Project management in higher ed – discussion at EDUCAUSE Midwest RC 2008

This week I’m at the 2008 EDUCAUSE Midwest Regional Conference in Chicago. Sitting in a project management discussion group now with 50+ people. This is being facilitated by Christin Mayer (University of Missouri) and Brian York (Purdue). How to bring project management best practices into IT services in higher ed? Some key points.

  1.  The value of focus. Bringing a list of 60+ projects moving at slow or irregular paces down to 17 projects that are moving steadily.
  2. What constitutes a project? One measure is the number of person-hours. For example your organization can decide if the work entail over 80 person-hours of effort, it constitutes a project. Or you can look at the number of divisions or departments involved in getting something done. If it crosses over X number of departments/divisions, for example, your organization can as a standard practice call that a project, which means running it according to the org’s project management framework/practices.
  3. Defining a complex project versus a simple project. For something simple, handle it with lightweight project management practices. 
  4. Setting up gates for something to pass through in order for it to become a project — have people create a proposal. Include scope in the proposal.  Identify the benefits. Identify likely costs. These are gates that might be appropriate for larger projects.
  5. Starting a project management office (PMO) on your campus. Doing so involves an education effort. Take a step back and say: here’s what we do as project managers; here’s the value we provide; here’s what project management can do, and we’d like to do this for you. You also need support from high up in the administration. If the provost and vice presidents are behind the PMO, you have leverage.
  6. What are people using for tools to support project management practices? MS Project. 3 Olive. Spreadsheets. Clarity – one participant regards this as a very powerful tool. Primavera. Numara Footprints.
  7. How to get people to track their time? You have to sell the value of time tracking to the employees who’ll be doing it. Show me where your time is going show I can show the administration. One participant uses Project Workbench application in his department. Time tracking is difficult to implement in higher ed — some participants in our discussion got tremendous pushback when attempting to implement time tracking practices in their organizations. Some employees perceive time tracking as “just another annoying thing we’ve now gotta do.” Some employees may skew their time estimates in an attempt to protect themselves.
  8. How to handle project delays? If a project is delayed for over 30 days beyond the established timeline, you can have a standard practice of bringing the project up for review before a governance board, requiring the project stakeholders to defend the project. If they can’t defend or justify it, the project gets canceled; then the funds for that project go back into the pool.
  9. The issue of distributed PMO versus centralized PMO on campus. Looks like each campus needs to find what works best for them. No one right way to establish a PMO.
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