Top Tips for Anyone New to Project Management

My top three tips for anyone new to project management when getting started with a new project.

  1. Ditch that wonderful project accronym you spent so long thinking about. Ditch it and any other words that only you or your team understand. Plain English is the way forward, provides clarity and makes it easy for others to understand. Helps to promote your project and provides an opportunity for others to easily provide feedback.
  2. Make sure you understand what it is you’re doing. Goals, aims, objectives or whatever you’ve decided to call them, make sure you understand them and what change you expect as a result of the project. This is particularly important if the project has just landed in your lap to run with. It also helps you to review whether your project was a success. It also:
    • Focuses attention;
    • Clarifies expectations;
    • Enables accountability;
    • Increases objectivity;
    • Improves execution;
    • Promotes consistency;
    • Facilitates feedback;
    • Increases alignment;
    • Improves decision–making;
    • Provides early warning signals;
    • Enhances understanding;
    • Enables prediction; and
    • Motivates! (Spitzer, 2007, p.16)
  3. Plan, plan, and plan. Make sure you’ve really thought through what it is you’re going to do. I tend to start with a mindmap (Freemind is free if you don’t have any software). I then transform this into what the the project management profession calls a work–breakdown structure, very similar to an organisational structure chart but for the deliverables of your project. I used to think that was enough and put that into a Gantt Chart with some rough estimates of time. I soon learned that wasn’t good enough and now really think through when the tasks need to be complete using Wunderlist to manage them.

Of course I’m only scratching the surface here but I hope this provokes you to think harder about what it is you’re really trying to achieve! I’d be interested in what other project managers would list as their top three tips. Please comment and have your say!

My e-Learning Wish List

I was recently asked by one of my lecturers, “what tech would you like to see in an e-learning environment?” Being somewhat of a geek I was quite interested to think this through. Generally speaking though the issues I have aren’t necessarily anything to do with the tech. In this post I outline what I think would help me to learn and hopefully get better grades as a result. There are some ideas towards the bottom but I’m not sure whether any of those could be achieved through an e-learning platform. Ideally I’m not that bothered about seeing tech used in an e-learning platform, I’m bothered that the e-learning platform is used well!

It’s probably worth pointing out that the lecturer who posed this question was excellent in his use of the e-learning platform and produced some awesome materials! Thank you.

Weapon(s) of Choice

I use a mixture of tech to access course material, learn, manage my learning and write my assignments.

Hardware

  • iMac @ Home. I’ve had some issues viewing videos in the e-learning portal via my Mac. Trying to figure out the problem wasn’t worth the hassle. Things like embedded YouTube videos have been fine but I can understand why the university might want things kept in-house.
  • PC @ Work.
  • iPhone 4S. I’ve been able to access most things through my phone. I don’t have any issues regarding eyesight so am quite comfortable with small fonts although this could be a problem for others. I tend to view documents via DropBox once I’ve downloaded them. It was easy to connect to my email account but I knew where to look for the settings. Others might not.
  • Mac Book Pro.

Software

  • Google Chrome. Used to browse websites, blogs, search for resources and access the e-learning portal.
  • Apple Mail, Gmail, Outlook. Used to access my email and calendaring systems.
  • Google Calendars. My main calendar to which I sync everything. My one stop shop for event, meeting, and key deadline details.
  • DropBox. Where I store all of my draft and issued assignments. I use JISC infoNet’s naming convention to manage verisons of my documents. I also store all course materials here too.
  • Wunderlist. This magical app helps me to manage my life!
  • TweetDeck and Twitter. I use twitter to access my personal learning network and find leads to interesting articles/theories.
  • Microsoft Office (Word, PowerPoint, Excel). Used to draft assignments and supporting material.

Eduroam & Shibboleth

I can’t explain the value of Eduroam & Shibboleth to me as a student. The ability to connect to wi-fi at different institutions is fantastic. Then to be able to access various publishers’ resources using my student credentials makes life so much easier. You can even link your details through Google Scholar which can provide a simple method for quickly finding key academic papers.

What I Expect from the University

I’m not an expert in pedagogy or learning techniques but I’ve never really understood why all of the relevant materials for a module can’t just be made available up front. As a student I want to read through as much material as I can to try and understand the topic more deeply. As a Distance Learning student ‘time’ is my enemy. The more I can do up front, or when I have time, the better!

