Technology Project Management: Following Best Practices & Building Your Skill Set

Around 100 people attended the program “Technology Project Management: Following Best Practices and Building Your Skill Set” on Saturday, June 22, at the 2019 ALA Annual Conference. The program was sponsored by the Library and Information Technology Association (LITA). The concept for the presentation came from Al Cornish, Director of Library Technology Services at University of Oregon, but he was unable to attend, so Janetta Waterhouse (director of technical services and library systems at the University of Albany) presented their work solo.

A triangle with icons for scope (document with bullet points), time (hourglass), and money (piggy bank) at each point. Inside the triangle is quality.
The quality of all projects is shaped by three constraints: scope, time, and money.

The session began with polling the audience to determine their background and current knowledge of project management. The audience was pretty evenly divided by type of library, and there were a few dozen project management professionals present. Levels of experience with project management and the different methodologies varied widely, as well as project sizes.

For those less familiar with project management, Waterhouse provided some definitions, explanations of the basics, and resources for more information. Regular project management approaches are usually for much larger projects than a library might face, so this presentation aimed to translate it to a smaller, more library-friendly scale. A project is a temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product, service, or result. It must end at some point. Scope, time, and cost are the main constraints; the project sponsor controls two and the project manager control the other one. There are many process groups and knowledge areas in the project management process, but this presentation focused mainly on three knowledge areas — stakeholder, communication, and risk.

Identifying and working with stakeholders is key to the success of a project. After all, stakeholder satisfaction is a deliverable. It can be helpful to group stakeholders together based on knowledge areas and processes. For example, leaders and project sponsors provide funding, direction, and legitimacy, but they are not involved in the day-to-day efforts of the project like project team members. Therefore, it makes sense that leaders and project sponsors receive a more high-level communication and not the everyday updates that team members might receive.

Communication management should unite different stakeholders and needs to be planned, managed, and controlled. Smaller projects may not need a formal communication plan, but, for larger projects that do, there are many templates online. The most important factor of a successful project is good communication with all stakeholders. Language is often the most difficult part of communicating; sometimes we speak different languages, even though we are all speaking English. In these cases, find a translator and try to adapt your language to your audience. Formal communication can push your message out to your stakeholder in an email list; pull your stakeholder in with a website; or be more interactive, like holding recurring meetings. Informal communication is important as well. So often our intended message gets lost in translation, much like the game of telephone, but a communication plan can help prevent that.

Every project will have some type of risk involved, be it small or large. Planning for these risks can help minimize and control the impact should they arise. Identify potential risks and perform risk analyses in order to plan the best risk responses. A risk register can record details of the identified risks at the beginning of the project; these work best with input from all key stakeholders. Once a risk management plan is in place, strategically communicate it to different stakeholder groups, targeting the message as needed.

The session ended with time for several questions from audience members. When asked about how to prevent duplication of effort among communication tools because everyone wants to use their own favorite, Waterhouse replied that there is no way around the duplication and repetition can sometimes be helpful. Someone asked about how to make project management stick in your library; Waterhouse responded that it depends on the administration’s familiarity with what project management is, that people often don’t understand the difference between processes and workflows versus projects, and that input on priority levels can help.

There were two similar questions about wrapping up a project, whether or not the processes to ensure the success of a project should ever close, and handing projects off to someone. Waterhouse suggested using the monitor and control phase to transition the project; allow for issues to arise, but a project should eventually be closed off, even if that means handing it off to appropriate people designated at the beginning of the project. An audience member asked about opportunities to add new scopes to a project, and Waterhouse explained that she usually tries to go very broad at first, trimming the project down as the planning goes on. The last question asked about how to get staff to accept a finished project; Waterhouse’s answer was again that it depends — primarily on the maturity of project management at the organization. Organizations newer to project management will struggle to understand the complexity of projects.

For those who need more information on project management, the Project Management Institute has a variety of resources. They produce the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) Guide and offer certifications and trainings. This program was recorded by the conference and will be made available four to six weeks post-conference. Presentation slides, audio, and video are available to registered attendees of ALA Annual 2019 on ALA Connect.

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