experience as a whole?
I hope this overview of wedding project management was helpful to you! Keep all of these in mind while planning your wedding, review them on a frequent basis to make sure everything is within your parameters and you’re sure to stay within your target wedding experience!