Leading academic projects – A self-study unit

Project development stages
Image via Wikipedia

By the end of this session you will be able to:

  • Understand the concepts and principles of academic project management.
  • Lead an academic project
  • Be confident in your capabilities and processes.
  • Lead your team, and reflect on your own performance.
  • Learn more about project management skills, and tools.
  • Integrate your project into your practice portfolio.

The diagram above explains the different stages of project management.

1. Initiating projects:

Here is some good advice in determining good and bad projects. http://blogs.sitepoint.com/principles-project-management/

Spotting Bad Projects

As we’ve already discussed, many project managers aren’t involved in the discovery phase, where good projects are selected. As a result, an ability to spot the signs of a bad project is a valuable skill for the project manager to develop.

First of all, let’s think about some hallmarks of good projects:

  • They deliver big benefits, with defined metrics that specify the size of those benefits.
  • They’re important to the future of the organization (or, in management speak, they’re “strategically important”).
  • Sufficient resources are invested in them.
  • They have supporters within the organization.

We’ll talk more about the kinds of supporters you need, and the importance of having a sponsor for your project, later in this chapter.

The hallmarks of a bad project contrast rather predictably with those outlined above:

  • Projects for which no one has really identified the business benefit, or for which the closest you can get to a cost estimate is someone waving their hands in a the-size-of-the-monster-catfish-I-caught-last-summer type gesture are dangerous.
  • Projects that focus too heavily on the present and neglect the future are dangerous. Think of the buggy whip manufacturer investing in making his production lines faster and cheaper, rather than realizing that a change in direction was needed.
  • Insufficient — or nonexistent — resource investments in a project are another warning sign that you should beware of. Projects without budgets, people, or equipment are risky from the outset.
  • Projects that are being undertaken even though only a few people in the organization believe that they should be completed are the most dangerous of all. These kinds of projects quickly start to feel like everyone’s just standing around watching, and waiting for you to slip up and prove them right.

Projects should ideally solve a problem that has been identified and scoped out and discussed at length before the project was created. So before you take on a project find out as much as you can about what led to the creation of the project. You will need all the relevant documentation that has preceded the project so that you can understand the problem, and the strategic important to the organisation.

Tip: This information is gold, so make sure you store it in your project portfolio.
2. Planning projects

We are great believers in Fink’s integrated design model for any situation in which collaborative learning will take place. http://tlcommunityunitec.ning.com/profiles/blogs/designing-courses-for

To help you design your project we have six questions.

  • What concepts and principles will you and your team need to know for this project.
  • What skills will you need?
  • What values or standards will underlie this project?
  • Who will you need to work with?
  • What will be your role?
  • What will you need to learn?
  • How will you integrate this project into your existing work, and within the organisation?

The answers to these questions will help you scope your project. As you answer each question, add additional notes and comments. This will help you to organise and keep simple a potentially complex set of information.

3. Execution of projects

Essentially this will mean managing people and resources.

Let’s look at resources first. The resources you need most will be time and money. So it important to have a timeline to record all you deadlines and milestones. I highly recommend Mavenlink as a project management tool, and also Tom’s Planner for a quick way of the team keeping track of the project. The advantage of these online tool’s is that they can be shared with the project team. Similarly, Huddle is a great tool for collaborative teams.

In terms of managing people and projects we have some useful links.

Making projects work
4. Confidence and capability

Your confidence and skills will rise as you practice and develop your project management skills. In many ways project management is just like teaching a course, it does get better over time, and the more times you manage projects the better you become. What is key is that you make things as simple as possible and you place a high priority on communication.

What should you do when projects are going wrong

5. Leading the team

Here the key skill is communication. Ensuring that you are clear, concise and kind in you communications with the team and with stakeholders. A team leader needs to know when to consult, delegate, and decide. Your project management tools will allow you to do this, and plan consultation, delegation and decisions making events.

Projects and Will Rogers

Do you need to successfully delegate work?

6. Project management tools and advice

Finally, you will appreciate some wise advice on how to start off using your collaborative online tools.

Imagine you’re about to start a new collaborative, cross-timezone project and you are hoping to get the whole team on board with your favorite online workspace. Do you set up the whole space and walk them through each capability: group calendar, project management tool, resource library of helpful documents, collaborative editing, etc? Or, do you begin by sharing a single document that starts out as the agenda and develops into a lab notebook? Do you go for the stretch goal (full-blown on-line workspace) or the small win (starter collaboration document)?

While there is no single accepted way to kick off a group in a collaborative process, my experience and the available research says you should start small with a specific, achievable goal, rather than trying to implement a full technology platform at the same time as you’re organizing the project. Stewart Mader, author of the book Wikipatterns, says that you should focus on the work; help people see the value from the work and the rest will follow. Read more….

One of the best is Zoho Projects http://youtu.be/3RD_3wooRjI

7. Integration with your practice portfolio.

Finally, be sure to link your project to you practice portfolio. You may want specific parts of the project that you are proud of included in your showcase portfolio. A summary of the programme and outcomes will certainly be a useful addition.

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One Response to Leading academic projects – A self-study unit

  1. sankalpa says:

    wonderful information, I had come to know about your blog from my friend nandu , hyderabad,i have read atleast 7 posts of yours by now, and let me tell you, your website gives the best and the most interesting information. This is just the kind of information that i had been looking for, i’m already your rss reader now and i would regularly watch out for the new posts, once again hats off to you!
    Thanks a ton once again,
    academic projects

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