Lead the Horse to Water, And Make Damn Sure It Drinks: How to Lead Successful & Transparent Projects #heweb11

View Session Description and Presenter Bio

Photo by Eduardo Amorim, Flickr.

Lots of HighEdWebbers don’t have a project management process in place — and think it’s too difficult to implement.  Alaina Riley says that not only CAN you do it, you can’t afford NOT to.  If your projects aren’t coming in on time, within scope and in budget, you’re putting your institution and, even your job, at serious risk.

Berklee College of Music’s IT department uses a Project Portfiolio Committee (PPC), which helps campus stakeholders plan, charter and schedule their IT projects.  Each campus department Is represented on the PPC, which is important because projects are reviewed and either approved/rejected according to their importance to the institutional needs.  Once a project is approved the PPC assists departments in getting what they want and keeps everyone working on the project organized.

Highly visible project queue so all people can see what IT & client is working on and what stage it’s in.  Communication and organization in project mgmt. are key: one-on-ones, weekly team lead meetings, monthly full team meetings and daily “hot topic” meetings.

How do you bring successful project management to your school?  Riley advocates focusing on three key components: people, documents and tools.


Ever notice how you get more things done when you’re in a appositive mood versus a cranky one?  If you’re a project manager, take this to heart.  The people you work with and manager will perform better, be more productive and just more pleasant to be around if you bring a positive, can-do attitude to the workplace.  It’s also important to show the people you work with/manage that they are valued. “It doesn’t take much to make someone feel appreciated,” says Riley, “and it doesn’t take much to make someone feel unappreciated.” Even something as small as sharing a team breakfast, or checking in to say hi can go a long way.


Documentation is important, and the most critcal document is your project charter.  Charters provide a roadmap for the project, set expectations and deadlines. Good project charters include:

  • Project scope
  • Business case (why is this project important to your institution)
  • Assumptions, risks and dependencies
  • Project team roster
  • Deliverables
  • Milestones and phases
  • Change control process (how do you make changes to the project should the necessity arise?)

At Berklee, the charters include all the people involved in the project, and key stake holders – including managers – must review and literally sign off on the charter.

After a project charter is complete, Berklee’s PPC creates a work breakdown structure (wbs), which outlines every task needed to complete the project, each person assigned to each task, and a time estimate to complete the tasks.  From there, they generate a critical path flowchart, incorporating the wbs and adding the entire time scope of the project.


To get project management started at your institution, Riley recommends using:

Basecamp – an online prjt mgmt. tool that allows users to track to-dos and milestones, and clearly communicate with one another.

Screenflow (Mac) or other screen capture software – These help with usability testing and, if the team receives online presentations or training, allows the presentation to be captured and distributed later.

Wunderlist – a task manager allowing you to create and track your to do lists across multiple platforms and on the web.

Riley emphasizes that you don’t need to implement each piece of this all at once, but pick at least on piece and start from there. Get your project management in place (even it if just includes you), remember that a positive staff = productive staff, communicate with your team and your stakeholders, document everything, and have fun using innovative tools to get stuff done.