A crash course in project management

Jun 10 2013

We’re starting to make some exciting progress here in the lab!

Last week after we settled on our two official projects for the Summer Startup, we came to the conclusion that it would be best for us to split up into two teams in order to most efficiently create our projects. After we were let loose to really get going on our projects, things began to slow down. We weren’t exactly sure where to go next, and after a day or two of aimlessly Googling information about the two products (and a few cat videos), it became clear that we were all a little bit lost.

Over the weekend, Reese News Lab Executive Director John Clark sent us an email asking if we thought it would be beneficial for him to host a quick half-hour project-management workshop on Monday morning. As we all heaved a sigh of relief with the prospect of having a direction for the next week, we sat down ready to learn all about how to manage a team and tackle the two massive projects ahead of us.

After talking about our past experience in team management and finding that none of us had ever really managed a team or a project quite to the scale of what we’re doing this summer, John helped to get our minds in the right place. We talked about the importance of time management and the difference between linear and non-linear tasks. Linear tasks are those that require the completion of one task before you can start another, and non-linear tasks are those that allow for working on two tasks simultaneously. John also talked about honesty and accountability as key aspects to working in a team and accomplishing goals. He broke it down into three key components of effective project management to help us create a working trajectory for the next nine weeks.

1. Define goals.
What do we hope to see in our end product, and more importantly- what exactly will our end product be? To do this we really had to take a step back and figure out what we need to have done by August 9. At first, thinking this far ahead was overwhelming, but once we had our concrete goals in place we were able to come up with a plan.

2. Set milestones.
Identify steps to serve as checkpoints along the way. Aside from the milestones already outlined for us by the lab leaders at the beginning of the summer, we began to break apart our goals into manageable chunks with mini-goals in between. Already, the goals that we had set initially seemed less scary, once we broke them up into smaller milestones.

3. Break down tasks into individual components.
After we broke the milestones into smaller, individual tasks, we were better able to come up with realistic time frames for how long it would take to complete each component. We were also forced to consider the fact that some components must be completed before others can be started. This gave each group member specific tasks to complete and reinforced the group dynamic of these projects by showing how each milestone and ultimate goal is dependent on everyone completing their tasks.

Cats and Computers

As we worked through the week, we found that we had significantly more to do. We had a focus and a clearer idea of what was required of us to accomplish all of our tasks, milestones and goals before our August 9 deadline. Thanks to John and his quick 30-minute project management workshop, we were able to break our addiction to BuzzFeed videos and aimless Googling, and instead focus on our projects and make some real progress.

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