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Eureka! These Four Admins Brought New Ideas to Life


Each year the American Society for Administrative Professionals (ASAP) presents its Eureka! Award to an assistant who has successfully conceived and completed a project that solved a problem or made an improvement with results that reach beyond his or her own position.

In 2018, dozens of admins submitted their projects for consideration. 

As we reviewed the top proposals, we saw a trend in the overall scope of the projects: administrative professionals who are using project management techniques and collaboration to bring about change in their companies in order to improve performance. We saw administrative professionals who view themselves as project managers, leaders and agents of positive change. 

Wonder what they did and how? First, a snapshot of the projects; then the four talk about what it took to bring them to life! 

A Snapshot of the Admins and Their Projects

MS Project Initiatives 2017 from Janelle Plummer, Executive Assistant to the President & CEO, President & COO at Brake Check, Peveto Companies was a ground-breaking project that allowed the organization to track and manage the achievement of annual business objectives for each department and for the company as a whole.  Using MS Project, Janelle was able to segment business objectives by department. Then she created milestone and benchmarks for each VP and their department. She met weekly in one on one meetings with the VPs. 

The result after the first quarter was that every department was well on its way and over 25% complete in achieving objectives. One of the experienced VPs said he never felt more organized and that the teamwork was contagious. It was also a professional breakthrough for Janelle; it expanded her job description and brought her to an executive level of project management along with her Executive Assistant role. She received accolades and a raise after the first quarter 2018.    

Tina Wheeler,  an Executive Administrative Assistant, Patient Safety and Risk Management for The Doctors Company, completed a Professional Education Redesign. The Continuing Medical Education team was floundering, and Risk Managers were frustrated and unhappy with unwieldy activity applications, slow approvals and lack of communication/support. To create a new, more streamlined system that would lead to a better experience for everyone and a simpler, more flexible process, Tina posited that the team needed to start completely from scratch.

It was a large undertaking, requiring 5 - 10 hours per week of focused attention from representatives in Ohio, Florida, Texas and California and staff from the Operations, IT, Finance and Marketing departments with project management and event management systems put in place to facilitate the improved processes. One of the initial challenges was getting buy in to change systems and processes from those of the past. Once people were committed, the team began the process of creating and refining, defining, re-defining, and testing the process map for new professional education procedures 

Nakia Whittaker-Woody, a Reliability Centered Maintenance (RCM) Administrative Professional for Jacobs Technology at Altria was tasked with implementing change controls for the RCM initiative. She was responsible overall for RCM Change Control Forms Automation.

In order to document changes to facility assets in the CMMS system. her objective was to create/follow a documented workflow process, while also creating a historical log of changes to assets in their CMMS System. The desired result was to free up substantial time for facility managers, admins and end users/clients. Dealing with 12 Facilities, additional challenges were getting facilities managers to embrace the digital signature and the end users to actively use the forms (because they would get a rapid response due to automation.) Nakia was also under tight time constraints and, in order to design the automated forms, had to teach herself how to use Java Script in Adobe.

Her work paid off. The result was a set of forms to which the end user submits needed/required/or wanted changes for the CMMS System. Success was measured by the fact that over 300 forms have been processed since inception. Managers are now able to digitally sign the forms which then (through Java Script) automatically return to the RCM Admin for processing/completion. This workflow takes approximately 20 minutes from end user to approval to completion, so long as the Facility Manager is present. This compared to what could have taken days waiting for hard copy approvals. 

Jo Ann Domaleski, Office Resource Manager at Roche TCRC, Inc., created The Admin Champion Team Program. Champion Teams representing specific functional areas:  Procurement, Travel, Meeting Planning, Compliance, and Did You Know? were created to streamline processes, provide expert information, troubleshoot issues and address gaps within specific service areas. Each team was led by an admin team member who had experience in or was familiar with one of the functional areas. Teams met on a regular basis to collaborate both locally and globally. The results, such as resolution of issues, tips and tricks, and helpful information were then shared sitewide. This initiative saved a great deal of time for the admins by reducing duplication of efforts and solving problems; provided cost-savings to the company and created the framework for collaboration both locally and globally. It also resulted in further enhancement of administrative skills such as presenting, leading and 'thinking outside the box,' Increased team engagement and empowerment, boosted morale and confidence.

To move forward with the Champion Team concept, Jo Ann and the teams needed to demonstrate that they would benefit everyone, not just the admins. The Admin Team had to shift their individual mindsets and be convinced that the collaborative approach would be a significant help to the company. In the end, each of the teams demonstrated measurable results in terms of savings or quality or speed. The Champion Team Program realized an overall time savings of more than 200 admin hours, and also a monetary savings of at least $75,000 to date. 

