Thursday, 19 June 2014

Leadership. Management and Keeping on Track

Part B of #ocTEL Week 5 If I only do one thing... 

In Part A, I compared some of the experiences of Lisa Carrier and Julie Voce (both of Imperial College London) in their respective educational technology implementation projects. In particular, strengths and weaknesses, and lessons learnt, as generously shared by these two professionals.

I continue the ocTEL Week 5 'If I only do one thing...' activity by using guidance from Jisc’s Project planning: Project management site to think about a project I have been involved with and consider a range of issues, as noted by sub-headings below. Additionally, and where relevant, I have used Lisa and Julie's (or other) frameworks to aid my answers.

Blended Learning for Updating to Environmentally Sensitive Refrigeration Systems

I am deliberately choosing a smaller scale project to reflect on here, and one which had an external consultant as the Project Manager (I am already verbose; this might help me rein my words in; plus it had some explicit faults I can reflect on...). The project required designing and creating blended learning to support a new learning program. The project was won on tender, and the program was to retrain existing refrigeration engineers and technicians to work with new large-scale refrigeration systems using refrigerants less harmful to the environment. These previously qualified people were expected to have a range of different levels of experience with out-going systems, but would need to learn new equipment, techniques and safety issues.

While I could have blogged about bigger, better organised projects, I actually have fond memories of this project,  and enjoyed this moment of reflection. Additionally, at the time I achieved limited closure as (1) the project continued after my involvement, and (2) as I wasn't PM, I didn't complete reports on project, etc. 

Who were your stakeholders?

A few of the stakeholders tabled below could arguably shift to different cells. For example, the specific supermarket chain the students came from was kept at arms length by the specific educational supplier contracted to engage between the chain and the institute but would feel the impact of poorly trained employees; the Program Manager, Discipline Head, and Head of School were difficult in choosing 'primary' or 'secondary'. Referring the the latter example, and using Lisa Carrier's referral of primary stakeholders as people who would experience benefits and failures directly, I've probably placed them reasonably correctly in this instance.

Primary educator
Designated Project Manager (PM)
Course (subject) educators
Me (learning designer)
Graphic designer/Web developer
Program Manager

Discipline Head
Head of School
My learning and teaching department manager
College deputy director of vocational education*
Current/future students in discipline area

Future students
Refrigeration accrediting body
Specific educational supplier contracted to engage between institute and:
Specific supermarket chain

Grocery/supermarket Industry
Potential future workplace employers (transferable skills)


What resources were used?
Staff input as related to all the items below: see primary, internal stakeholder cell above, plus* 

Time for analysis of potential learners and learning needs, and curriculum requirements
Time to design learning before commencing development
Educational technology and tools available in university SOE: 
  • LMS (Blackboard):providing navigation and overview of program; 'Fridgee forum' discussion forum; contact with teachers; linking to course cluster learning in Google Sites; assessment detail an submission; ejournal and blog tools)
  • Web and interactive creation tools to create discrete learning clusters of related courses (subjects):Google Site embedding: tabs including overview and topic tabs; short videos; Google Forms to set formative assessment questions
  • Desktop video capture and video editing (Echo360) supported by PowerPoint presentation and documentation for display:Various recordings, e.g. for first cluster: principal teacher discussing the purpose of the course cluster and training and industry links, supported by PowerPoint presentation and documentation; specialist in vocational education discussing the purpose of ongoing training in, or as preparation for, employment
  • Digital camera and graphics and animation software (Illustrator, etc.):Creation of interactivities to familiarise students with the equipment before attending for intensive on-campus days, e.g. animated learning activities controlled by student, graphically enhanced images for formative assessments such as labeling in Blackboard quiz features
  • Plus more...
Time to develop, review, adjust
Time to test functionality (spot users) 
Time to evaluate learning (peer review only; no time unfortunately for student review pre-implementation; learner evaluation post-first implementation)

How clear/achievable was the project plan?

Mixed. Neither the project objectives nor project scope were explicitly documented and shared with the team; a verbal brief was given by the PM. There was no explicit documentation providing "the project plan, ...[description of] the project management framework, including project organisation, reporting relationships, decision process, and the role of any management committee" (Jisc, 2014). There was an expectation that we all knew what to do; just get on with it.

