This section was first published as part of the NOF-digi Technical Advisory Service Programme Manual in 2003.
This section covers the key issues, tools and activities associated with managing a project. Where possible, examples have been shown for illustration or links to relevant Web sites given. Selected key texts giving fuller coverage are listed in the Bibliography and if you have not managed a project before, we would recommend items from this for further reading and/or attending a training course. Some Web sites offering courses are listed in the Human Resources section of the guidebook. Whilst the principles described here can be applied to any project from moving house to setting up a new business, we have tried to draw out particular aspects that apply to managing a technical project such as digitising collections of resources.
Firstly it is helpful to try to define exactly what a project is - what makes it different from other activities such as running an inter-library loan service or maintaining an online catalogue, and we will look at the distinguishing attributes of a project.
A project is an activity which achieves specific objectives through a set of defining tasks and effective use of resources.
Projects have a number of distinctive attributes:
The specific project objectives can be grouped under three general headings: quality (which we can define as fitness for purpose or specification level), costs i.e. the budget, and time (to completion). Each project will have some key objectives which tend to be more important than the others e.g. the quality of the digital images is paramount and the purchase of (relatively) expensive scanning hardware may be acceptable in order to achieve this aim.
In any project, people are a fundamental key to success and provide the links which facilitate the achievement of the project objectives. This is shown below in Figure 1 as the Triangle of Objectives .
Figure 1: Triangle of Objectives
All objectives must be SMART:
Specific: expressed singularly
Measurable: ideally in quantitative terms
Acceptable: to stakeholders
Realistic: in terms of achievement
Time-bound: a timeframe is stated
Projects have a defined time frame or finite life span with a beginning and an end. Unlike the example of maintaining a service, such as an online catalogue which is an on-going and continuous activity, a digitisation project will have agreed start and end dates, which are frequently determined by the availability of project funding and/or the availability of project staff (or others) to carry out the work.
Projects are often unique either because they have never before been attempted or because the mix of parameters is customised for the particular activity.
Projects can be described by using a life cycle approach and the four phases of the life cycle are shown below in Figure 2 .
Figure 2: Project Life Cycle
In the first phase, a need is identified by the client, customer or funder and this results in a Request for Proposals (RfP) which describes and defines the needs and requirements. We can call this phase Initiation. In the case of the NOF-digitise programme the initial call for proposals was issued in 1999, to which a large number of organisations and consortia responded.
The second phase is characterised by the development of proposed solutions and the Bidding process. This was characterised in the case of nof-digitise programme by a structured bid form which requested specific items of information related to project costs, staffing and other resources, timescales, description of the activities, compliance to technical standards and key deliverables.
The third phase in which the project is executed covers detailed planning and Implementation and we will return to this in some detail shortly.
The final phase is terminating the project or Closure. In some cases this is marked with formal acceptance by the customer or client with signed documentation.
There are two important additional activities associated with projects that are worthy of special mention here: evaluation and dissemination. It should be noted that both evaluation and dissemination are not confined to the later phases of the project. The process of liaising with users and stakeholders, gaining feedback and facilitating interaction should begin as early as possible. Similarly, the mechanisms for disseminating information about project activities must begin at project start-up and continue throughout the duration of the work.
The remainder of this section concentrates on the key activities of the third phase Implementation, and covers planning, monitoring, and controlling.
In order to achieve the objectives of any project it is essential to look at the details of the work required, which includes identifying specific tasks and estimating time to complete them, estimating associated costs, identifying who will perform the tasks and highlighting areas of risk together with devising appropriate contingency plans. In some cases, an outline of this information is required in the bid for funding.
It is usually part of the responsibility of the project manager to create the project plan and to update it on a regular and frequent basis. This is an important point - project plans are not made in tablets of stone! They are dynamic and must reflect the current situation. In most projects there are a number of "unexpected" challenges or events which may affect the timescales, costs and outcomes of the project. With good planning these unexpected events can be dealt with effectively and will not cause insoluble difficulties to the project team.
