The dictionary definition of “project” is “a piece of planned work or an activity that is finished over a period of time and intended to achieve a particular purpose” (from the Cambridge Dictionary). From that general description, a project can mean almost anything! In general, for work to be considered a “project” the work needs to have two attributes:
- It goes on for a limited time.
- There is a completed item, product and/or result at the end, often called a “deliverable”.
Deliverables can be physical, like a report or essay, or an object, such as a science fair project, or an art project. Deliverables can also be non-physical, such as an event like a party or even cleaning a room or a garage. Whatever the deliverable is, it is the completed outcome of your project.
Projects can be assigned as part of homework, or longer-term class goals. There are also personal projects, such as cleaning your room or organizing a bookshelf. Projects can have hundreds of people working on them or just a single person.
The critical thing about projects is learning how to plan them so you get the outcome you want in the best possible way. It’s all about planning and then managing your project.
Students will learn how to break big projects into more manageable “bite-sized” pieces that are easier to plan and work through. They will learn to look critically at tasks and ask questions to ensure they have all the information they need to move forward in an appropriate direction. The skills learned here apply to solo or group work and will continue to be relevant as students move into higher education as well as in their own daily lives.
- A piece of planned work or an activity that is finished over a period of time and intended to achieve a particular purpose.
- “The work that needs to be accomplished to deliver a product, service, or result with the specified features and functions.” (A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK Guide) – Fourth Edition. Project Management Institute, 2008
- A constraint is something that limits or controls what you can do.
- A stakeholder is either an individual, group or organization who is impacted by the outcome of a project. They have an interest in the success of the project, and can be within or outside the organization that is sponsoring the project.
- A deliverable is a tangible or intangible good or service produced as a result of a project that is intended to be delivered to a customer (either internal or external).
This module provides an opportunity to address curriculum expectations across many subjects including English and Computer Studies. Students will be introduced to project management skills as it relates to digital projects and encourage critical thinking, self management and organization. This lesson is geared to students in Grade 7 -12.
Approach the following questions casually in order to encourage discussion about current or past projects students have worked on. Using the questions as a framework, have the students discuss what went well, what didn’t, and how things could have gone better. Additional probing questions such as “why” or “why do you think that is” are helpful for promoting conversation.
- Have you ever had a project or task that seemed “too much” or “overwhelming”? Where you were unclear on what was being asked? Where you felt you didn’t have enough details to continue?
- How about group projects where it was unclear what each group member was responsible for?
- Have you ever completed a project only to find out it was not what was requested?
The first steps of managing a project
There are many ways to organize and manage a project, and much of this depends on the type of project and the expected goals and outcomes. But regardless of the way you choose to manage a project, some core ideas need to be understood and some key questions asked.
For this part of the module, we will use the following real-life example to facilitate explanations:
PROJECT: “Create a website to be a companion to a new television show that is premiering in 6 months time”
The following is a simplified, but relevant process to initiate planning and managing the project.
Understand what you need to do for your project (Know the requirements)
In many cases, this is the most important step. Without understanding the driving goals and outcomes, all steps that follow are based on incomplete or “muddy” information. Some questions to ask yourself:
- Do you understand what is being asked?
- Do you understand the reason for the project?
- How will I know when the project is done? What is my “deliverable”?
- What is the “scope” of my project? What am I actually creating… and how much of it?
- When does the project need to be delivered? What is the final deadline?
Using the above example project description, a “companion website” can mean many things. It could consist of many different pages, sections, images, videos – the options are truly endless. “Scoping” a project is the process of working through what you will be creating based on the resources available (more on that later). Also, it can also be helpful to list what is “out of scope” on a project, so it is clear to the client what the final deliverable will and will not include.
For the above example, after having more discussions with the client, we decided the scope is for the website to have:
- the latest information about where the show can be seen.
- information on the characters and actors in the show.
- a Contact Us form and the ability to subscribe to a newsletter.
- a blog that can support interesting and related video clips.
Understand what resources you have for your project (Know the constraints)
With every project comes a set of “constraints”. Constraints are the limits on the resources you have available for a project; things like time, budget and people. After getting a stronger sense and vision of the project, anything that could impact or block the ability to get it done on time should be immediately reviewed.
For our example, a clear constraint is the day it must launch. This means that the project must have an appropriate and mutually agreed upon scope that enables the project to be completed by that date.
Another constraint is people. Some projects are completed by one person and some projects require hundreds. Also, some people are better suited to certain tasks than others. For the example project, people with the right skills for creating a website need to be available at the right time. We also need to ensure there are enough people for the various tasks, and that no one had too much to do to prevent them finishing in time.
Money, or the budget, is also a determining constraint. In managing a project it is important the budget contains enough funds to ensure people get paid for the work they do and supplies and materials are available until the project is complete. By having a clear scope and thinking carefully about what needs to be done, you may find that the scope is too large for the available funding and the scope needs to be trimmed down.
In our example, a feature was cut from the scope (running a contest when the site launches), because it was not possible to complete in time for launch, given the resources available.
For students, constraints can look like:
- Do we have enough time to finish our project?
- Do we have all the skills we need in our group (or by myself)?
- Do I have the materials I need?
- Do I expect costs that are not covered by current funds?
- Are there any parts of the project that need to be completed first, before any others?
