An Introduction to Project Management for Academic Internships

The contents of this post have been influenced by my participation in AFF611A-Digital Humanities Practicum.  The particular challenge addressed by my internship is to investigate the options for implementing a website for the Chronologicon Hibernicum project (more details available here) and work on the site is currently underway.


The Project Management Institute (PMI) defines Project Management as “the application of knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques to project activities to meet the project requirements.”  Within this context, a project is “a temporary endeavour undertaken to create a unique product, service or result”. Considering these definitions, it is evident that students and academics regularly undertake the role of project manager, often without sufficient knowledge or understanding of the tools and techniques of Project Management.  Writing a thesis or body of research (at every level), participating in an internship, editing a book or a journal, organising a conference, developing a department or a new syllabus – all are projects and all can benefit from a better understanding of efficient and effective of Project Management.  In this blog post, I will describe a range of tools available to the Project Manager to: (1) initiate, (2) plan and (3) control a Project.

Project Conception and Initiation

According to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBoK), project initiation is the first phase of the project life cycle.  The goals of this phase are to define the project and to investigate its benefits and its feasibility.  Undertaking a project may be either beneficial or feasible but unless it is both then it is unlikely to be a worthwhile exercise.  The initial definition of the project can come from several documents, one of which is the Project Statement of Work (SoW).

Statement of Work (SoW)

The SoW should include details of the following:

Source: http://www.cor tech.net/statement_of_work.html
  • Project Background (identifying the challenge(s) which the project addresses).
  • Scope of the project.
  • All deliverables and due dates.
  • Price and payment details (where applicable).
  • Key assumptions.
  • Acceptance Criteria.

Assumptions clearly define how the budget and timeline will impact the project output and they are the most important part of the SoW.  The following are examples of generic assumptions:

  • How long the client needs to approve deliverables / the timeline for deliverable feedback for the project to be completed on time.
  • How changes to the project scope will be managed.

An example from my practicum was to define who is responsible for writing, sourcing and managing content.

The completion of a SoW will not always be necessary, for example, if I am undertaking an independent research project in which I am the sole stakeholder

Plan

Project planning is the second main project management process and is key to the successful completion of a project.  Following the project conception and initiation, a project management plan is developed.  A plan should be put in place to avoid obstacles, organise different areas of the project and identify and eliminate risk where possible.  In general, all objectives should be established using the S.M.A.R.T. goal philosophy.

Work Breakdown Structure (WBS)

A WBS is a graphic representation of the project scope.  It sets the foundation for the rest of the project planning by providing a structural view of the project.  When creating a WBS, the Project Manager defines the key areas first and then identifies the tasks required to reach those goals, working from the top down.  A WBS can aid planning by breaking tasks or activities down into more manageable and smaller units of work for both the Project Manager and team.

Source: http://www.mywordtemplates.org/project/template1681.html

Using a WBS to plan a project can assist the Project Manager in the following ways:

  • Identifying what steps are required to meet the overall project objective(s) – by doing so, interim goals can be put in place to meet deadlines.
  • Time Planning – Start and End dates of the overall project, allowing the project to remain on schedule and allowing for the identification of delays.
  • Scheduling Planning – Creating & scheduling tasks as above for the individual tasks.
  • Risk planning – identifying potential pitfalls and obstacles to the successful completion of the project.  This allows for further plans of action to be put in place should the identified risks occus.
  • Communication – clear visualisation of the scope of the project establishes clear and open communication between Project Management, the team and the client regarding their specific roles and tasks.

Control

Project controls are generally concerned with the metrics of the project, such as quantities, time, cost, and other resources.  The following are key areas in controlling a project:

  • Scope Verification and Change Control
  • Schedule Control
  • Cost Control
  • Quality Control
  • Performance Reporting
  • Risk Control
  • Contract Administration
  • Complete Monitoring and Controlling Phase Review

Project monitoring is an essential part of controlling a project and entails regularly collecting, recording, and reporting information concerning project performance.

Change Requests – often arise when the client wants an addition to or alteration of the agreed-upon deliverables for a project.  There are two different types of change requests:

  1. Changes inside of project scope – typically will be a small correction or refinement to an existing requirement that will have little or no impact on the deadline or budget.
  2. Changes outside of project scope – will take considerable time to implement and will require a complete revision of the project plan.

When presented with a change request form the following questions should be answered:

  • What is the change requested?
  • Why is this change requested?
  • How important is this change?
  • What part of the project is it related to?

The above is a small of example of the types of resources that are available to an individual or a team planning to engage in a project.  During a recent symposium on computational and corpus-base linguistics projects,  hosted by the members of the Chronologicon Hibernicum team, the collaborative nature of these projects was repeatedly emphasised.  Moreover, many of the participants echoed the sentiment that what was initially thought to be a digital side-project intended to augment their primary research interests quickly took over most of their research activities and time.  Often, this was the result of assumptions regarding the capabilities of the technologies involved.  Project initiation is therefore at times as valuable as project planning itself.  It is my opinion that investigating Digital Humanities projects together with an individual or individuals with a understanding of the tools and technologies involved would save much valuable time and energy at the outset and as the project progresses.

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