The title of Project Coordinator, as well as Project Manager, is ubiquitous in most industries, but also rife with preconceptions that stem from an individual firm or team’s experience with the role. I was hired at Cx Associates as a Project Coordinator, filling a position that had existed before my arrival. My role was 1/3 Project Coordinator and 2/3 administrative support for at least a year. As a Project Coordinator, I learned how to coordinate measurement and verification of incentivized energy efficiency projects, among other things.
As our business has grown, Cx Associates hired additional administrative support, and I’ve been tasked with morphing the Project Coordinator role into something with broader implications for the firm. At the beginning of the year, the administrative portion of my job was reduced, and I was assigned six (to start) commissioning projects to coordinate.
Coordination vs. Management
I’ve been told that Project Coordination is unusual for straight commissioning projects. Indeed, before the beginning of the year, the Project Manager was responsible for a commissioning project’s coordination. I should note that the position of Mechanical, Electrical, and Plumbing (MEP) Coordinator is somewhat different than the type of coordination I’m referring to. MEP Coordination often requires an engineering or construction management degree. I’m discussing work that requires the ability to interpret engineering concepts into functional tasks and effective writing/communication. Tertiary training in math and science is essential, though the talents most valuable rest in organization and ball-juggling.
The distinction between Project Coordination and Project Management is fluid in that, depending on the field, either can do most of what the other does without compromising the title. There is a basic conceptual distinction, however; the equivalent sports analogy is that the Project Coordinator tracks the details of the game so that everyone knows who’s got the ball and where it’s going, and the Project Manager, having been fully informed by the Project Coordinator, stays up at night worrying about how to get the ball through the net.
A Project Manager:
- completes tasks necessary to deliver final products;
- understands the needs and objectives of a client or project stakeholder;
- understands client expectations of deliverables;
- executes business strategy and ties project results to business goals; and
- monitors project progress to achieve objectives.
A Project Coordinator:
- maintains the workflow of a project, ensuring a smooth operation;
- plans and monitors budget and timelines to achieve the project objectives;
- acts as the communication hub for the team, clients, and other concerned parties;
- records project decisions and tracks responsibilities/task allocation;
- anticipates problems and solutions and brings them to the attention of the Project Manager.
Benefits of the Project Coordinator Role
There are useful reasons to promulgate the role of Project Coordinator in the world of commissioning, measurement and verification, and engineering. Commissioning firms carry multiple, large, complex projects and Project Managers are ultimately responsible for maintaining quality standards set by the firm as a whole. For these types of businesses, it is in the interest of the company to appoint a separate Project Coordinator to allow the Project Manager to focus attention on achieving the project's target cost, schedule and, in particular, product quality. Along these lines, as Project Managers are generally engineers with higher salaries, using a Project Coordinator will free up the Project Manager’s time to focus on the tasks that require his or her highly trained (and expensive) skillset, leaving the tasks requiring less training (but no less talent) to a lower salaried employee. Not only does this arrangement allow Project Managers to function at their highest and best use, it also helps the commissioning firm remain competitive in the marketplace.
Finally, a Project Coordinator who is working on multiple projects gains a high-level perspective on the resource allocation needs of the company. That can be useful when assessing how “hot” a firm is running. For example, is there a backlog of work starting to pile up? Are employees overloaded? Is it time to hire more resources? How “deeply” an employee coordinates projects will determine how many projects they can take on and, therefore, how high their view is.
Does your firm use Project Coordinators, and how is it working?