In a previous blog post, I wrote about the Woodman Diary project, in which a group of students (myself included) enrolled in AFF606a (Digital Scholarly Editing) are creating a digital edition of a First World War diary under the guidance of Professor Susan Schreibman. The project, which began in earnest in January 2015, is now entering its final weeks. Though the creation of each digital scholarly edition may differ depending on the project team, the timeframe, resources, or other aspects, there are some general lessons we can draw from the Woodman Diary project that may prove helpful for future work.
Teamwork, Communication and Project Management
A digital scholarly edition such as the Woodman Diary has many parts. There is the text itself, its transcription and digital images. There are the technical aspects, such as the XML/TEI encoded files and the XSLT used to transform the XML. Digital editions often include extensive contextual and historical information, and there might also be design considerations for the final website. With each part progressing and moving forward at its own rate during the project timeframe, teamwork and communication between team members has been vital to Woodman Diary’s progress.
At the start of the project, we established clear goals and a clear division of labor by having each team member assume responsibility for one part of the digital scholarly edition. Doing so allowed us to set clearly established communication avenues; questions about the annotations, for example, are directed to Noel, whereas Josh handles any issues with the design composites. By assigning one person to take charge of a specific piece of the project, we are striving to eliminate any confusion or cross-purpose tasks.
The division of labor also contributes to effective teamwork within the project. Given the scope and timeframe of this project, it simply is not possible to complete the necessary work without each team member contributing to the whole. Moreover, allowing each team member to oversee his or her own area of responsibility helps ensure the continued progress of the project, by separating a seemingly daunting task into manageable pieces.
At the same time, however, the appointment of a project manager and the work he does is absolutely essential to ensuring the project advances as intended. Project managers offer structure and a foundational grounding to a specific project, enabling team members to work together to accomplish defined goals. As the Project Management Institute (PMI) states on its website, “hope is not a strategy.” We could not have crossed our fingers and anticipated a positive outcome. Consequently, having a project manager provides the necessary structure needed to complete the project. When individuals come together as a team to create something, whether it is a digital scholarly edition, a new software program or the construction of a building, they need a strong, solid plan and a leader who can guide the process from start to finish.
While the process of creating a digital scholarly edition such as the Woodman Diary is the result of the collective efforts of the entire team, ceding overall management and oversight of the project to one person is important for success. Woodman Diary team member Shane McGarry serves as the project manager, and his expertise and previous experience in such a role has proven invaluable. Throughout the last several months, Shane has kept us focused on our long-term goals and deadlines, acted as the primary contact between the project team and Professor Schreibman, and shepherded the project from its early beginnings to this last final month. He also ensures we adhere to good project management principles by establishing clear communication processes.
Our team meets in person for regular progress meetings on a weekly basis, avails ourselves of project management tools, such as Google Drive, Google Group, and Jira, and uses a shared Google Calendar to highlight any personal commitments that might interfere with deadlines. These practices enable us to communicate effectively amongst ourselves, whether it is simply to check in or to crowdsource ideas for a particular aspect of the digital scholarly edition.
Effective team communication, though, is more than simply staying in touch. Clear, consistent communication can help identity potential risks before they become problems, determine which areas of the project might need more attention, or reallocate resources based on progress reports. Indeed, project teams that communicate well are more likely to be successful. According to a 2013 report from the Project Management Institute, projects with highly effective communication plans were more likely to meet their original goals (80%, versus 52% of projects with minimal communication) and more likely to be completed on time (71%, versus 37%). With so many different parts to the Woodman Diary project, its ultimate success will be due, in large part, to our team’s ability to communicate well.
Know what the project is – and what it isn’t
Good communication can also mean listening, especially to those who have relevant knowledge. Last month, our team had the opportunity to speak with Gordon O’Sullivan, a former student at Trinity College Dublin who served as the project manager for another digital scholarly edition, the Mary Martin Diary project. Gordon offered a wealth of advice and feedback, but his most valuable piece of guidance was this: know what your project is – and know what your project isn’t.
Scope creep – the unplanned or continuous expansion or extension of a project’s scope – is the bane of many project managers (“Scope Creep”). Particularly in a group environment, when ideas are flowing and creativity peaks, it is easy to get carried away with grandiose visions and “wish list” items. But such ideas often don’t come with the necessary corresponding adjustments in time, resources and/or money. Moreover, many scope creep ideas are often “nice to have” elements in the project, but are not essential components for its completion.
Albert Woodman’s diary contains multiple inserted maps and newspaper clippings, referencing various campaigns and attacks during the war. Additionally, he mentions several towns and cities throughout his entries, which are encoded with a <placeName> TEI tag. In trying to determine how best to include the maps and the references to specific places in the project, we have considered using geo-referencing software to create dynamic images comparing Woodman’s geographic references with present-day Google Earth (see the sample image below).
Ultimately, though, the geo-referenced maps are an example of scope creep. Their inclusion in the project would be interesting and informative, but the time involved in their creation (as well as the time needed to learn the specific geo-referencing software) shifts attention away from the project’s core components, especially at this critical time in our schedule. Gordon’s advice reminds us to focus on our original project plan. For now, geo-referenced maps do not fit within the scope of what our project is. Rather than attempting too much, we can instead concentrate on completing and refining our initial objectives and goals.
Though the Woodman Diary project may be unique with regards to its purpose, goals and final result, the lessons learned by myself and the other team members throughout the process can be useful and applicable for other digital scholarly edition (DSE) projects. From the appointment of a project manager to minimizing scope creep, the example set by our project team will hopefully prove beneficial for future DSE projects.
Project Management Institute. The Essential Role of Communications. New York: PMI, 2013. Print. Web. 18 April 2015.
“Scope Creep.” Technopedia. Janalta Interactive Inc., 2015. Web. 18 April 2015.
“Why is Project Management Important?” Project Management Institute. PMI New York, 2015. Web. 18 April 2015.