Key steps for successful management of an EU research project

Managing an Horizon 2020 EU-funded research project is not easy, but there are things you can do at the outset to set you up for success. Dr Faisal Zahoor, Bump2Baby and Me Project Manager, shares his thoughts on the steps to take.


Understanding and adhering to Grant Agreement:
The Grant Agreement (GA) is the most important document of the H2020 project. It includes all legal and financial rules that govern a project, as well as a detailed plan for project execution and budget allocations. A good understanding of the GA is very important at the start to know dos and don’ts and plan accordingly. In case of any deviations from the original work plan, the GA can be amended as long as the change proposed is reasonable. But bear in mind, this does cause more work!

Payment of EU funding:
Disbursement of the EU funding to all beneficiaries as soon as possible is another important step at the start. This will enable partners to buy equipment/consumables early in the project. Similarly, it will enable project partners to advertise and recruit staff early to start research work.

Early communication with the consortium:
A project kick-off meeting brings everyone together involved in the project, to ensure they have a shared understanding of the project goals, deliverables, and workflow. Equally important, it enables collaborative relationships to begin immediately, especially for those team members who were not involved in the initial proposals. This and establishing the importance of communication and coordination from the outset will help to ensure a successful project.

Setting up the project coordination and management team:
Defining roles and responsibilities and launching communication flow possibly during the kick-off meeting sets the pace for a successful project. It will ensure that everyone knows what they will be doing and what needs to be accomplished.

Establish a good working relationship with the Project Officer:
Data from FP6 and FP7 clearly showed that a good working relationship with the European Commission (EC) Project Officer improves the quality of project delivery. Communicate proactively and as early as possible at the start of the project with the EC Project Officer about relevant aspects of your project. Consider inviting them to your initial kick-off meeting and subsequent General Assemblies to keep them informed and involved. Invest in a good working relationship and inform the project officer well in advance and in an informal manner instead of waiting for formal reporting periods. This allows for a more flexible and tailored approach with less administrative burden for both the consortium and the project officer.

Data protection and storage:
From the very start of the project, it is important that all project partners are aware of data protection regulation e.g., GDPR, especially when partners outside of the EU are involved. Being GDPR compliant is not easy. Thorough planning is required, and several factors need to be considered. Some of these factors are as follows:

  • The storage, transfer, access, and security of electronic information.
  • Documentation pertaining to data protection.
  • The type of data that is being stored and transferred.
  • Data accessibility.
  • Data content.

Organisations that fail to be GDPR compliant could have to pay hefty fines so this should not be taken lightly.

Be mindful of cultural differences:
International consortia bring skills from multiple research and cultural traditions to projects. This leads to diverse and valuable insights. To this end, it is worth recognising cultural differences and understanding how they can complement each other to move the project forward, instead of becoming a barrier.