2016 Conference

Project Management: The Musical

The attendees of High Ed Web have always been a musical, #karaokeplane-loving bunch. However, Allison Manley and Joe Allen-Black of noticed an even deeper connection– web project management has a lot in common with the traits of all good musicals.

“Almost always they (musicals) tell the stories of some trials and tribulations that must be overcome,” to reach happy conclusions, Allen-Black said.

The pair set up their presentation as an actual musical — the story of a heroine trying to manage a new higher ed project effectively. Allison starred as “The Project Manager” and Joe was “The Narrator” They conveyed their concepts with song — Oklahoma’s “Oh What a Beautiful Morning” became “Oh What an Organized Project.”  The Sound of Music’s “Do-Rei-Me” became a tune about knowing the scope of your contract. There was even an intermission.

The musical followed the project manager from acquiring and defining a project, right through delivery and beyond.

As you’re starting a project you need to be explicit. “Know your scope,” they sang. Define your deliverables, scope, exclusions, assumptions, schedule and payment terms.

Then, get organized: You need to make sure you know what to expect. Decide on tools to communicate … Palantir likes to use Jira  but Slack or even Google Docs can work as long as everyone is on board. Create an atmosphere of transparency. Manley and Allen-Black suggest keeping a risk log — to see what problems you might encounter and to allow you to be able to mitigate them.  Define your roles and responsibilities: “Who is in charge of the overall vision?” Allen-Black asked.

They also encourage the process of empathy mapping, to figure out where various stakeholders are coming from and what issues and challenges they perceive in the project.

And, the project manager must encourage collaboration. “The best projects are collaborative,” Allen-Black said. That collaboration can occur in all facets: in design, strategy or development.

Now comes the sprint to build. They suggest an agile framework, breaking the project in to two-week chunks, conducting sprint planning and building quickly.

That process includes strategy and discovery, figuring out items such as “What is the #1 thing we have to get right?” The project manager will work with the client to figure out content strategy, or analytics, determining key performing indicators.

And, you know, people take vacations during a project. Sing it with them: “You’re going to Argentina? I’ll have to make some adjustments.”

Or more succinctly when it comes to measurement you have “525,600 minutes — how do you measure your KPIs?”

The design phase is another challenge, replete with style tiles, wireframes  and eventually a design prototype — the flagship deliverable of the phase.

The project manager is tasked with making sure the project has a good cadence and keeping things moving.

“If you do this right, the team is going to get very excited,” Allen-Black said.

This is also when our heroine battles stakeholder disapproval and scope creep.

But Allison had a song to battle scope creep: “Let it Go” from Frozen became “Out of Scope.” “That code always bothered me anyway.” Of course.

Deadlines come. Deadlines go. Eventually,  we launch! But that’s not the end. The post-launch phase becomes an opportunity for assessment and reflection.

Think of it as a retrospective — what went well and how does this inform the next project?

And of course, at the end of a project it’s never really goodbye. It’s never quite the end. So the project manager called on Adele to inquire about a future project. And “Hello From the Other Side” closed out the show.

The crowd was left asking for an encore. Perhaps there will be one Wednesday morning.

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