What It Took to Get It Done

In general, what mindset or attributes do you think are needed to conceive and carry out an innovative project? 

Janelle Plummer
You have to follow up!  Being able to PIVOT and take an alternative road.  You cannot be afraid to make a mistake; validation is key! 

Tina Wheeler
Be a communicator. If you are unhappy with a process, and don’t speak up – you are doing yourself a disservice. You need to have the mindset of growth and progress. How can I make my department or company or work product better? What will it take?

Be willing to entertain the fantastic. Go ahead and dream big. If you had every resource at your disposal, what would you implement? Then you can scale back to make that idea work with the resources that actually are available.

Most importantly, you need to recognize when dissatisfaction with work processes may really be about a lack of communication. You may resent having to e-file an item to two locations every time. You complain to your executive, who in turn explains that the filing locations are only accessible to certain departments. This then leads you to suggest to your IT department that a common folder would make interdepartmental work more cohesive, less time-consuming, and ultimately less expensive. Your manager thinks you’re a genius! All it really took was a little speaking up. 

Nakia Whittaker-Woody
To carry out an innovative project you must be determined, inquisitive, and humble. It’s going to take some give and take to turn what you see in your mind’s eye into a concrete result. 

Jo Ann Domaleski
An open mind together with an innovative way of thinking is necessary -- along with the ability to confidently communicate the positive impact the project will have on your organization to stakeholders and upper management.

 “Thinking outside the box” and brainstorming are great ways to conceive ideas for an innovative project.  Building trust, motivating and providing encouragement and guidance to team members are some of the key leadership qualities that will guide the way in bringing your idea to life.  Continuous communication will ensure each team member understands their key role in making the project a success.  Most importantly, recognizing your team and celebrating their project’s achievement milestones shows how much they are valued and appreciated! 

How did you approach getting buy-in for your ideas and getting the authority you needed to execute? 

Janelle Plummer
By taking a “learner” vs a “knower” attitude. Being a “learner” creates a TEAM environment. Ideas are welcomed when you have had an opportunity to ask questions and listen to your team.  

Tina Wheeler
I am unbelievably fortunate with the leadership at my company. When I talk to my AVP, he listens, and passes my thoughts and requests on. Because I am known for participating in, and volunteering to assist with, outside projects, I have gained a reputation as a knowledgeable and reliable person – which means that those same thoughts and requests carry a bit more weight.

I really think, though, that it all comes down to confidence. I was confident that we could streamline this process, and when I laid it out to my boss, he became excited – which transferred up the line. 

Nakia Whittaker-Woody
I had no issue getting buy in, my supervisor and client rep (I work on a contract) were both very supportive. They only expected a general basic Word.doc converted to an Adobe.pdf so to get all that I provided was extra awesome. 

Jo Ann Domaleski
It was certainly a challenge as I envisioned this program in detail long before having the authority as Office Resource Manager to execute.  I created a detailed plan for implementation, and the rest was timing.  The position of Office Resource Manager became available, and I knew this would provide me an opportunity to present my idea during interviews for the role.  Management thought it was a great idea.   After my promotion, we scheduled the program kick-off and the Admin Champion Program came to life.  

How did you go about planning the project -- any particular tools or techniques that were really helpful?  

Janelle Plummer
Our annual planning meeting creates initiatives and goals for the upcoming year.   In 2017, it was apparent we needed to be more visual with our progress on initiatives.  Using MS Project and having weekly one on one meetings with our Executive Team, we tracked our resources, percentage of completion, milestone achievements, and overall project overview. 

MS Project is visual in its reporting.  As a group, we review each department’s progress, and we celebrate the successes and collaborate on what needs to be adjusted… and we PIVOT. 

It has been very rewarding for the whole team, and it has improved our internal communication. 

Tina Wheeler
Collaborate, collaborate, collaborate! Though the new process is confined to a single department, we consulted with our Marketing, Operations, IT, and Finance departments. Their contributions were invaluable and provided much needed perspective. Your coworkers have so much more experience and knowledge than you realize.

Microsoft Visio software for process mapping was an essential ingredient. Our first map was massive and unwieldy, and Visio made it incredibly simple to whittle down, and refine over and over. 

Nakia Whittaker-Woody
I was already familiar with using both Word and Excel for creating forms, as those are my basic knowledge setpoint, but I also have this thirst/geekiness for software systems, and I knew I could do so much more. All I had to do was use the software already in my arsenal, then search for the JavaScript language to automate the Adobe Form once converted.  I used Word, Adobe, Excel for the entire Change Management Process, all typical corporate software offerings. 

