Original Post from 2011

When working with new teams it should be assumed that participants have little or no experience with project management and task delegation within a team environment. A brief introduction to agile and scrum systems is beneficial.

Each of the new teams takes time to familiarise themselves with their final concept and the brief to which it must fulfil. A detailed work plan is developed, breaking down every element that can be identified: timescales for delivery, priorities and dependencies. These project lists and their assignment need to be agreed by the team before being put into action.

Facilitators need to oversee this process to ensure that the aims are realistic and can be achieved within the scope of the programme.

After note: Fiver years on. 

One of the difficulties in moving this model of work into a degree type programme is the lack of facilitation time. Therefore, planning demonstration becomes a lecture and leave model instead of a more granular approach, where students and staff sit and break down a project together. The lack of time is a product of the problem and the problem is a product of management and process. It can also be a product of design.

In a perfect world, hours could be spent between small teams and facilitators, in the development of an adequate methodology and understanding of the planning of each project. However in the hierarchy of desirable inputs and outputs, how to manage comes with the burden of what to manage, who is for, when is it for and most often forgotten by all involved, what is the point.

Trouble spots: Facebook

There are a huge number of free and powerful tools for managing projects, Asana, Trello, Todoist or Wunderlist are popular. Each of which come with a very small learning curve in order to get the most out of them. However these products have the same millennial problem as email. If it is off the habit trail it will require repetition and routine to acquire sufficient mastery to extract value. 

Therefor students like to communicate in dedicated Facebook groups sharing thoughts, images, questions and feedback. Unfamiliar with projects of a larger scope, this process leads initial feelings of gratification through population closely followed by unbelievable levels of stress. Posts get lost in the waterfall, comments lose their context and nobody can find what they are looking for efficiently. The pervasive and invasive nature of Facebook leaves students unable to focus due to constant interruptions, distracting each teammate from the work at hand and giving them a greater sense of falling behind, being overwhelmed and increasingly insecure. This insecurity is compounded by an induced inability to make simple decisions, deferring the simplest of choices to the team in-turn, increasing the team's communication traffic and cognitive load.

Pretty soon this spiral leads to a breaking point

Scenario One: Someone snaps. The team feeling a great sense of empathy and responsibility jumps in to fill the gap. Not working within an appropriate project management system leaves the team at a loss as to what exactly the person was working on or what was actually done.

Scenario Two: Tensions within the team lead to infighting and a breakdown of communication begins. Visions separate and egos get trampled. Team members may begin to feel disenfranchised and work away from the team. Missing meetings and vital communications around technical issues where their input may be critical. As this progresses, grievances escalate eventually requiring intervention.

Scenario Three: Passive team members are unable to keep up with the constant stream of communication.  And/Or has had a communication or comment ignored. Shoulders shrug, frustration leads perhaps to a feeling of why bother or just a sense of being ignored or left out. "Well someone knows what's going on... I'll just sit here and wait until someone tells me what to do".

Process development

When things appear hard or get difficult familiarity beats advantage every time. It is only after experiencing the pain of failure will a group of students adopt a new management process. This runs contrary to technical skills where students display a high level of adaptability and perseverance is abundantly evident. The management of the project is not initially seen as a valuable component on a par with the technique, design or narrative.  Funnily enough, similarities with this approach is also evident when it comes drawing. Planning, perspective, form structure are often skipped in favour of shading or colour, leading to adequate results which are difficult to redirect. 

As we graduate our first final year, the teams that have adopted the most structured models for project management have by far the most creative, ambitious and successful outcomes. Cracks appear because of process more often than artistic or technical ability. Some are unavoidable results of personal feelings about work hours and availability or maturity but almost all problems that impact a project or staff time are a direct result of ineffective planning. 

Plan - Produce - Update Plan - Repeat

Inspire, Conceptualise, Refine, Evaluate, Plan & Produce. They are the original six steps for the design thinking model I've been working with for quite a few years now. A huge part of the problem in developing an understanding of design thinking or creative problem solving or whatever we want to call it, is the realisation that it is a five step model in execution and a six step model in explanation. Planning and production are intertwined in a never ending dance of compromise and promise. 





© Conánn FitzPatrick 1971-2016