Ed Tech Teams Need Project Management Skills

by Jean Tower

project

Deployment of technology in schools, as in other sectors, is often a series of projects, and to be successful, projects need to be managed well.

What is a “project?”

A project is something that has a beginning and an end and a specific scope and focus. A project has someone who manages the project, participants that need to be kept informed and in the loop, stakeholders, and people who will carry out the tasks that accomplish the project. A project is not routine, like the day –to–day operations of a team, but is a distinctive undertaking.

Dictionary.com says a project is:

  1. something that is contemplated, devised, or planned; plan; scheme.
  2. a large or major undertaking, especially one involving considerable money, personnel, and equipment.

 

So what are some examples of ed tech projects?

  • Upgrade all the wireless devices in a school or district
  • Move a school system from email system A (let’s say Outlook) to email system B (let’s say gmail)
  • Set up and deploy GAFE (Google Apps for Education)
  • Provide support and training for a big system-wide initiative like GAFE
  • Upgrade or transition to a new student information system software

Really, so much of what we do is a project, and I find many ed tech teams are simply not versed in project management (PM). In medium to large districts, I would recommend that the leaders take courses in project management, while in much larger districts there is often a PM office.

There are many project management tools and processes around and you can find PM tools online for free. I suggest you review a few and find one (or an amalgamation of several) that will work for your current project and try it out. Imposing a process that defines the timeline, scope, cost, review process, milestones, and stakeholder involvement can help avoid “project creep” and brings projects to completion in a more timely and cost-effective way.

Colleagues have asked me why PM tools and processes are so important and the easiest way to answer this is always to ask them about recent projects in their organizations. When probed, they describe instances of project creep (it gets bigger and bigger as time goes on), redefining the whole project mid-stream, stakeholders who were unaware and when they learned about the ongoing project were unhappy with some of the elements and refused to support it, and so on. Every story is unique, but all share one thing – a complex deployment or initiative is derailed – – it is halted, delayed, or scrapped because the project was not managed well. Sometimes it is because all stakeholders were not on board, informed and in agreement at the outset, but other times it is simply that the IT department did not meet deadlines and budget limits that were imagined by others.

Years ago, when I was learning more about project management and researching tools, I developed a simple template to help manage small and medium projects, and have a more robust version for big projects.

Here are some of the elements I included:

Project Title

Sponsor (define who in the organization is the “customer”)

Stakeholders (list all the principal stakeholders and their role or involvement)

Project Description and Scope (It is important not just to complete this for the tool, but to build in a sign-off process so that all stakeholders agree at the outset what the project is and its scope)

Project Deliverables (include description)

Project Milestones (what is to be accomplished, by what date, by whom)

Budget (include purpose, amount, and source)

Personnel (be sure to identify the project manager and project team)

Communication Plan (This is a table that lists every stakeholder and the information they need, who provides it and at what frequency)

I have always worked in small to medium districts, so I pared down more elaborate planning tools as I developed my own, selecting the fields and processes that were a “best fit” for my organization, and were “enough” to really manage my projects.

If you, or someone on your team is interested in learning more, you may want to start with a MOOC, and a google search will instantly turn up several options.

edX

Coursera

Class Central

Adopting a project management process and tool can help professionalize your department, help communicate what you are doing, and help you define and achieve success.

 

 

image credit: Pixabay

 

 

 

 

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