Practical Project Management for Information Professionals

By Emma Davidson

Project management is one of those things that we all seem expected to do, but how often do you get taught the skills you need to succeed?

It just so happens that we have a fantastic panel lined up to discuss project management for library and information professionals. Beginning at 1:30pm, delegates will hear from a diverse range of speakers from different types of libraries as well as project management specialists:

ProjectManagementPanelMitch Brodsky, Project Manager at the New York Philharmonic

Clara Cabrera, Research & Reference Specialist – Team Lead at WilmerHale (Panel Chair)

Mimi B. Rosenfeld, Program Manager, Outreach Communications at Project Management Institute, NYC Chapter

Eric Stedfeld, Project Manager/Systems Analyst at NYU

Jennifer Vinopal, Project Manager, Digital Library Technology Services at NYU

Robert Drzewicki, Gartner

To give you a sneak preview of what our panelists think about some of the issues involved in successful project management, we sent them a few questions to answer. Read on to find out what they think about getting library staff involved in project work, the challenges of communication, and why librarians should develop project management skills.

What is one way to meet the challenge of getting library staff to understand how to do project-based work and how it differs from operational work?

ES: The standard definition of a project is that it is a temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product, service or result. The distinction between project-based and operational work can be simply articulated by addressing whether the work has a beginning and end or is ongoing, and whether the output is unique or repetitive.

MR: The library staff should experience the difference first-hand by working one-on-one with a mentor or trainer. Individuals can identify both an assigned real-world project and an operational responsibility, then write up a description for each. By focusing on the definition of a project, the mentor can demonstrate the differences in a way directly relevant to the staff member. Because everyone is involved in a project to some extent at some time, this exercise would be useful to all library staff, whether they are project leaders, team members or another type of stakeholder. Once the staff understands the unique characteristics of a project, the staff will be prepared for appropriate formal training in the methods and tools of project management.

JV: Two related concepts: scope creep and the project charter. The most effective way to show people the benefit of project management methods is to talk to them about the dreaded “scope creep” (when projects morph and change and they’re never “done” because no one agrees on what “done” means and how to achieve it). Then you explain how the process of creating and agreeing upon a project charter – which clearly defines what the project will and won’t accomplish – provides a way to put the brakes on scope creep. It’s a powerful tool.

RD I would stress the aspect that project work takes away much of the uncertainty and frustration of operational work as it introduces a framework where concrete, approved new objectives and issues that arise are addressed through incorporating specific steps and actions. This can apply to either traditional (waterfall) or agile project management methods and maintains such a framework from the initial project kickoff through deployment.

Project-based work differs from operational work in that operational work, once started, mainly continues in motion with little variation. Project management on the other hand provides a way to introduce new concepts, as the result of innovation or addressing shortcomings, and incorporates metrics to determine success and value. The result of a successful project management engagement is a sense of accomplishment and the satisfaction of achievement, setting the stage to move onto something brand new, thus building skills and recharging one’s battery.

MB Though the two are not mutually exclusive, I would say the best way to meet this challenge is to formalize the project-based work in an institution.  That means gathering a team together to carry a special project from planning to execution to closing. The team should communicate on a special project site and have periodic meetings solely based on the project. The line between operational work and “special” project-based work (which, if done successfully, will have a start and an end) can become clear when staff members are motivated and encouraged to think about these modes of work differently.

Communication is a key best practice for project success. What is one method, format or tool you use as part of the communication of projects that you would like to share?

JV It’s important to recognize that the people with whom we work on projects all have different communication styles and preferences: some prefer email, some prefer face-to-face, some prefer to communicate via issue tracking systems. Some only want occasional project highlights, some need day-to-day detail. To be effective project managers, we need to understand people’s communication needs, styles, and preferences, and design flexible communication strategies that will be most effective for the project team.

RD Informal communication methods, such as the use of internal wikis or bulletin boards, can be a great way to share or gather information in addition to standard formal communications, such as scheduled weekly meetings, status reports, etc.

ES Our institution has implemented Google Drive – using Google Docs collaboratively allows our work to stay synchronized and up-to-date, working from any location.

MB Google Docs is a great platform not only for creating and sharing assets with project team members; it also includes Google Sites, a free and easy way to create an intranet-style portal. This can help project teams stay aware of tasks, documentation, and overall progress.

MR I believe that the best tool for communication is email, used intelligently. Email is available to all stakeholders, enables timely responses, accommodates time and location differences, and documents the process. It allows flexibility and customization with the addition of links and attachments. Like all tools for a project, ground rules for email should be covered during the kick-off meeting, so that stakeholders understand when to “Reply” or “Reply All,” how to follow up on action items, and the level of detail required in responses.

Can you describe in one sentence why librarians should develop project management skills?

MR Librarians face challenges to their traditional role from the combination of economic pressures, digital media and the Internet; and project management provides new skills and flexibility to help librarians update their value as information resources in the changing institutional environment.

MB Librarians are already project managers since many of our regular duties are project-based. Learning to think, speak, and write like a project manager can not only help with one’s own organizational skills; it also helps communication with colleagues, stakeholders, and vendors to keep everyone headed toward a unified goal.

JV Project management methodologies and practices provide effective tools and strategies to collaboratively define problems and initiatives, describe how you’re going to solve them, and then get that work done.

ES Good project management utilizes real-world best practices for most projects most of the time, benefiting from the collective wisdom of experienced practitioners.

RD By developing project management skills, librarians can most efficiently and effectively carry out the successful un