Saturday, January 29, 2011

ACRL Session: No More Design by Committee

Visiting Philadelphia for the ACRL Conference, March 30 to April 2, 2011? Look for our session for insights on creating project teams.

No more design by committee: Strategies for building lean mean web project teams
Thursday, March 31, 2011
1:00 PM - 2:00 PM

Whether you are implementing a virtual reference service or redesigning the
library website, today’s web projects require organizational buy-in and web
skill. Even when working well, standing committees don’t always have the skills
needed to create a successful website, clear authority, and resources to
complete the job. This program presents research study findings about web
committees and teams, and proposes an alternate strategy for developing
project-focused, skill-driven teams to manage your library’s next web project.
Visit the ACRL Conference site to learn more and we hope to see you there!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

edUi 2010 Presentation Materials Posted

Jody and Jennifer presented "Web Project Management for Educational Environments" as an hour-long session at edUi 2010. Find our complete workshop slides and handouts at

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Web Project Management for Educational Environments at edUi 2010

Visit Charlottesville, Virginia, on November 8-9, 2010, for the edUi 2010 Conference where you will meet and learn along with web professionals working in education.

Jody Condit Fagan and Jennifer A. Keach will be presenting the following hands-on session:

Web Project Management for Educational Environments
Presentation Track: Web 101 – Day 2, 9:00 a.m. - 10:00 a.m.
Formal project management can be intimidating if you only manage projects occasionally—but it offers effective tools that are often easy to implement. We will share the “why” and “how” of identifying project sponsors, drafting project overviews, developing project specifications, and documenting work breakdowns. Learn how to keep projects on time, on budget, and within scope. We’ll have a particular focus on managing web-related projects in educational and non-profit environments.

Visit the eduI 2010 Conference website to learn more.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Build, Buy, Open Source, or Web 2.0?

"When improving a web presence, today’s libraries have a choice: using a free Web 2.0 application, opting for open source, buying a product, or building a web application. Which option is best for your library?"

Find out in Jody Condit Fagan and Jennifer Keach's article "Build, Buy, Open Source, or Web 2.0?: Making an Informed Decision for Your Library" just published in the July/August 2010 issue of Computers in Libraries. Find the article through your library or purchase online through the publisher.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Learning from Action Learning

I became aware of action learning as a student in an executive leadership program. Just this year as I returned to action learning as a team coach, I realized that action learning has something to teach me as a web project manager. In this blog post, I will offer some quick ways you can incorporate action learning into any team project.

Action learning gives a small group of students a real-life problem to solve. The group works together to learn about the problem and, by reflecting on their work and progress as they go, they also learn about working as a team, self-management, communication, even learning—and any number of other life and management skills. If you’d like to read more about how the collective web defines action learning, Wikipedia
offers a good overview and background along with a long list of books and articles on the topic.

While I was in the process of action learning for a 5 month-long project culminating in a presentation to people much more powerful than me, I remember being focused intensely on the problem at hand. What was the root of the problem and how could we solve it? Over time, the project began to interfere with our day-to-day jobs and with home lives. The differences in work styles, communication styles, and individual priorities caused friction—both small and large. This was an intense time, partly by design, that had the whole group under pressure.

If you’ve been on a project team for a large web project—a complete site redesign, for instance—these pressures will likely sound familiar to you.

The desire to “get it right” is intense for many web project teams. Web projects are frequently high-impact in a library; academic library employees use the public website every day as a core part of our daily work. Participants in your project team may start out already impassioned about the problem you are trying to solve. Your colleagues outside the team can be impassioned, too. Your end result is frequently on display for the whole world to see.

The time pressure is there, too. Participation on a web project team is almost always on top of your regular work in a library. A few lucky team members may have anticipated the project and the workload and cleared their schedules of extra commitments Most, though, will not have that luxury. Members of your project team may feel the pressure of a broken server that they need to rebuild (now!), a class that they need to prepare to teach (tomorrow!), or the emails that are piling up in their inbox (always!).

The action learning model tells you to examine the process—the group dynamics, the part you play in the group, the act of learning—so you can improve your performance both now and in the future. A group project without reflecting on the process isn’t action learning—it’s just a group project.

There is no reason that you can’t adapt the reflection piece of action learning so that your web project can also become a learning experience. Ways of doing this include:
  • At the beginning of a meeting, ask each person to state their expectations for that meeting. Adjust the agenda as a group or discuss as a group if all the expectations can’t be met. This helps you to move forward at a pace that your team wants to move—not just what is comfortable for you.
  • At any point in a meeting, pass an object hand to hand, giving each person holding the object the floor to voice their opinion without interruption. This talking stick model is a simple method with which many people are familiar. It is ideal for when you have some voices that you never seem to hear.

  • If you come to an impasse during a meeting, ask each person to share their answers to the following three questions:
    • What do you observe happening—just the facts?
    • How do you feel about that or what are your guesses about what is really happening?
    • What should the group do next?
    This model is commonly referred to as What, So What, Now What? Depending on comfort with conflict, you may discover that only a few people in the group think that the group has actually hit an impasse.
  • Schedule time for the end of each meeting as “check in.” Use that time to ask one question that gives everyone a chance to share their perspective:
    • Do you see anything else we should be doing right now?
    • How do you feel about our progress?
    • Do you have any concerns to share with the group?
    • How is your work load right now?
    • What one word would you use to describe our project?
    This can simply create an awareness of others’ needs. It can also surface feelings that, unaddressed, will grow into serious challenges to your project. Schedule a discussion about the serious challenges for the next meeting or work through problems outside the meeting time with email or one-on-one.
  • At the end of the project, ask each team member what, if anything, they gained from serving on the project team. As the project manager, you may be surprised by the responses and can use them to improve your own leadership skills.