Recommendation 1: Make all presentations, learning papers and handouts available from the start of the module. Ideally as a downloadable Zip file. By presentation I just mean the file, doesn’t have to be a video of the lecture. I actually found papers much quicker and easier to follow and refer to than videos.

I want to spend as much of my time as possible learning. It would be extremely helpful if lecturers could organise their files appropriately so students don’t have to do this for them.

Recommendation 2: Use meaningful and helpful naming conventions. For example, US date format (2012 06 24) at the beginning of a file would allow us to sort (in explorer or finder) files in the order we’re meant to read them. Follow that with the resource type and title e.g. 2012 06 24 Lecture Defining Sustainability or 2012 06 24 DL Paper Defining Sustainability.

Recommendation 3: It would be useful if all of the lecturers on the same programme followed the same standard.

I use the lectures to get a basic understanding of a particular topic. The references highlighted within those lectures are particularly important to me. It would be very helpful if lecturers provided full references in presentations and any other materials.

Recommendation 4: Fully reference citations made within learning materials. It’s really helpful and it also sets a good example.

At the start of a module it’s very important to get to grips with key deadlines. Even if the assignment brief can’t be given, lecturers should be able to give key dates i.e. when the brief will be available, if a draft is expected, final deadline.

Recommendation 5: Provide a list of key dates in one place, at the start of a module. It would be handy if deadlines were automatically added to a student’s calendar. It’s all about joined up data e.g. Total Recal!

I use a Mac, not everything has worked smoothly using a Mac. I understand that the course provides details of what hardware and systems requirements distance learning students will need but seriously?!

Recommendation 6: Get an e-learning platform where all of the functionality works seemlessly for both Macs and PCs, or any device for that matter!

Some ideas

Make the process interesting. One of my lecturers set out to develop a journal, so to speak. Each student choose a topic area. They developed a draft paper which was reviewed by two peers. Amendments were made before a final submission. All papers were collated to form a journal. The lecturer had planned to have a copy printed for each student but the school reversed its decision to allow the lecturer to do this.

Idea 1: I really enjoyed this module and think it could be ran on a yearly basis. The journal doesn’t have to be printed necessarily. Create the journal and make it available through a self publishing site like Lulu. Set it so that the school reaps any profit, the students get the credit :-)

I mentioned above that it would be really useful if lecturers would fully reference materials they use. Would it be possible for everyone to contribute to a pool of interesting/relevant materials? I’m not sure if this verges on the edges of collusion?

Idea 2: Use a social bookmarking tool to collate relevant materials for each module. For example, all lecturers and students could use Delicious to tag relevant resources. Use a predefined tag, for example a mixture of the university’s UCAS code and the module code. The material would grow year upon year and could become extremely valuable to students, organisations (from a busienss and community engagement angle), and alumni.

As a Distance Learning student I’d find it very useful to have some time, preferrably online, with lecturers and fellow students. My course arranged a couple of days where we could all go to the university. There’s a reason I chose distance learning! All I’m asking for is perhaps an hour once or twice throughout the course of a module.

Idea 3: Hold an online seminar where students, particularly Distance Learning students, can interact with lecturers and fellow students. If there isn’t an option available through the e-learning platform, Google Hangouts is a simple solution.

Anyway, I probably haven’t answered the question but I hope this might help in some way, shape or form. I’d be really interested in comments from lecturers but also other students. One final point is that I have no sympathy for people who can’t remember passwords or take the time to learn something new. If you, as a lecturer use a particular technology and think it will be beneficial/interesting then have the confidence to use it!

Project Management Tools

I’ve been looking into a few tools for managing projects I’m currently working on. I was really impressed by the awesomeness and simplicity of Wunderlist which helps to clarify key tasks organised by lists (or projects if you will). Very simple and, for me, reflects David Allen’s Getting Things Done® methodology quite well. I then tried Wunderkit which is very similar, but for me seems to overcomplicate everything. I quickly became lost in the interface, spending more time learning the tool than using it as an aid.

One of my lecturers (Dr Sustainable) mentioned an approach using Google Calendars which caught my eye. I do like the idea of everything being calendar driven but I’m just not a fan of the interface for this kind of thing. More recently though, I came across Asana. It’s a mix between Wunderlist and Wunderkit. I’ve only just started looking at it and will hopefully report back soon on my progress.

Asana Screen Shot

Another tool that I’ve heard a lot about is tom’splanner but I’m not sure the Gantt Chart driven way of thinking is for me.