After identifying constraints on a project, the original scope may have to be adjusted. What is important is that the team is confident in their ability to complete the project outlined and that the “stakeholders” or client is communicated with.
Communicating with stakeholders and team members
Communication is the most important part of any project manager’s job. It has been estimated that up to 90% of a project manager’s time is spent communicating (Source). The people who you communicate to the most are your team and stakeholders. In terms of projects, a stakeholder can be anyone who is attached or can influence your project and are interested in its outcome. Communicating with all the project stakeholders is critical for having a successful project.
Project managers communicate with the entire team to ensure each individual understands the work they need to do as well as how it fits into the bigger project. They help team members with questions or blocks that are impeding their work. The project manager helps them get what they need to complete their work.
Project managers also help team members communicate with each other and ensure everyone is in agreement on the goals they are working towards. It can be easy to misunderstand documentation or instructions on project features. Project managers help get understandable instructions to their team members, and help the flow of information between their team members as well.
Project managers also talk to individuals outside the team, such as the people who initiated the project, and who may be the same people funding the budget. The project manager should strive to bring them regular and honest updates discussing the progress on the project. This helps bring clarity to those who do not have direct access to the team on a day-to-day basis, helps to avoid surprises and misunderstandings, and helps control expectations.
With effective communication, a project should move smoothly: all team members know what they need to work on and why, and other stakeholders have a strong understanding of what the final deliverable will be.
Planning communication is as simple as ensuring that all team members have contact details for each other, know when they can all schedule regular meetups and which “external stakeholders” want and need to be updated and how often.
Choosing a Project Manager for your Project
It sounds like a very large job, and it is. In the business world, people make a career out of being a project manager to help teams achieve their outcomes and goals. They can work on one large project or several smaller ones at a time, but their main goal is to make projects run smoothly and making sure the end product meets expectations.
Who should be the project manager for your project? This person will help to ensure the project stays on track in terms of features and timelines. They are also responsible for ensuring that the team continues to communicate with each other and bring regular updates to the people who need them. The will also communicate new information from outside stakeholders back to the team. The project manager works diligently to remove roadblocks and make sure the team has everything they need to do their work as effectively as possible.
In some cases, the project only has one team member – themselves! But they can use project management techniques to ensure they stay on track within the scope of the project.
In group projects, it may be a good idea to have someone take on the role of project manager. It is best to choose someone who feels they can lead the project and take on the additional tasks that come with it. Project managers can also be assigned by a teacher or instructor.
Break off a class into separate groups. It is best if the group members each bring a unique set of skills or viewpoints to the team.
Think of a project that would be relevant in your community. It could be as simple as planning a large community gathering, more complex such as planning a unique exhibition, or, like the example, creating a website. The amount of specific information that is given to the groups is up to the instructor, but it is important to choose a project that students feel excited about.
Instructors can impose constraints that make sense to the project such as time, people, and budget or all three.
Have the groups brainstorm what the project could consist of and what the expected outcomes could be. They are allowed and encouraged to talk to the instructor to help them achieve clarity on certain points or requirements of the project. If students get stuck, it is sometimes valuable to have them envision the outcome or what the “end product” would look like.
Asking them to “work backward” from the end may help trigger thoughts on the individual pieces required. This will end up being their project scope. As mentioned earlier, another way to think about the outcome of a project is to agree on what it won’t contain – things that are “out of scope.” There is no harm in starting with a long list of features to cut back on later, so that only the best and most relevant features to the goal of the project remain.
Then groups should review their project scope against the constraints to ensure that they feel the project still remains feasible after everything is taken into account.
Next groups should put together a communication plan. How and when they will communicate with each other, and how they will communicate progress to the instructor.
And lastly, groups can decide on who will take on the role of project manager. This can also be assigned by the instructor at the group forming stage if that works better for the class.
The ending goal or deliverable for this group activity project is a one page written/typed document, that is easy to read and understand and outlines the following:
- What is the project? (This is generally given by the instructor, but could vary based on the brainstorming of the groups)
- Who is involved in the project? (Team/group members)
- What are the end goals or deliverables of the project? (How will the team know that the project is complete?)
- What is the scope of the deliverable? (As an example from earlier – this could be outlining the sections for the website, which was based on what was of greatest importance to the client)
- What is not in scope for this project? (Can be optional but encouraged so that constraints can be considered against scope)
- How the team intends to communicate with each other? (Should have some element of regular and scheduled status meetings as well as the dissemination of contact information for the group. Also, if relevant, the communication plan could include regularly scheduled group work time. There should also be some information on what, how and how often information will be relayed back to the stakeholder/instructor)
- Who is the project manager? (Depending on how this activity is initiated, it could be pre-assigned by the instructor, or the team could come to their own decision for who should take on that role)
In the end, the teams will have a mini project plan for a fictional project, but can apply what is learned to any of their future projects.
Gather back as a group and share the project management plan created by your group.
- Buck Institute for Education – The main focus of this organization is to bring project-based learning to classrooms for all ages and backgrounds. They have a collection of books concerning many aspects of project based learning.
- Girl’s Guide to Project Management – A women-centric blog, with resources, insights and interviews of other female project managers.
Social Media Resources
- @girlsguidetopm – The Twitter account for Girl’s Guide to Project Management