    Monday, January 11, 2010

    Organizational Culture and Project Management

    Organizational culture: “A pattern of shared basic assumptions that the group learned as it solved its problems of external adaptation and internal integration, that has worked well enough to be considered valid and, therefore, to be taught to new members as the correct way to perceive, think, and feel in relation to those problems”. Edgar H. Schein

    You may find that you are one of a very small number of individuals within your library consciously planning projects. Projects without effective management may be standard operation for your organization. In a 2008 survey of web project managers in academic libraries (Keach and Fagan 2008), ten of 65 respondents mentioned that one of the top challenges in their library was a lack of project management techniques or a lack of understanding about why such techniques are needed. Your requests for resources and realistic schedules may fall on deaf ears. Other projects may run over budget, take twice as long as expected, skip over stakeholder buy-in or neglect to solicit user input. You may understandably feel frustration and wonder why you work so hard on project management when it is not explicitly expected of you and others don’t appear to be trying.

    Building a record of success is the best way for you to increase your organization’s appreciation of project management. In time, colleagues will come to you for advice on how to manage a project. The library administration may ask you to lead high-stakes projects, knowing that you will get the job done. If you are a manager, or if you find yourself able to influence the top management within your organization, you can do even more to change the culture of your organization.

    Some ways that leaders throughout your organization can make project management a priority for the whole organization:

    • Incorporate aspects of project management into the organizational strategic plan, goals, and objectives. For example, organizational objectives may explicitly state the expectation of evidence-based decision-making. Such a statement endorses the time project managers should spend researching possible solutions and identifying user needs.
    • Clearly identify the expected components of project management. All organizational leaders may agree, for instance, that every project within their organization should have a project overview document listing the project sponsor, project team, stakeholders, and clearly defined goals.
    • Reward those who meet those expectations—during annual reviews, with public recognition, with words of praise, with less oversight on future projects—and mentor those who do not meet those expectations.
    • Reward those who experiment with additional project management techniques, even if they fail.
    • Designate staff members who are particularly good at an aspect of project management—communicating, estimating time needed to complete tasks, facilitating meetings, earning buy-in from colleagues—as able to teach others one-on-one or in workshops.
    • Model project management skills yourself.

    You can increase the value that your organization places on project management regardless of your position within the organization. First, focus on improving your own project management skills. If you manage others, set expectations that they use project management techniques, and reward continued experimentation and improvement. Over time, you will begin to influence your peers to try the same techniques. Gradually, if you are successful in your project management, you will also influence those with more authority—those who have the supervise others as well as chart the direction of the whole organization—to value project management as well.

    Sources and Recommended Reading
    Baker, Kathryn A. (2004) “Organizational Culture” In Organizational Culture: An Introduction. Edited by Nashreen Taher. ICFAI University Press, India.

    Fagan, Jody and Jennifer Keach (2009) Web Project Management for Academic Libraries. Oxford: Chandos.

    Keach, Jennifer, and Jody Condit Fagan (2008) Survey of Web Project Managers in Academic Libraries. Web survey conducted June 9 – July 1, 2008.

    Schein, Edgar H. (1992) Organizational Culture and Leadership. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.

    Tuesday, December 8, 2009

    "Project Management is Dead"

    A recent podcast by E-Commerce Times’ Dana Gardner about technology projects got my attention. In it, Ron Schmelzer, of the advisory and analysis firm ZapThink, says: “We think that the whole idea of project management is just an increasing fallacy in IT anyway. There is no such thing now.” He’s not the first to suggest that project management is dead (Summers 2008; de Baar 2007), and he won't be the last.

    When you say “project management” some will immediately envision Gantt charts and Microsoft Project. Others will envision planning that requires a static environment as your project unfolds, communicating that assumes that your team is in one geographic location, or the luxuries of dedicated staff and a dedicated project manager. In the Gardner podcast, Schmelzer specifically mentions the interconnections between different IT projects as the reality that makes project management harder and harder to practice.

    Project management can include all of the formal tools and old realities of organizations, but is not entirely defined by them. To reject them is not the same as rejecting project management. Project management uses many different tools—formal and informal—to execute a project “through its lifecycle, including defining the project, collaborating with stakeholders and team members, facilitating meetings, managing the timeline and deadlines, and overseeing all aspects of communication among the technical team and within the organization” (Fagan & Keach 2009, 8). We all pick and choose among the tools available to us to fit our environment and our project.

    The environment in which I work—an academic library—has never had dedicated managers or staff for a particular project. The projects typically do not exist separate from the other projects and day-to-day tasks. Our team members are increasingly working in different buildings and from home. And change is happening faster and faster. And yet, we still have meetings, timelines, and communication needs connected to our projects.

    When you “do project management by the book,” you probably aren’t going to skip the Gantt chart. When you “do project management” in a lean and experimental fashion—picking and choosing what works best for you, your project, and your environment—project management doesn’t die. It adapts.

    de Baar, Bas. (2007) Project Management Is Dead.

    Fagan, Jody and Jennifer Keach (2009) Web Project Management for Academic Libraries. Oxford: Chandos.

    Gardner, Dana. (2009) SOA and the Pragmatic Enterprise.

    Summers, John (2008) Technical Software Project Management is Dead.