As a consultant, I find that there are, broadly speaking, three types of teams and organisations when it comes to project updates:
Synchronous updates (only)
Aynchronous updates (only)
Asynchronous and synchronous updates
The purpose of this post is to explain why the third of these is by far the better option.
1. Synchronous updates (only)
The most popular (the default, even!) are those only doing synchronous project updates. This means that the team, group, or other unit of organisation finds out the whole picture of what’s going on in the weekly team meeting.
Advantages: every project update can come with full context and, if someone doesn’t understand, or has a question, this can be addressed immediately. If the project team is meeting face-to-face or via video then facial expressions and body language can convey additional information.
Disadvantages: if the project team is only receiving updates on the day of the meeting, then the information they have can be up to six days out of date at any given time. Also, anyone who misses the meeting has to rely on the notes.
2. Asynchronous updates (only)
Other teams, groups, or other units of organisation only do asynchronous project updates. This means that meetings are rare, and the main way to find out what’s going on is to check the place where updates are made.
Advantages: anyone with the necessary permissions can get involved, which is why this approach is common to Open Source Software projects. What you see is what you get, and combined code repositories and issue trackers (e.g. GitHub) provide a decent workflow to get things done.
Disadvantages: with the human element removed, it’s difficult for the full context (including relative importance) of an update to be conveyed, and for serendipitous links to be made between projects.
3. Asynchronous and synchronous updates
The best teams I’ve come across do a combination of asynchronous and synchronous project updates. They meet regularly face-to-face or by video and provide updates in a dedicated space between meetings.
Advantages: everyone on the project gets full context around an update, either in the dedicated space or by asking a question about it in the meeting. There is now more time in meetings for forward planning and innovation.
Disadvantages:none that I can think of!
N.B. Workplace chat solutions such as Slack are great for many things. Given the potentially low signal/noise ratio, project updates are not necessarily one of them. Instead, I recommend using a dedicated space — e.g. Trello or Nextcloud Deck.
I spent last week studying for and taking my Foundation and Practitioner PRINCE2 examinations. Programme and project management is an expected part of the world I now work; in fact, funding and facilitating projects too risky for institutions to take on individually is pretty much what JISCdoes.
PRINCE 2 is a project management method standing for PRojects IN Controlled Environments. It’s generic and applicable to everything from painting and decorating your house through to the machinations of multinational corporations. Granted, at first the rather abstract concepts seem needlessly convoluted (‘dis-benefits’ anyone?) but the commonality of language and ability to tailor a workable organizational structure make sense in the end.
What I can’t understand is why most schools shun formal project management methods? More than any almost any other type of organization, schools have to deal with constant change: personnel, curricula, buildings – so many different elements! Whilst it would be overkill (and the cost prohibitive) to have everyone within an organization PRINCE2-ceritified, I would definitely recommend the following:
Senior & Middle Leadership – full PRINCE2 Practitioner status
Teachers, Learning Support Assistants and Site staff – PRINCE2 Foundation status
If tied to professional development activities, the 7 PRINCE2 principles could really make a difference to organizational efficiency:
Continued business justification
Learn from experience
Defined roles and responsibilities
Manage by stages
Manage by exception
Focus on products
Tailor to suit the project environment
The three I’ve highlighted would in particular benefit schools and make them much less frustrating (and much more productive) places to work. To explain those three:
Continued business justification – at the end of each stage the Executive (usually be the Headteacher) decides if the ‘business case’ is strong enough to continue the project.
Defined roles and responsibilities – project roles are based upon the ability of the person’s role within the school to allocate resources and carry out the task (and not on personalities).
Manage by exception – once each stage plan is agreed with specified tolerances, the project manager gets on with it, only raising exceptions to the Project Board if the tolerances (time, cost, scope) are exceeded.
I’ll explain more about PRINCE2 if there’s enough interest. I may not be qualified to give the training, but I am qualified to write explanatory blog posts. 😉
This guide is most easily done through screenshots. Apologies for the blurring out of information, but it’s necessary I’m afraid…
I’ve got lots of different projects on the go at the moment in my new role. I had to find a way to keep track of them fairly sharpish if I wasn’t going to fall behind. Thankfully, I’ve found a system that works really well for me. Here’s how to set up a system similar… 🙂
The first thing is to head over to Netvibes and sign up for a free account (if you haven’t done so already). When you’ve done that, start customising your ‘Home’ (dashboard) page:
I’ve used an iFrame to bring in the excellent TeuxDeux webapp here as well as a bookmark, webnote and holiday widgets. More on that later. Go ahead and set up your project tabs by clicking on the little ‘+’ icon to the right of Home. Add a little icon to make them stand out from one another:
For the project pages, I’ve chosen the following standard layout. It means I can see pretty much at-a-glance what needs doing (the to-do list) as well as notes to myself. The iFrames can go down at the bottom for things that I need to access often:
I use the following widgets in my project pages:
Adding these widgets in the relevant places and configuring them ends up with something similar to the screenshot below. Now rinse and repeat for the rest of your projects in other tabs and you’re sorted! 😀
How do YOU keep track of your projects? Do you use Netvibes differently? Explain in the comment section below!