While the PM did not, or was unable to, provide clear written objectives or overall project scope, he did however provide a list of courses (subjects) required for development (subsequently chunked into two learning clusters), which were then easy to isolate curriculum standards for. The learning designer and primary educator were able to document the learning objectives for the first stage of the project clearly, largely due to the primary educator who knew the industry and his prospective students very well, and clearly understood the curriculum goals, which the learning designer documented - first as a scoping document, then as a full design document.

A potential negative impact from not being privy to the overall scope was that a further set of courses was only identified after project commencement. Not only did this effect team members' vision of the whole project, but this further set of courses related to courses within the original set (but providing another stream of learning), and planning in conjunction with the first set clearly would have been preferable. The positive out of this was that we already had a model designed and developed to suit the industry and the anticipated learner cohort from the first 'stream' set, and could adapt this model to the subsequent work, and hence clawed back some time saving there.

The project milestone due dates were glaringly macro, as in simply dates that the first student cohorts would be commencing study, dates on-campus, and dates completing. Therefore, the operational team established finer granular milestone dates within these macro dates.

What fallback position, if any, did you build into your plan in the event of full or partial project failure?

Dates were already agreed with the client before the team was established, and contracts signed, so an extension of time was not possible. The fallback was to have all learning taught on-campus and support resources provided as a take-away pack if the online materials were not ready. If this fallback position was required, we planned to provide some of the prepared online items to students in a class, support them to interact, and take note of their feedback to incorporate improvements for the next cohort.

OK, so that might have been an option, but not one acceptable to the key team members. Which meant that in actuality, we worked long hours into the evenings as major due dates loomed. (Not a sustainable solution.)

What methods did you use to evaluate your project?

The PM with the client administered specifically designed student feedback forms, which were available to both parties for 'post inaugural run' evaluation and were largely brief but positive.  Complimenting this was a valuable formal client feedback report via a senior experienced client employee trained in the first student cohort. Again, largely positive, but with a good amount of detail and some minor points of improvement noted. Anecdotal teacher feedback - including anecdotal student feedback via him - noted small glitches to fix, otherwise was overwhelmingly positive. The learning designer investigated student engagement and teaching support via learning artefacts in the online learning environment, and apart from varying levels of ability (e.g. surface reflection through to deep reflection), was pleasantly reassured by strong levels of activity across the class coupled with evidence of support provided by the teacher.

How did you measure project success?

Primarily by the student experience (as per previous answer). 

A second, delayed post-training employer and employee (former students) satisfaction feedback survey could improve evaluation, albeit not always easy to administer.

Did you celebrate your success and did this encourage further developments?

Additional course clusters were required/added to the project, but my time allowance on the project was up, and a consulting 'instructional designer' was employed to work on the final stage. Therefore, while I feel like there was closure as key milestones were achieved, I wasn't about the project office for the end stages. However, a 'thank you' was provided by the PM, by coffee at a nearby cafe for key team members at my departure point.


While a number of things in this project could have been better communicated, planned and implemented, it was regardless an enjoyable project to work on and key team members (within the school plus support staff) still use the elearning produced on this project as good examples for others.

"Many aspects of project management come down to good planning and common sense but there are real benefits to learning and using a proper methodology" (Jisc, 2014). While this project goes to show that a small bunch of good people committed to create good things on time is a powerful force, this is not always guaranteed without good planning and supported and timely execution. Even with good people with good intentions, I can imagine how much better it could have been had we also had all the planning principles and practices in place.

The Jisc site offers Wikipedia links to a range of methodologies, such as Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK), agile software development and flexible product development, plus a link to PRINCE2. Where I have lead projects, I have used institute established project management and reporting tools (quite simple but effective, with a RAG flag component), and trialled Microsoft Project, but I prefer institute tools combined with creating tracking documents in Microsoft Excel, supported by Google Drive for sharing detail and progress, and team contribution. I am about to commence a project that will use agile project management and lean product development methodologies, and I'm looking forward to experiencing this. However, I suspect I might be a better organised project leader if I undertook some formal PM training, or had a PM mentor while undertaking a specific project.

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