There are a number of tools available to assist with the planning process and these are described in more detail below. Which tools are used will depend on the size and nature of the project.
There are a number of formal methods for managing projects. One such example is Prince 2.
PRINCE is an acronym for PRojects IN Controlled Environments and is a complete methodology frequently used for managing large-scale projects in UK government departments and agencies. More information is available at <http://www.ogc.gov.uk/prince/>
There are also a number of software packages which facilitate the planning process by providing simple ways of employing the techniques described below. Which package you use (if any) will depend on a number of factors such as size of the project, organisation preferences, licences available and previous project experiences. Some sites where more information can be found are given here:
We have already noted that the project objective(s) must be clearly identified in order to inform the planning process.
A detailed project plan should be prepared and will usually be a requirement of the funders. For example in the NOF-digitise programme projects were required to submit a project business plan at stage two of the application process. A number of tools or methodologies can assist the creation process.
It is useful to begin the process by identifying all the tasks and elements of the project. The creation of a Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) is a systematic approach to scoping the project work in which a logical, hierarchical pattern is devised which may resemble a family tree. An example for moving a set of offices and staff to a new building, is given in Figure 3 . Each branch contains work items which are further broken down into work packages. Note that tasks may have already been grouped into Work Packages as part of preparation for the bidding process.
Figure 3: Office Move Work Breakdown Structure
The level to which tasks are identified will depend on the size and nature of the project, the level at which a single individual or team can be assigned responsibility and the level at which costs are allocated. Not all branches of the WBS have to be broken down to the same level.
Once tasks have been identified, they need to be scheduled within the project time-frame. A visual representation of this process is helpful and a Gantt Chart or bar chart is a valuable aid to planning and achieves this aim. Named after the American industrial engineer Henry Gantt (1861-1919), they can easily be created with the project management software tools described above. It is also possible to indicate the inter-dependencies of tasks using cascading arrows (i.e. instances where one activity cannot begin until another is completed). Project milestones (time points that indicate completion of key phases) and deliverables (defined and tangible outcomes of the project) can also be marked.
An example Gantt Chart is shown below in Figure 4 (click on the image to enlarge).
A more recent development is network analysis which covers a number of different methods which had their origins in the late 1950s, and were used successfully in the management of various US defense projects. Their particular strength is in their ability to show the various inter-dependencies of related tasks, however they require some initial learning and practice to become adept at their interpretation. There are two main systems:
The notation convention for an activity in precedence notation is given in Figure 5 . The flow of work is from left to right.
Figure 5: An Activity in Precedence Notation
Each activity is given a unique identification number and they are linked by arrows. Duration estimates can be made in days, weeks or months as appropriate and the total project duration calculated by passing from left to right (the forward pass). The latest permissible times to finish activities can be calculated by a backward pass which identifies the float or amount of slack available for starting and finishing an activity.
The chain of activities where the earliest and the latest times coincide showing a zero float also show the completion of the project in the earliest possible time - the critical path. A worked example of which can be seen at: <http://www.mindtools.com/critpath.html>
All projects have elements of risk associated with them, largely because they involve new activities and innovative work. A general analysis of the risks associated with the project should be performed at an early stage to identify them and scope their potential impact.
For a digitisation project, an analysis of risks would include consideration of factors such as:
Staff: do you have the right mix of people and skills employed on the project?
Equipment: is appropriate equipment in place? Is it reliable?
Dependencies on external factors: extent to which successful delivery of the project relies on external parties, such as other consortia members or suppliers.
Extent of innovation or novelty of project: to what extent does the project involve new and innovative work?
Risks can then be graded with a hazard rating low, medium and high and the likelihood of their occurrence estimated. Contingency and containment plans for activities with a degree of risk associated with them, should be created which include any relevant adjustments to timescales and costs.
For a more detailed analysis of the likelihood of identified risks occurring, software is available for calculating statistical probabilities, such as OPERA which is part of the Open Plan Professional system.
A more detailed exposition on risks and risk management can be found in Chapman and Ward 1997 .
