Project Management in a Nutshell

PM in a nutshell

It's a nutshell

It’s a nutshell

Recently we ran our regular half-day workshop for researchers on “Project Management in a Nutshell”. The purpose of this workshop is to de-mystify some of the jargon which surrounds project management, and to consider some practical ideas for managing your project, be it a PhD or other research project. The discussion was very wide-ranging, so I’ll just summarise what I think were the key points:

Know who your stakeholders (the people and organisations who have some kind of interest in your project) are, and be aware of their expectations. We talked a lot about what happens when there’s conflict between the interests of different stakeholders, and between stakeholders’ expectations and how the project is actually developing. While there are no easy answers here, early recognition and honest communication are invariably key to resolving any issues.

The importance of planning. The earlier the better, but it’s never too late to start.

Project constraints. In an ideal world, we’d all have unlimited money, time, academic freedom etc. But realistically there will be some constraints, so be aware of them and plan your project accordingly

Breaking it down into manageable, measureable chunks.

Risk awareness. What might stop you from completing your project? What’s your Plan B?

Project planning tools. Most of us are (too?) familiar with the ubiquitous GANTT chart, but there are lots of other planning tools out there. We particularly talked about PERT charts, which factor in time and allow you to identify your critical task pathways. It really doesn’t matter how high or low-tech your planning tool is – a simple list on a piece of paper can be just as effective – whatever works for you.

Review progress as you go along, keep your plan updated and your stakeholders in the loop as things develop.

Most of all, be honest with yourself and your stakeholders about how the project is going.

On this final point, we talked about the fact that ‘honesty’ is socially and culturally constructed, which can be a particular challenge for international colleagues who find themselves baffled by the nuances of British work-culture. In particular, the fact that direct challenges are generally taboo and that weasel word “nice” which can mean pretty much anything. I can recommend no better reading on this subject than Kate Fox’s funny, astute book Watching the English: The Hidden Rules of English Behaviour (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 2005).

Here are the slides:


The word welcome created from 3 dimensional lettering

We’ve recently welcomed our latest group of new postgraduate researchers: this happens three times a year (October, January and April) and the aim of the Welcome Event is to provide a space for our new postgraduate researchers from all over the university to get together and to find out who’s who and what’s what with regard to postgraduate research here at UWE.
Paul Spencer, doing an admirable job of standing in for Neil Willey, started us off with a general introduction to the Graduate School. Here are Paul/Neil’s slides:

Paul also showed the excellent Illustrated Guide to a PhD by Matt Might to help us put this “creating original knowledge” business into some kind of perspective.
Some of our current research students then passed on their thoughts about “What I know now, that I wish I’d known when I started.” The format is that we give some willing volunteers this title – but nothing else! – and ask them to just ‘tell it like it is.’ As always this was the highlight of the afternoon, and huge thanks are due to Niamh, Tori and Hazel for their time and effort in sharing such comprehensive, thoughtful and practical insights with the group.

We also heard from the UWE Students Union (UWESU) and from Dr Tilly Line of the UWE Careers Service, about the great advice and support on offer to PhD’ers in terms of representatio and career planning.
Finally I summarised our skills development programme for postgrad researchers and, with some tongue-in-cheek help from Piled Higher & Deeper, ventured to offer a few of my own hints and tips on how to survive your PhD:

Very best wishes to all our new postgraduate researchers – wherever your research journey takes you, professionally and personally, we look forward to travelling with you.

UWE Graduate School – One year on

From: Neil Willey, Director of the UWE Graduate School

Party Cake

It’s just over a year ago now that UWE set up its university-wide Graduate School and then celebrated the launch, so I thought it might be a good time to reflect on how things are going. Personally, I think we’ve now got a pretty sturdy one year old and that we’ve already mostly done teething and walking! I’m pretty acutely aware, however, that walking is just the start and that, let alone running, we probably need to be triple jumping or something fairly soon. There are two things that particularly struck me during the year and which make me think triple jumping might be possible…….

The first is the great team of people that were assembled into the UWE Graduate School. I’ve realised how many people at UWE already appreciate this, and really do wish that all the research students and supervisors at UWE have the opportunity that I do to engage with Graduate School staff – because I think they would then realise the interest and expertise available to them. I believe that the Graduate School can be really helpful to PGR students and supervisors across the university but that we all have to, somehow, be in sufficient contact with each other for this to really happen. During the first year this was exemplified to me in skills development events for students and supervisors. The development events that I was part of seemed to be of great benefit to everyone, which is making me think a great deal about how we can extend the experience to more students and supervisors.

The second thing that spurred me on to believe that the Graduate School at UWE can really go places is the real importance of PGR, both generally and to UWE. Contact with lots of students and supervisors from across the university over the course of a year really emphasises what fantastic things PGR students and their supervisors do. I’ve learned about so many things from across all the Faculties that could really make a difference to the world. To me it seems crucial that UWE has signalled its intent to have a healthy PGR community, but I do wonder if we all realise how central it can be to all that UWE wishes to be.

So, after a year I’m confident that we’ve made a good start and that the UWE Graduate School can really be helpful to PGR students and supervisors. Contact across the Faculties has given me quite a clear picture of the UWE PGR community and how the Graduate School can help. It has, however, started me thinking that perhaps the more channels of communication are available, the more difficult it is to communicate.  It’s also been a reminder of the committee work necessary in a large institution! Overall, I’m happy that we’ve now got an overall focus for PGR at UWE that we can build on to respond to the needs of our research students and supervisors.