10 Wedding Planning Tips from a Process Optimization Consultant

A lot of girls have been imagining their wedding day since they were little; what ring they wanted, their dream dress, the venue, and even down to what kind of cake they wanted so they could save the top of it in the freezer but never eat it again. Well I am here to tell you, that I myself, am in fact, not one of those girls. The time that most girls spent fawning over Pinterest wedding ideas, I was thinking about trying not to butcher my ankles at my gymnastics meet that afternoon, or getting my current crush to smile at me on campus as he walked through the Lund Center hallway while I was all sweaty on the elliptical (probably why I didn’t meet my future hubby in college if that was my tactic). So here I am in March 2022, sitting at the starting line of the marathon I was about to run entitled “Planning a Wedding,” and I really had no clue where to start since high school/college Lauren didn’t care to help me out at all… but then it hit me! Wedding planning is so similar to a project at work!

For those of you that don’t know, my day job is not sitting at Starbucks blogging the day away, but rather, a Senior Process Optimization Project Management Consultant at a company called Turnberry Solutions. In easier terms: I am put on projects at different fortune 500 clients to manage tasks, help change occur, coordinate change, maintain project statuses, find ways to make processes easier, and send memes in the team group chat when I think people could use the addition of a dancing elephant to their afternoon. As I started wedding planning, I kept waiting for the hair pulling stress, dreams of eloping, and fights about what dessert I’d be smashing into my husband’s face to wash over me….but the feeling never came (although I know I still am not done planning yet, I’ll check back with ya on that after it is all said and done). Treating wedding planning like I do my projects at work has made a world of difference, and I realized that the average bride probably isn’t using the tips and methodologies that I have been! It’s all about managing tasks, keeping track of projects, and reviewing backlog items. There are so many parallels between the process of wedding planning, psychology, organizational change management, and IT projects; so why not expose my nerdiness to the world to help prevent future brides and grooms from creating WW3 over whether or not to have wedding favors?

Make a Kanban Board

This has got to be my all time favorite resource, and the greatest thing? All you need is some tape and tacks – no this is not a torture device, if anything it is preventing you from torture. For all my type A list makers and visual people out there, this will be right up your alley. Kanban is a resource often used in the agile methodology space. Agile means managing several ongoing project tasks all at once versus the Waterfall methodology which is completing one task, and then moving on to the next, it is much slower, and just like the song, don’t go chasin’ waterfall methodologies if you want fast paced planning. While a checklist is still a way to keep you organized, it doesn’t show you where you are progress wise. It’s like if a stoplight had only red and green- you’d have absolutely no in between and that just leads to a fast crash and burn. A Kanban board is made by making three sections; to do, doing, done (yes, that is it, not all Project Management nerdy things are complex). From here, you create your backlog items aka all your outstanding tasks. There are online Kanban platforms such as Azure or Jira/Jira Align which I currently am using at my client to manage 2,000+ projects, but I personally like the old fashioned actual board that I can touch and physically move tasks around. Why? Because it is so much more satisfying to take a sticky note off my “done” part of the board, rip it into a million little pieces especially if it was a monster task, and throw it in the trash.

Identify and Prioritize Key Stakeholders

Stakeholders in the wedding world translates mostly to vendors and those involved in the wedding. In project management, just like a wedding, it is important to know what external parties need to be involved, what they are doing, and when to get them involved. The first order of business after getting engaged is to lock down where to get married, because if there is no venue, your other vendors probably won’t accept the answer of “we will be getting married in a building or a barn somewhere” when they ask where the wedding is. And if you can’t secure the other vendors early? Good luck my friend. Because of this anxiety of not finding any available vendors, you bet I booked my venue and officiant within the first week of being engaged. In a project, there needs to be a foundation in which the details can be built off of- the same goes for planning a wedding. It may seem obvious, but with all the vendors involved, it can be hard to know which ones need to be booked first due to the logical order of things, but the hardest part is finding vendors that are available! In project management, it is easy to set a deadline, and you may not think there are actual deadlines in wedding vendor planning, but I can assure you there are unsaid deadlines! I found out real quick which vendors get booked so far in advance that you might as well be committing to them as much as you are your future spouse. While all weddings are different depending on where it takes place, when, and what stakeholders are involved…my advice? Book vendors in order of the number of options you have. Didn’t land your first option photographer? That’s ok, there’s A TON of great photographers out there, so leave that towards the bottom of the list. Want your pastor to marry you? Don’t wait to book them last because you cannot clone your pastor if they are booked already (although mine is an identical twin…I guess that could work in a bind?) Using these agile practices will eliminate the need for a full wedding planner and save you money! (But a partial planner is a must if you have no clue what the heck you’re doing when it comes to small details like me).

