Tag Archives: ProjectManagement

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[Cross-Posting] On Successful #DH Project Management

Project management is difficult. As one of my teammates said to me point-blank: “I would not want your job.”

As our team began to work on Travelogue, I assumed that my brief stint organizing the development of two separate websites in various professional settings would help me. But while a background in marketing has allowed me to think more critically about things like publicity, nothing really prepared me for managing people my own age in a setting where we do not receive salaries for our work.

And while I have been extremely lucky to work with a group of brilliant people who are  invested in helping me complete the project, it has been tricky figuring out how to tell people what (and how much) to do; everyone has full lives outside of school.

In a work setting, orders would coming down from my boss who had little idea of the actual tasks we needed to take in order to complete a website. The details of these orders were laid out for me by advanced IT and design departments, each of whom had their own ideas about how the website should look and behave. In this project, where I am the “boss,” things were more difficult, especially because while all of us have great ideas, the actual means to execution can be unclear. But just because you only have a basic understanding of web design, it does not mean that you can’t build something (mostly) from scratch. You just need a good plan.

Websites and website redesigns can (and do) take years to complete, but for this project, we only have about four months. In the course of this semester thus far, I’ve found that a few things are essential to completing a project successfully. Some seem obvious, but when you are trying to keep a bunch of different wheels spinning, simple things can be easy to forget.

(Of course, this is not complete list)

Know Your Deliverables

What are the major tasks that need to be completed in order to produce a final project? In the course of a semester, what needs to be completed from week-to-week in order to get things done? Setting some key deadlines, and being able to adjust them, will help the project move forward. I made a simple project plan in an Excel document that was arranged by week, with a new goal for each Monday. From there, I doubled back and talked to my group members about what needed to be completed for each goal. I am indebted to Micki Kaufman for major assistance here, as well as to Tom Scheinfeldt’s lecture last semester.

Use Your Support Network

There are experts at your school who can help you. As it goes with everything, being afraid to ask for help can (and will) diminish your success.

Know Your Team’s Strengths (and Weaknesses)

Project management involves a good deal of emotional intelligence. Knowing where your group members are coming from, and being aware of and sensitive to what they can and can’t accomplish in a given time frame, will provide for a better outcome. It kind of goes without saying that actively listening to your group members’ concerns and ideas will make them more invested in your goals.

Be Flexible

This goes for allowing extra time in your project plan, as well as being open to adjusting your vision and/or timeline. It can be hard to let go of original ideas, but if they aren’t working, it’s important that you are able to recognize that and just let go. In the case of Travelogue, our project scope changed slightly from what I originally proposed when we learned more about our platform. You also have to pad enough extra time in your project plan in case you hit roadblocks or an unexpected learning curve.

Relax (a Little Bit)

In working on a major project with a tight deadline, not only is it important to manage your expectations, but it is also important not to put too much pressure on your group. My personality defaults to surface-level relaxation that can be misinterpreted as lackadaisical, when usually (like anyone else) I’m managing a huge amount of internal stress. I try not to micromanage my team as a result of my internal freakouts, which would make anyone stressed-out and disengaged. At the same time, being too lax about deadlines says: “I don’t really care.” If you don’t care, neither will they.

We are currently buzzing around our computers to get this thing done, with constant revision of the plan to keep things in motion.

Visit: https://travelogue.commons.gc.cuny.edu

And here is a link to the project plan for anyone who’s interested: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/ccc?key=0As13_khVZTLXdHBMV2NlNWwtTndiRTZsUk1QQTVWYnc&usp=sharing

Consensus isn’t what collaboration is about

Consensus isn’t what collaboration is about. This take-home-point by Tom Scheinfeld stuck with me, and I found myself saying it out loud to a group of people at work. This is an important point that bogged our web project down in the planning stages of post.at.moma.org. The struggle of early stages–lack of consensus and leadership on what the website should be, it’s goals, its tone, it’s audience it’s measure of success, etc.–still is visible to a visitor who spends a little bit of time on it. The project lacked a visionary who knew and believed what the project should be.

Instead of gaining consensus of the group, Scheinfeld stated that if a positive outcome is accomplished, led by a few members of the group, that is what the collective will remember–their achievement as a group. But for this achievement to be accomplished, someone must asses the best possible outcome and make a decision. My question at that moment was, how do you, as a leader decide on something? How can you be confident that it will work? Maybe you don’t until you take the chance? Is the definition of a leader, someone who confidently takes chance on something?

Another probably obvious point that didn’t always seem clear to me, is that the measure of success should be based on whether people use it. Despite the institutional agenda, and ideologies and high standards that motivate projects, if there isn’t a practical utility value that serves people, it’s not successful. The number of people that the project considers a success, though, requires some thought. As project that caters to a specialized audience (particular topic in art history), it needs to determine what that limited number of audience is, that it should strive toward. There is pressure to serve a general audience, and have many visits per day, but the content of the site cannot appeal to a general audience. A specialized and devoted follower, who values the content of the site is needed, but the number of that audience is yet to be determined.

There were many golden advise that Scheinfeld left during his talk and discussion. Here are a few more that I will keep with me in the future wherever I end up working as a professional project manager:

  • value constraints (think about the 7-day turn around)
  • make time for social interaction (meta cognition)
  • assessing people’s skills. Determining the types of skills the group has, and the type of skills that need to be acquired.
  • think of set of critical questions; always ask what it’s missing, and think of the overall picture
  • list the criteria for the measure of success
  • divide a group to execute different things
  • watch out for unthoughtful moves. There is risk of losing members’ urgency, respect, trust, etc.
  • create process documentation. This could be part of the out-reach (tweeting out the progress or reporting on a blog)

An incredibly valuable session, the text by Sharon M. Leon also provided practical tips on project management. I would be curious to hear about the workshop that evening, which I couldn’t make. Classmates: let me know if any of you made it to the workshop and please share with me your take-home-points!!