Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Estimating Costs and Allocating Resources: Project Management Resources

            This week we were asked to find resources that would be helpful for instructional design projects. After all, there are many pieces to every project--costs, time, effort, activities, resources, etc. Keeping track of all of that seems like a herculean task! Nonetheless, there are many resources that can help, especially in this age of technology.
1. Insightly is free for up to 3 users and then it is $29 per month. I was intrigued by this tool because it is a Google App (and it's free--that's a price you can't beat!).  I really like how you can import your Gmail contacts and any other important documents for the project. It seems easy to use, especially if you already use Google applications. In fact, after I set up my project "Let's Go Camping," I could see e-mails, notes (from Evernote, too!), files, milestones, tasks and events associated with the project. It was all there in one spot and I can invite people to that one spot, too, so this looks like it would be a great resource to use with your project team and stakeholders. Communication should be transparent and current if this Google App is used.
2. While Insightly is free, it doesn't look quite as appealing as Basecamp, another project management site. Basecamp has discussion threads, "To-Do" lists, file storage, and calendars among other features. Again, everything is all in one place, making it easy to keep your team and stakeholders organized and in the know. Basically it looks to be like Insightly only more aesthetically pleasing and possibly more user-friendly and it costs $20 a month.
3. Vertex 42: The Guide to Excel in Everything has free Excel budget templates! Budgeting for a project is the thing that scares me most (namely because of the unknowns), so having some templates with the formulas and some of the budget areas already listed is a big plus. I think this kind of resource would help me as I tried to get a handle on the budgeting side of projects. As an added bonus, there are even some tips and resources (with working hyperlinks!) at the bottom of the page that can further help one plan the project budget.
            Honestly, there are a plethora of project management resources available on the internet; however, these are the three resources I've found that I think would best serve me at this point. It's good to know, though, that there are a number of project management resources available and project managers who are active on the internet. (I actually found all of my resources using Pinterest! I plan to peruse Twitter next.) That kind of support should help me succeed with any project I am assigned or choose to tackle in the future.

#1 Free Online CRM for Small Business: Customer Relationship Software - Insightly. (2013). In Insightly. Retrieved from
Portny, S. E., Mantel, S. J., Meredith, J. R., Shafer, S. M., Sutton, M. M., & Kramer, B. E. (2008). Project management: Planning, scheduling, and controlling projects. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Project Budget Template. (2013). In Vertex 42. Retrieved from
Project management software, online collaboration: Basecamp. (2013). In Basecamp. Retrieved from

Smith, T. (2013, May 13). 10 Great Project Management Tools for Freelancers. In SparkPlugging. Retrieved from

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Communicating Effectively

Portny et al. (2008) wrote, "The key to successful project management is effective communication" (p. 357). However, when you are working with a team, there are a number of ways to communicate including meetings, e-mail, phone calls, memos or whatever works best for your group. After all, communication strategies are never a one-size fits all kind of  deal (Laureate Education, Inc., n.d., Project Management Concerns). This week we examined a message delivered three different ways. Here is the e-mail:

This same message was delivered as a voicemail and in person. All three modes of communication are acceptable; however, the interpretation can be different. For example, the e-mail stressed me out initially. Jane uses a nice tone that is professional and not accusatory, but since I am a perfectionist, I began to panic that I had to get a report done sooner than I had perhaps planned it. Nevertheless, I was able to read it again and calm myself down as I focused on Jane's offer for me to at least send her the data. Now since this is a hypothetical project, I'm assuming I have the data already so that put my mind at ease because I knew I could probably do that immediately and then Jane would have it and be able to complete her report. I really appreciate the fact that I can go back and re-read this message as many times as I need to and with my e-mail, I can mark the message as "unread" so it will remain highlighted and keep Jane's request a priority, even after I have sent a little message to Jane giving her an ETA or the data. Because I like visual reminders, e-mails are effective for me.
Next I listened to the voicemail and I thought Jane sounded kind and understanding. The message was the same, but the words came out fluidly and without any special emphasis on any part of the message so this particular message didn't stress me out at all. Dr. Stolovitch said 90% of communication is not in the words and this is true of Jane's voicemail (Laureate Education, Inc., n.d., Communicating with Stakeholders). Namely because of her tone and the eloquence of her message, I was immediately put at ease and would call Jane right away to follow up with her. If I needed to, I could listen to the voicemail again; however, I didn't feel the need to do so because I think I would simply call Jane after getting her message. After all, if one receives a call, that likely means that the message was somewhat urgent and it is common courtesy to return phone calls promptly.
Finally, I watched the face-to-face message and I was not a fan. Jane was on the other side of my cubicle which I took as a signal that she was unhappy with me and didn't want to spend any unnecessary time with me. Her nonverbal communication was sending me mixed signals−her words were still rather kind and understanding (though the emphasis on "YOUR report" put me on edge!) but she kept her distance, crossed her arms, and she was probably standing up while I was sitting down (which makes her seem as though she has more authority or wants to assert her authority because of her position). She also didn't maintain very good eye contact with me, so I thought she was perhaps so angry she couldn't even look at me! Even though the message was the same, I think this delivery would have left me feeling agitated. All of the nonverbal communication that came with Jane's message this time left me feeling anxious and that would be the remaining feeling. There is no reviewing a face-to-face meeting.
Even though all three means of communication are effective, the deliver should learn about the receiver's communication style so she or he can avoid any miscommunications (Laureate Education, Inc., n.d., Project Management Concerns). Vince Budrovich said project managers should tailor the communication strategy to fit the specific needs of each stakeholder (Laureate Education, Inc., n.d., Practitioner Voices). For me, since this particular issue doesn't seem to be extremely pressing (hey−I don't even have to get my report done! I just have to get her the data), an e-mail is best. I am able to read it multiple times and use that same e-mail as a reminder, too. Plus it saves me from an awkward encounter that could be misconstrued to be something it isn't. However, others may feel differently so it is important that we get to know our team members and communicate in a way that is appropriate for them.