Identify Your Budget and Scope

I know, I know, this is never the fun part. Life would be so much easier if we could spend endless amounts of cash on projects at work to get the latest and greatest new hardware to deploy to all employees. Same with weddings- so much stress would be released if we could just get ALL the customized cookies to accompany the custom ice sculpture that would be sitting next to the unicorn in the corner. But the biggest piece of advice here, just like any budget, is to create it first (have a rough idea going into booking the venue). Identify the bare necessities and the scope, then subtract those from the budget to see what you have left over on the “fluff stuff.” For example: wedding dress, suits, food, wedding bands, your grandma on the guest list, music, and venue are necessities. Wedding favors, neon last name signs, butter formed into little hearts, personalized M&Ms, your parents’ old neighbor’s babysitter, and horse drawn carriages are not a necessity. Scope in project management basically translates to a border that shall not be crossed. Just like in wedding planning, it can be super easy to justify just one little thing over budget. But then you do it again. And again. This happens in projects, too- it is called Scope Creep; allowing just one more task to be added to the next sprint. Never ever make your budget after all is said and done because you will then have to spend your time changing everything you already did to make your total wedding cost be less than four years of a college tuition. Whatever your wedding budget may be, follow the golden rule of “thou shall not change thy budget for anything, thou shall change anything to keep the budget.” The budget is more of a decision maker than you think, this also spills over to people. It really makes you dig deep and evaluate all your friendships! Not to put a cost on relationships, but when it comes to weddings, every penny counts especially as a newlywed couple trying to pay for a new house and a honeymoon and probably the new dog you just got together, too. Bottom line? Be ok with sacrificing some things, I promise you will make do and get over it the fact that you didn’t get the dream pair of shoes that no one would see under your dress anyways!

Build an Effective Team

In Project Management, your team makes or breaks a project. This goes for the skills they bring, but also if they are genuinely good people with personalities you like to be around! In a wedding, your team is your bridesmaids/groomsman, and the same stands true here, too. Your team is beside you through all the highs, lows, ages, stages, planning, project sprints, celebrations, and ideally your life long term. Just like a project is sustained by your team, your wedding will forever live on in your memory, so you better build a good team so those memories will be all positive. I have come to find that when it came to choosing team bride, it’s not as simple as I thought it would be since friendships changed so much post high school and college. Choosing a team in project management involves a lot of logic, but so does choosing your wedding team (along with some feelings, too). What if your childhood BFF moved to a different state and is in a very intense year of medical school? Probably not the best choice for either of you to task them with planning a bachelorette weekend when they’d be better off studying on how to cure cancer or Lyme Disease! Are the people you are considering all across the country? Who is actually going to be in your life years down the road? Does the person you have in mind from high school actually consider you as their friend still or is it a one way street now? Who can you trust to manage tasks and hit deadlines? Who knows that you will break out into dance when a certain song is played? There’s a reason that bridesmaids and groomsmen proposals are a thing now, and it’s because you are legit asking them if they are up for the job, not just a cute Instagram story and a way to ice your buddy. I’ve been so blessed in this season of life to have my gal pal beside me, both recent and long time friends, that I know will hold my dress when I have to pee!

Utilize People with Multiple Skills

From my own personal experience, those that have a wide array of skills are the most useful in projects- not just the ones with 10+ years of experience in one area only. When I am presented to a new client, I am portrayed as an IT Process Optimization Consultant…and while that is true, it also is limiting what else I can bring to the table for the client! What goes unseen is the fact that I have been a project coordinator, taught a chat bot the knowledge it would spit out to a whole company, have a personal blog and know WordPress pretty dang well, have been a HR generalist, serve as an IT portfolio delivery coordinator, lead a group of high school girls at church every Wednesday, have an unofficial degree in Lyme Disease and all things gut health because I read books on parasites and spirochetes for fun, or lead the Wellness and Disability employee resource group at my company….all stemming from a Psychology degree which in itself helps me so much in the workplace. A lot of people also have so many hidden talents and skills that go unsaid! All my skills have allowed me to bring new shortcuts to projects, and that is ultimately the goal in wedding planning too; find shortcuts. Find a venue with in house catering. Find a planner that also does florals. Is a friend a videographer? Perfect. Does one person do hair AND makeup? Amazing, less vendors to coordinate! While there is nothing wrong with using people that specialize in one thing, why not make it easier on yourself and use someone with multiple talents? But I will say…while my brother is ordained, I will not be using that shortcut, sorry bro.

