Monday, March 29, 2010

Project Management Review

If the Beatles ever had any words of wisdom to impart on to us, it was that we all get by with a little help from our friends. In the professional world of librarianship, tools and techniques related to project management can be the friends that not only help us get by, but also improve our managerial skills and add an additional layer of professionalism to the work we do.

On March 10, CASLIS and SLA sponsored a well-attended presentation on project management by University of Toronto iSchool faculty, Kelly Lyons. A former Program Director of the IBM Toronto Lab Centre for Advanced Studies (CAS), Kelly’s knowledge of project management is extensive. As head of CAS Toronto, she was responsible for 60 collaborative research projects with universities, 100 visiting researchers, and the organization of IBM’s CAS conferences (CASCON). Managing all of these responsibilities was greatly facilitated by project management techniques, principles and tools.

Kelly began her presentation by defining project management: A results-oriented management style that makes use of tools to assist with the process of project development (planning, implementing and activities management) and the final delivery of a finished product. Project management is not only useful in a corporate environment, but can be applied to many (if not most) contexts, including library projects.

The nature of the project can influence the management style one should adopt. For example, the management of a “compliance” project (that is, a project to help an organization to comply with certain requirements) may differ from the management of operational and strategic projects. Unlike the first two, strategic project management involves an analysis of the mission statement of an organization, which informs the planning and implementation stages of the project.

Regardless of the nature of the project, however, management tools help with the project’s various stages. Useful tools in the early stages of the project are the Project Charter and the “Project Management Triangle.” The former is both a decision-making and communication tool, while the latter is a conceptual tool that helps evaluate the desired product quality vis-à-vis the project’s scope, the costs associated with it, and the timeframe for project completion.

Other useful tools are the Work Breakdown Structure and RACI charts, the Network Diagram, and the various project management software (such as MSProject, @task, Basecamp, etc.). A ranking of some of these software packages (as well as more information on project management in general) can be found in Kelly’s presentation slides, available on the CASLIS Toronto website.

The evening concluded with a lively Q&A session. One question asked was whether it is necessary that all team members desire to be part of the project. Kelly answered in the negative, since this is an unrealistic expectation. She added that team leaders or project managers should try to find a way to convey the value of the project to team members, and to try to find the aspects of the project that motivates each team member in order to bring them more fully into the project and increase their professional satisfaction.

When an attendee asked a similar question regarding student volunteers, not only Kelly, but many individuals in the audience offered advice: Determine what motivates them—maybe it is a letter of recommendation, or experience in a particular aspect of the project.

Following the presentation and Q&A, many participants lingered, mingled and continued to discuss insights from the presentation for some time.

Yannet M. Lathrop
M.I. Candidate, 2011, Faculty of Information, University of Toronto

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