Jo Ann Domaleski
We started the project with a kick-off meeting where the team had a round table discussion about our current processes, communication and knowledge sharing.  We listed the team’s strengths and weaknesses and highlighted recent issues on a board; these opportunities for improvement were prioritized.  The following month, we held a series of brainstorming “speed meetings” and outlined items in the major task areas:  travel, procurement, Google / IT, meeting and logistic planning, and communication / knowledge sharing. The Admin Champion Program was off to a great start with 5 teams. 

Within the next few months, our cross-functional teams were collaborating with each other and across sites and proposing action plans.  This was key! We created a SharePoint site to share our team’s important processes and references to eliminate duplication of efforts. Team leads and members provide performance feedback and coach each other throughout the year…it’s all about continuous improvement!

In an effort to increase our team’s visibility within the organization, we held an Admin Champion Program Open House for all employees to attend, and each team presented to our Site Head.  This was a major achievement and a great opportunity for our team.   

Has this project changed how you are viewed at work? If so, by whom and in what way?

Janelle Plummer
Actually, it has taken my role to another level with our entire Executive Team.  Our President and CEO has increased my salary as a result of the Project tracking and progress.

Tina Wheeler
When your company is spread out across 13 offices, it can be easy to get lost in the shuffle. Particularly outside your own department. This project, and my own enthusiasm for it, has brought me to the attention of a whole lot of folks. Getting called out for my work and congratulated during cross-regional and departmental meetings is pretty neat, too! 

Nakia Whittaker-Woody
I don’t think it has changed anything, it probably reinforced how resourceful an Admin I am in addition to justifying new duties/opportunities for my role. 

Jo Ann Domaleski
Yes, creating and implementing this project has changed how I am viewed at work by my peers and management.  The admin team has built trust in the fact that we now have a fully-functioning program running and are seeing impressive results.  We are working smarter by collaborating across functions, sites and sharing learnings.  There has been positive feedback provided from site visitors and global colleagues regarding how engaged our team members are! 

In what ways did this project contribute to your professional growth?

Janelle Plummer
Again, by being a “learner” and continually striving to be better, by learning our industry.  My role took on a “change management” aspect, rather than solely acting as an Executive Assistant.  

Tina Wheeler
I am getting plenty of pats on the backs, and that recognition is nice, but what I hoped for and received was that the overall perception of my ability is strengthened. I want to be the Gold Standard amongst my peers. Implementing an entirely new project management process for our Professional Education Department is just one way to do that. 

Nakia Whittaker-Woody
It provided another skillset for me to add to my resume/repertoire. 

Jo Ann Domaleski
This project contributed to my professional growth in many positive ways.  I am ecstatic to see my vision come to life and thrive, providing a platform for the admins to become empowered and learn while also making a significant impact on our organization.  We have presented our program to other sites and management teams, communicating our successes.  My hope for our team is that we are seen as a valued and trusted partner to the organization as a result of the Admin Champion Program.

Another rewarding component of this program is the giving back aspect.  We are extending the program to include some volunteering efforts in the community and researching mentoring opportunities. 

How do you think this project will impact your career?  

Janelle Plummer
The visibility in being able to interact with each department across our company has led to immense knowledge of the roles each Executive has.  I have become an important part of a team with organization, communication, and accountability.  I believe this 2018 project will continue and grow as I continue to grow and learn.  

Tina Wheeler
The hope is that my own reputation is strengthened and supported. I want my leadership team to feel confident anytime they hear my name that they can expect a job done well, and thoroughly – with imagination, and plenty of humor! 

Nakia Whittaker-Woody
My career is going as well as I can imagine it could right now, I was awarded Employee of the Year, allowed to go to the ASAP Conference in Orlando and, this year, I started my own Virtual Assistant Services Business; Things are great. But that is only until I come up with my next innovation which is to transfer the Change Management form from Adobe to Google Sheets/Docs, allowing for the Sheets information to autopopulate the Google Docs Form, send via email for approval, and then forward via email for processing. Yep I am looking for my next project. 

Jo Ann Domaleski
This project has provided me with the opportunity to learn, grow and develop within my role as Office Resource Manager.  I am more confident in presenting my innovative ideas to peers and in networking with others.  I am intrigued to keep learning, curious to try new things and motivated to see great results!  I very much enjoyed discussing this project’s achievements with many attendees at the APC Conference this year.  It excites me to know that others may be inspired from hearing about this program and may be courageous enough to go back to their office management and request to start a similar program.  These exciting results have shown us that it is possible to bring many exciting new things to life!

 ASAP’s Eureka! Award is presented every year at the Administrative Professionals Conference (APC) and Executive Assistants’ Summit. The 2019 Conference takes place September 22-25 at the Hyatt Regency New Orleans. Learn more at! If you have recently conceived and completed an innovative project that broke new ground at your organization, submit it to be considered for the 2019 Eureka! Award. Watch for the application to go live in the spring!

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