Project activity is costed at the bidding stage. This is a critical stage and you should ensure that all activities and resources included in the proposal are costed as accurately as possible. Requirements of funders will differ, but it is usual that the bid includes quotes for large items of expenditure such as equipment or specialist services that you intend to contract out. NOF-digi projects, for example, were required to obtain at least two quotations for all capital and revenue costs contracted to external suppliers.
Personnel departments should be able to provide information on staff costs. Don't forget to include the total cost of employing staff in your overall project budget (i.e. recruitment, salary, employers National Insurance and pension contributions as well). Other costs such as travel or the production of promotional materials for example may have to be estimated as accurately as possible. Your budget should also include office accommodation costs for staff and overheads such as heating and lighting.
Closely defining the budget at the bidding stage will be helpful when you later go on to plan the project in detail and finally implement it.
It will be the job of the project manager to ensure that the aims of the project are met whilst keeping expenditure within the limits of the budget. Thus monitoring spending throughout the duration of the project is critical. Expenditure monitoring and reporting should be built into the project plan. You may expect, for example, that monthly reports on expenditure are presented at project meetings. In addition to monitoring and reporting for internal purposes, funders will usually require regular updates on expenditure. For example the NOF-digitise programme required projects to make quarterly progress reports throughout the payment period of grant. As staff effort is likely to be a significant resource, you should consider using timesheets to monitor effort. These are particularly important if staff are only spending part of their time on the project. Depending on how the project plan has been compiled, you may want staff to breakdown their effort into the identified tasks and workpackages of the project.
When costing activity you may also want to take into account the potential your project has for income generation. Consideration of this could also occur at the stage of the project where exit strategies and sustainability of the project once the initial funding has ceased are under consideration. For a discussion of these issues, see the section on Income Generation and Sustainability.
Once implementation of the project has begun, progress must be monitored. Various routine staff management and supervisory approaches can be adopted or more formal methods introduced where updates on tasks are gathered regularly. Reports may be produced as part of this process. One type of monitoring is to use exception reports which only cover areas or activities which are at variance or diverging from the plan. The advantage is that "paperwork" is kept to a minimum and only appropriate level of detail and content is passed up the management chain. However the drawback of this approach is that it relies on good team communication and awareness to ensure that the project manager is kept informed.
Regular management and financial reports with expenditure monitoring are essential and are frequently a requirement of the funders. The NOF-digitise programme required that quarterly progress reports be completed and submitted to coincide with the revenue payments cycle. These reports followed the format of the NOF-digitise business plan and required reporting on the progress of individual work packages, income received and expenditure by the project during the reporting period and any variations to cashflow forecast in the business plan, as well as a checklist of compliance with the Programme's technical standards. In addition to this, organisations are required to complete an annual monitoring return once services are publicly launched, in order to monitor the benefits the digitised materials are delivering.
A project generates a large amount of documentation. There will be a project plan which is constantly updated. There may be an evaluation plan and a dissemination strategy. There may be a technical or requirements specification, software documentation and user guides.
There will be interim reports and more lengthy annual reports and regular summary updates for the funders.
There may be notes from project team meetings. More formal meetings with stakeholders or with consortia partners will have agendas and minutes.
In all cases, version control is vital to maintain an audit trail and for archiving purposes, it may be necessary in larger projects to consider some form of document management system.
Depending their size, projects may have only one or two staff or comprise of multiple teams with many team leaders reporting to the project manager. In larger organisations, a project director may manage multiple projects.
We have identified five key roles within a digitisation project whist acknowledging that there will be additional roles depending on the nature of the project, which could include designers, digitisers, interpreters etc. Whilst the Project Manager and Technical Officer would normally role assigned to individuals, the other roles would not necessarily be ascribed to specific individuals as each project will need to determine its spread of roles and posts according to its individual circumstances.
