Project Management Basics

The first step towards a mature development process for developing online courses is to introduce some project management basics. According to the Project Management Institute, a project is a temporary endeavour undertaken to create a unique product, service or result. For a set of tasks to be a projectthere must be a start and end date and produce a one-off output. The three core tasks for managing a project are cost and effort estimation, task allocation, and risk management.

Resist the ad hoc. Announce that this is a project, and that it matters enough to be treated as one.

Seth Godin

Here are ten suggested actions to get you started with managing your projects:

  1. Set a start and end date and identify your critical path; each task’s last possible completion date allows the project to hit the end date. Identify the dates by work backwards from completion and take into account tasks dependent on the completion of another. Track task completion against this critical path, and do what is needed to hit all the deadlines, so the project ends on time.
  2. Develop a way of estimating the cost and effort involved in your projects. Understand how complexity, size, and reuse impact these estimates. Start with what you can find in literature and then review and update it after each new project is complete to improve its accuracy over time. 
  3. Keep a list of risks, possible consequences, and likelihood and introduce ways to reduce the chance of them happening to minimise disturbances during the project. Considered project risks that affect the schedule or resources, product risks affecting the final course or module, and business risks that affect the university.
  4. Assign a Project Leader responsible for the project; this should be someone who controls the critical resources such as the Academics line manager of Head of Department. Regularly communicate with the Project Lead and get sign-off from them on crucial decisions. 
  5. Produce a project schedule that includes all the tasks to be completed and their due dates, any key milestones, and gates where the key project team members get sign-off to progress. Add the critical path and start and end dates and get everyone to sign it off before work begins. Update it as things change.
  6. Send out weekly project highlights to the Sponsor/owner and Project Leader. Use a traffic light system to help them identify if they need to intervene. If in amber or red, add a brief note saying why it is in trouble and what is required to bring it back to green. 
  7. Make all your work visible and share it will the whole project team. Show the critical path, the estimates, the risks, and the schedule. Keep a record of all the weekly highlight reports and the other documents in a central location that the project team can access. Produce regular prototypes in various forms as soon as possible and regularly afterwards, share it with the intended students for feedback before the course launches.
  8. Write down everything. Record everything that people expect and everything that people promise. Let everyone know you have recorded it. Keep a log of what you’ve done and how. You will need it when things go wrong or when planning the next project.
  9. When working on multiple projects, keep a complete list in one place. Use the weekly highlights traffic light system and record the next action to move each forward. If you manage a team, get the members to do the same and keep a central list of all the projects and their status.
  10. Evaluate your projects when you sign them off. Create a lessons learned document and get the project team to list what worked and what didn’t. Integrate any changes into the process for next time.

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