Make a Milestone Status Timeline

Repeat after me: “I will make a timeline for tasks/milestones.” If you don’t, that is where the stress will hit you like a ton of bricks when you realize that your dress alterations should have been started 8 months out rather than 3. I currently have a checklist for each month leading up to the wedding with what tasks need to be done 10 months out, 5 months out, 1 week out etc…These checklists are easy to find on Pinterest- but they can still be super overwhelming because checklists are very black and white and don’t tell you where you are at or how you are doing. In project management, we add some color to those tasks- and I mean this literally- because it makes things a lot easier to manage visually. Red= task is past deadline. Yellow= task is at risk of passing deadline. Green= task is on track to hit deadline. Doing it this way makes it easy to see what you need to spend your time on in order to get you back on track again.

Identify Waste

In the project management world, this means identifying things that can be eliminated and everything still runs smoothly, or even more effectively, in the sake of time and cost. Think of it like Jenga- what parts of your wedding can be taken out and the wedding will be more efficient or still function smoothly? Some ideas here could be eliminating giving everyone favors (the favors that end up in the trash half the time- actual waste in this case). Have the bridesmaids do their own makeup, most are really good at it and don’t need the professional help anyways. Rule out the throwing of seed or rice or whatever other food item of your choice you’re going to run through in a tunnel of loved ones at the send off that someone else will spend more time cleaning up than it took for you to run through. Do you really need flowers for the ceremony AND the reception? How about take the flowers from the ceremony and use them at the reception too! Is offering the highest tier of alcohol really necessary or will people be ok with some free Coors since after a few they won’t taste the difference? Do you need 2,527 pictures of just the rings on your hands that don’t ever get used? Save time by taking more shots with your family members. Can your personal attendant or ushers go pick up a sack of bagels for breakfast rather than the fancy catered breakfast at the venue? And finally, as Marie Condo would say, will that overly expensive cake topper bring you joy a few years down the road? You get the idea; some things just aren’t worth it, and find out what those things are to YOU- not your mom, not your mother in law, not your maid of honor, not your groomsman, not your dog, or anyone else.

Identify the Most Effective Communication Channel for You and Others

This is for all y’all that have 5 email accounts, 3 computers, 37 group chats, and 100+ documents on your desktop. For my project team, we all know that Microsoft Teams chat or texting each other is the best way to get ahold of each other, not email chains. The same goes for your wedding vendors and wedding party. First, make sure you are using the same email address to contact your vendors, (you may even want to create a brand new email address just for wedding stuff). I can’t imagine the nightmare of trying to remember which email account emailed who. Some vendors are more responsive to texts, so do that if they prefer! Is your wedding party all iPhone users? Make that group message early! But if there is that one Android person….Facebook messenger or GroupMe is your friend, heck even Snapchat group messaging will work if you’ve got a some folks that are too young for Facebook now. Second, make a “Wedding” folder in your email inbox and make sure that any and all emails go into that folder so you can go back and easily find the email from your makeup artist (especially the men, jk..unless you’re into that). Wedding stuff is planned so far in advance, and often times vendors tell you to not contact them again to set up tastings, trials, fittings etc. until a few months before your day. I already have had to go back to the original email my band sent me back in April to add songs to the “absoutely do not play list.” Sorry folks, no YMCA on my day.

Documentation is Everything

I have no big insightful reason to do this, but just like HR documents must be kept several years before shredding; just do that with all your confirmations, documents signed, receipts, etc. You never know when you’re going to need to know how much it costs you to be short, aka, what the cost is to hem a dress or suit because being short costs a lot more than you’d think.

Identify Customers

In project management, clients and customers are who we are trying to please with our product or services. In wedding world, this is all your guests! Luckily, the wedding guest list should be a lot less crabby than work world customers. That being said, who you want there is a lot harder to identify than you’d think, so ask yourself these things to narrow it down. Who do you actually want to receive your end product and who will see the value in it (your celebration and the importance of the day?) Who do you actually want there to build you up? Who still puts in the time for you and will for your day? Identify guests that will be there for you in the future, or have made a lasting impact on you in the past. Wedding planning has opened my eyes so much to who actually values our relationship still, who still puts in effort, and who has made such an impact on me in the past that I want them there. Not everyone can say their Kindergarten teacher is coming to their wedding!

Well folks, there’s a little bit of insight into how my mind and project management world works. You may use some of it, none of it, or all of it, but I hope that this was at least somewhat relatable, and entertaining…as entertaining as kanban boards and methodologies can be right? Wedding planning is not as scary as it looks, it all just takes the right way to prepare and plan. You don’t need to be an expert, and so far it has worked for me which has created room for the season of engagement to be a season of enjoyment with the man I love so much! Remember the reason for a wedding- some can get so caught up in the process of planning that they forget that they even have a fiance!

Happy Tuesday, may your wedding planning, or being in the life of someone planning a wedding, be a little less dreadful!