Project Manager: responsible for managing resources including the project team and the overseeing the budget
Technical Officer: responsible for systems maintenance, software development, and providing technical support to the project team
Information and Communications Officer: responsible for creating and implementing a dissemination/marketing strategy
Evaluation: responsible for creating and implementing an evaluation plan
Learning resource creation: responsible for developing learning resources from digitised content
More detailed job description templates for the first three of these posts are given in the section on Human Resources.
A project is more likely to be successful if the team is working well together and the team dynamics are good. More detailed information on building successful teams and the various roles identified within a team is provided in the Human Resources section.
Projects should normally have a Steering or Advisory Group. This is a group of experts, stakeholders or other interested parties who meet on a regular but infrequent formal basis (e.g. two to four times a year) to advise, guide and help the project team. They should also receive more regular reports so that they can maintain an overview of progress between meetings. There is usually a representative of the funding agency and a senior member of the host organisation. Sometimes if appropriate, there may be "user" representation.
Updates on progress, finance, evaluation, dissemination and future plans are common agenda items. The meetings are often chaired by a senior representative of the organisation.
It is advisable to establish agreed Terms of Reference at an early stage to guide the activities of the Steering Group. The name and membership of the group will need to be agreed and a draft set of terms is listed below which covers conduct of meetings and functions of the group.
Conduct of meetings:
Functions of the group:
Steering Groups can be very useful fora for airing ideas, testing political views, seeking external expert advice and gaining support for particular approaches.
There are many benefits both for programme administrators and applicants of consortia working. At a practical level, good value for money will be achieved through, for example, eliminating duplication of effort, using economies of scale to good effect and sharing experience and expertise. At programme level, the themed-bid consortium approach will deliver the basis for a coherent, managed body of content consistent with other major national initiatives. It will also offer added value and greater potential for sustainability.
The NOF-digi programme, for example, defined three models of consortia working:
Managing a consortial project is more complex than running a project from one organisation. There are inevitable additional politics to negotiate, more complex finances to manage, an increased need for good communications, particularly between teams and individuals at different locations, and more complicated planning. Whilst more frequent progress meetings may be desirable, there is an increased cost associated with bringing people together face-to-face and video-conferencing or conference calls are ways of achieving discussion without unnecessary expenditure.
Partnership agreements or a letter of understanding should be drawn up between consortia members. The agreement should outline how the services/activities are to be shared between partners, their estimated costs, the proposed structure of the partnership and how it will be managed. It is essential to consider how disagreements between partners would be dealt with and what to do if you find that your consortium cannot move forward, particularly where you are adopting the fully or partially integrated consortia models. There are various mechanisms you could use, such as agreeing to majority voting procedures, or alternatively the steering or advisory group could arbitrate in disputes.
The robustness of the partnership agreement depends on the level of integration of the partnership. Partners in fully integrated consortia who have delegated responsibility for their projects wholly to the lead partner will need to ensure they have a detailed agreement with the lead. Consortia where one partner is taking responsibility for services on behalf of other partners and thereby creating a dependency which could affect the outcome of their project may need a less rigorous agreement.
It is recommended that agreements are checked by legal representatives and that periodic reviews are built into the text.
As part of the standard process for assessing and selecting suppliers, projects will obviously be checking for the financial longevity/strength/suitability of suppliers. Whilst consultancies will have specialised tools for such purposes, it is sometimes difficult for culture-sector organisations to establish their own accurate information.
Some potential sources of this information follow, most of which offer some information for free and some at a cost:
The home page for Companies House, provides basic name/address listings and status for free; reports and accounts can be downloaded at a cost.
Your local Business Link will usually have an information team who can provide tailored reports (usually at a quite reasonable price). The following link will take you to a searchable directory of local Business Links: http://www.businesslink.gov.uk/bdotg/action/directory The Business Links may also be able to review sole traders, as most credit referencing/business scoring agencies will not store information on such businesses/individuals.
Finally, a less "official", but potentially effective service is 192.com, which provides a range of personal and business services. The range of information here is broad.
As an aside, if you are concerned about your own data privacy, have a look at
- you have the ability to remove yourself from their lists.