Some helpful tips in project management

by Stephanie Chasteen on November 1, 2017

I’m a member of the American Evaluation Association (eval.org), which is honestly one of the most productive professional society memberships I’ve ever encountered.  They offer many webinars and amazing resources, plus a daily blog, which are exactly what I’ve needed as an evaluator.   I recently blogged about the wonderful (paid) webinar that I took with Ann Emery about data visualization, which I have used over and over.  Note too that if you join AEA, you will have access to all the live-streaming of the Evaluation 2017 conference, which happens next week (Nov 6-10).

Recently I participated in a free lunchtime AEA webinar on “Non-Technical Project Management” (login required) with Mary Fairchild.  I share some of the good stuff from that here.  Even though I think I’m pretty good at project management, I learned some good frameworks and questions to ask myself.  This would apply well to any STEM education project, or to the evaluation of such a project (as a project in itself).

Project phases

All projects should go through 3 phases:

  1. Plan (spend half your time here!)
  2. Execute
  3. Maintain

While it’s hard to spend enough time in the planning phase, it will pay dividends later in the project.

Workback plan

During that planning phase, keep asking yourself two questions (this is your “workback plan”)

  1. What does it take to get that done?
  2. What do I do next?

This workback plan needs to be as detailed as necessary to get the work done.  As you move along, you will likely know more about what needs to happen to get the work done… so your workback plan will evolve over time.

Execution phase

Decision tracking

As you’re doing the work, track your decisions as they are made.  Below is a snapshot of her decision tracking framework.  I find this really useful to think about even in my current projects – we are making lots of decisions and I’m struggling to remember them all.  That will keep you from continuing to open the same cans of worms, and you can also use decisions from one project to inform the next project, shortcutting repeated conversations.  In an evaluation, the decision might be what kinds of methods you might take.

Decision making modes:  You might make such decisions by consensus, voting, delegating, or by being autocratic.  Outline at the start how decisions are likely to be made.

Decision making escalation: You might need to escalate decision making, so you should outline the path for escalating decision making. You can then later evaluate whether a problem with a decision that was made is due to trumping of authority.  For example, it might escalate from a project member, to project lead, to the project management office.

Risk management plan

What might go wrong?  Be a worrier, or find a worrier, who can come up with potential problems, so you can plan ahead for such risks.   What is the risk?  What is a mitigation plan (to avoid the risk), and a contingency plan (if the risk can’t be avoided)?  Most risks can be mitigated by addressing scope, resources, or time, so focus on those 3 in your management plan.  Again, she suggests tracking this in a spreadsheet, as below, and discussing it with the project management team.  In an evaluation, the types of risks might be not getting information about project events.

Maintenance phase

When the project is being handed off, have a reflection moment where you ask people to consider what they would keep doing, stop doing, and what they would start doing?  This is a nice way to close out a project and create a good summary of lessons learned.  In an evaluation, the lessons learned might be about how to make the evaluation more applicable to help project managers make decisions.

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