As with most human endeavours, most problems with projects can be traced to a lack of communication. Even if you think of yourself as a ‘one-person project’, there are other people who assist the project but have no formal role and there are always other stakeholders or potential end-users.
In project management speak a “stakeholder” is anybody who effects or is effected by the project. This includes those involved in the acceptance of the project outcomes from students to department chairs to those who are responsible for the technical maintenance of the project. It includes other colleagues who might be potential users.
Consult as widely as is feasible at each stage of the project to both inform design and promote ownership. Include these activities in your project plan. Follow up all meetings with minutes - don't assume that your understanding of what occurred in the meeting is the same as everybody else’s. Make sure you get documented agreement to responsibilities for tasks and all subsequent changes to these. Emails and memos are all to easily skimmed and forgotten or simply lost.
The project plan may be the map for your project, but communication tells you and others where you are at any time.
Most people involved in projects have other, usually higher priority, roles in research and teaching. It is all too easy to let project deadlines slip. Clear planning from the outset helps, but project time is often poached by other demands on your time. Expect this and stick to the time you have allocated to the project work.
Regular project reviews help and if there is a project team then regular contact and team meetings. If you cannot meet in person then make good use of the technology. A timely exchange of emails can deflect an approaching problem.
Minute your meetings whether face-to-face or online – make sure that everybody is aware of what is expected of them.
Don’t assume other people will contact you – they may be assuming the same.
Funded projects will have a schedule of reporting and requirements for evaluation, but if your project is less formal, you will need to decide on these issues yourself.
Keep good records of project progress and decisions. A project file is useful for formal minutes and correspondence, but a project notebook is a good way of capturing ideas and contacts that come your way or reflecting on the project development approaches. It is helpful if you can produce a set of ‘lessons learned’ to refer to in other project work.
Reflect on the process:
- What were the barriers you overcame (or did not)?
- What would you do differently next time?
- What have you personally gained?
- What do you now view different?