Laureate Education, Inc. (Producer). (n.d.) Project Management Concerns: Communication Strategies and Organizational Culture. [Video Webcast]. Retrieved from
Laureate Education, Inc. (Producer). (n.d.) Practitioner Voices: Strategies for Working with Stakeholders. [Video Webcast]. Retrieved from
Portny, S. E., Mantel, S. J., Meredith, J. R., Shafer, S. M., Sutton, M. M., & Kramer, B. E. (2008). Project management: Planning, scheduling, and controlling projects. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Interdisciplinary Project "Post-mortem"

            By trade, I'm a 9th grade English teacher. You may or may not know that education is an ever-changing process with an ebb and flow of  "best practices" and new ideas that people, especially administration, are eager to implement. One year our principal was really stressing the importance of interdisciplinary projects, so the 9th grade computer teacher approached me to ask if I would like to work with her. "Sure!" I enthusiastically replied, imagining the cool projects that could be completed in English and Computer class. We made a plan to meet and discuss the project later so I was left racking my brain for things that my students could still complete before the grading period ended.
            The next day we met to discuss our interdisciplinary project; however, I soon learned how rigid the Computer teacher was with her curriculum. "We're studying databases this semester, "she informed me matter-of-factly. "What can you do with databases?"
            "Oh," I said, caught off guard at how little wiggle room there seemed to be. And that was how the project happened−I had to make concessions to fit into her curriculum so we ended up planning to have the students do a database of prefixes, word roots, and suffixes that included their origin and the meaning (i.e. etymology). It was a topic that sort of fit into my curriculum and something I thought could be nice to have in a database form.
            Even though I thought I had made an acceptable compromise, the Computer teacher was concerned about copying and cheating; however, etymology was one of the few things I could think of to do with databases, a concept I didn't even really understand! The Computer teacher did try to explain the program to me, but all I could imagine was an Excel spreadsheet but that wasn't quite right. Nevertheless, we trudged ahead with the project, wanting to fulfill the desires of our principal and hoping it would be a beneficial project for the students.
            After storyboarding the rough idea, we both went to our separate classes and planned how we would conduct our classes and what parts of the project our students would do in our classes. I suppose it was a functionally organized project since we created "separate units addressing the same specialty" (Portny et al., 2008, p. 63). So we did understand our own parts, but I know I did NOT understand the Computer class part of the project! And to be honest, I didn't have the time to do so either because it was my first year at the school so I was planning a new curriculum and having to document it all. It was quite the process and even though Murphy (1994) wrote, ""Proper instructional design, on average, requires between forty and sixty hours of design work for every hour of classroom presentation time" (p. 9), getting that much time is impossible for a teacher. Nonetheless, we did try to remain in constant communication. Although, I believe one of the pitfalls of the project was that we had "different work procedures and reporting systems... to guide [the project]" (Portny et al., 2008, p. 64). We knew what we were looking for in our own specialty area and we weren't clear about what that was and then the communication began to fall apart as students tried to pit us against each other saying that one teacher said this (which was against our original agreement) or by lying about changed due dates. (Though with some e-mails and visits, we were able to nip those rumors in the bud.)
            Nevertheless, I know I was very frustrated with the lack of clarity of the project. At this point in my career, I hadn't even heard of project management so we hadn't established a clear plan. In fact, the plan we had wasn't exactly agreeable for either party either. I think we handled the planning phase of the project too informally because we didn't feel like we had time for much more than a verbal agreement and (very) rough storyboard (Portny et al., 2008, p. 77). It would have been better if I had gotten a better understanding of databases by making one with the Computer teacher. She could have taught me how to make it and what it did by leading me through the process instead of trying to verbally explain it. I think a visual aid would have helped tremendously but we were both feeling pressed for time, so that was never proposed.
            However, as I continue to think about the project, the Achilles' heel of the project was the fact that I didn't understand databases. Without that knowledge, proper planning was impossible and without an appropriate plan, the project falls apart quickly. I was making deliverables and assessments based off of my understanding and perceptions and I think that's when students got frustrated and began to feel like the project didn't really matter and to be honest, maybe it didn't. I never actually got to see the databases because I didn't have the right program on my classroom computer. Clearly, we did not spend enough time planning because I did not understand databases nor did I have the appropriate program to even begin understanding them. Portny et al. (2008) wrote, "Project managers can increase a project's chance for success by planning and guiding based on understanding specific project life cycle phases" (p. 108). That is something the Computer teacher and I did not do, so I believe our project was doomed from the beginning. Lesson learned: Take the extra time that is needed to write the plan as a Statement of Work with a Work Breakdown Document if multiple parties are involved. It will save all stakeholders many future headaches.

Allen, S., & Hardin, P. C. (2008). Developing instructional technology products using effective project management practices. Journal of Computing in Higher Education, 19(2), 72–97.
Copyright by Springer-Verlag, New York. Used by permission via the Copyright Clearance Center.
Greer, M. (2010). The project management minimalist: Just enough PM to rock your projects! (Laureate custom ed.). Baltimore: Laureate Education, Inc.
Murphy, C. (1994). Utilizing project management techniques in the design of instructional materials. Performance & Instruction, 33(3), 9–11.
Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Portny, S. E., Mantel, S. J., Meredith, J. R., Shafer, S. M., Sutton, M. M., & Kramer, B. E. (2008). Project management: Planning, scheduling, and controlling projects. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.