Project Management Comes to the DWRL

Students working on computers in a computer laboratory

DWRL lab members wear a lot of different hats around campus. We are students and writers. We are teachers and mentors. We help write grant proposals and serve on planning committees. But, in all things, we are project managers. This is an easy thing to forget. Neither my undergraduate nor graduate coursework offered seminars on project management. The writing process was mostly a black box, and most of the advice I got about it followed a pretty simple formula: first produce, then edit. Easy, right?

Well, it turns out project management is a little more involved. Last Friday, lab members sat down with assistant director Jake Cowan to talk about our experiences managing large projects. Lab members shared stories about a wide range of projects from planning a dissertation to managing dozens of employees on a years-long project. In projects big and small some basic patterns emerged. Successful management required more than fancy software or Gantt charts. Good project management hinged on creating efficient and organized workflow and consistently auditing that workflow. A good manager should both be a taskmaster and someone who is willing to adjust when old strategies stop delivering. Cultivating self-awareness and a willingness to adapt were critical. By the end of the discussion, we were believers in a better and more project-managed life. Now armed with some of the basic principles of project management, we were introduced to both the revamped DWRL certificate program and our first project management exercise.

In the past the DWRL offered a certificate program for staff that wished to formalize some of the skills they picked up while being at the lab. The original certificate program was built around collecting achievements built around specific skills. In revamping the program, the choose-your-own-adventure progression of the original project was dropped in favor of something more linear. Now staff members would all work on the certificate concurrently, united by the same milestones and deadlines.

The first task before the 2016-17 cohort will surely put our project management skills to the test. Over the next month, we will be building professional websites and tracking our progress using the management software Asana. By October 7th, each lab member should have a personal website that has:

  • A homepage that showcases your research and introduces who you are as a scholar/student.
  • A page that has a pdf copy and an html copy of your CV.
  • At least one professional-looking photo of yourself that is responsive, and has the proper alt tags.
  • Links to your other social media presences, your department website, and other affiliations.
  • A section for your teaching philosophy or teaching/learning statement.
  • A design that is mobile-ready.
  • A section for your certificate and/or teaching portfolio or any professional work that you want to showcase.
  • A favicon for the tab bar.
  • A navbar that features all links to the various pages mentioned above.

As we build our websites, we’ll not only be picking up new web design and WordPress skills, we’ll be testing out different styles of project management. Is Asana everything it’s cracked up to be? Is there such a thing as too much project management? Can a Gantt chart turn a beleaguered graduate student into an intellectual powerhouse? We’ll find out on October 7th—at least, that’s what my new timetable tells me.

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