missrachelsmith

Posts Tagged ‘Projects

Planning and organising projects

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In my last blog post, I thought about how I organised my time at work. But actually, as I mentioned, most of my work as Communications and Marketing Officer for the Library and Heritage Collections is project-based, and most of the projects I work on I’m usually also leading. For me, time management and project management are pretty much intertwined, so I couldn’t really tackle one subject without exploring the other…

Project management

Although I manage a range of marketing and communications projects, I don’t have a formal background in project management. Everything I know about project management comes from common sense, or from what I’ve picked up from other people.

So how have my project management skills developed? Well, back in 2010, when I started working towards CILIP Chartership, I wasn’t working in a management role. As a Library Assistant, I was required to support projects, but I wasn’t really supposed to manage them. But things don’t always quite work out like that…

First steps

The first marketing project I managed was back in December 2010. The Library’s previous Communications and Marketing Officer was absent, so I managed the production of all of the publicity materials to open our new special collections gallery. This was a challenging project – at this point I wasn’t working closely with archives and special collections and had little experience of publicising exhibitions. I had to liaise with the University’s central communications and procurement teams, as well as external design and printing companies for the first time. Oh, and I almost forgot to mention – the deadline for getting everything produced was early January 2011. Counting out the Christmas break, I had about 3 weeks to get a poster, leaflet and gallery opening booklet ready.

Treasures of Durham University exhibition banner

However, I knew that this was strategically important for our historic library and for the University, and the publicity materials were delivered on time, to budget and to specification. Due to the short timescales involved, there was no formal plan involved – I just made sure I prioritised this over all of my other tasks.

Induction 2011

In 2011, I got more involved in managing our induction communications and I project managed a complete format change from our Library induction tours for new students from the previous years: the Library Treasure Hunt.

Library Treasure Hunt

I developed the programme, came up with a range of questions and activities, and figured out how the Treasure Hunt would work operationally in the Library. The Treasure Hunt was part of the larger induction 2011 communications plan – I also led on other activities that year, including organising our stall for the International Students Fair and overseeing our stand on the first day of the Fresher’s Fair. The Communications and Marketing Officer and I discussed all of the activities that needed to be completed ahead of the induction period, and my colleague organised these into a Gannt chart (I’ll come back to this in a moment) so we could keep track of all of the different timescales involved in the project. I found that for a complex marketing project like this, having a visual idea of what needed to be completed when really worked for me.

The induction period that year went really smoothly as a consequence…

… and then the Communications and Marketing Officer left the Library and I was offered a promotion in November 2011. So after that, I wasn’t just picking up projects at the last minute when colleagues were absent, or leading on aspects of larger projects which someone else was managing. Now, it was up to me to plan and organise projects…

Getting started

The first thing I decided when I took up my new role is that I felt that even smaller projects needed to be planned more carefully. One of the things I’d learnt from covering for my colleague was that it’s difficult to know what has and hasn’t been done if you’re not working to a plan. I also felt that having a project plan would make it easier to convey to my line manager what I was doing. So as soon as I started managing Library communications and marketing, I started to plan.

Communications plans

Every campaign I run now has a communications plan. They’re usually pretty straightforward. Here’s one I put together for this year’s MORE BOOKS campaign:

More Books communications plan

Essentially, I think about the activities that need to be completed as part of the project, the timescales I want them to be completed in, and then the staff members that will be involved. This involves considering which activities depend on other tasks being completed (I can’t expect a colleague to design a screensaver, for example, if I haven’t finished the campaign graphics), and the staff resource available.

Communications timelines

Projects don’t always work out this way, of course. In the end, I put together the MORE BOOKS graphics and posters on the morning of Wednesday 14 November (5 days before the service relaunched, so not ideal) due to another project heating up. So when that happens and I’m not keeping to time, I sometimes do a backwards record of a marketing project. As well as planning forwards at the start of the project, I’ll record when things actually happened as the project progresses.

Here’s an example of the communications timeline I put together for the building development communications that dominated my work in 2012:

Library developments publicity timeline

Having a record like this can be really helpful for analysing how successful particular publicity methods have been. For example, if I see a sudden spike in hits to our website on 13 February, I can tell that this is due to the link being circulated in the Vice Chancellor’s regular email bulletin, as well as the social media posts we published that day.

Project plans

But these quick plans aren’t so good when you’re organising a complex project with a lot of discrete actions. An example of this would be communications activities leading up to the new academic year in October. Following my colleague’s lead, I used a variation on a Gannt chart when planning my work for Induction 2012, which helped me to work to a range of timescales and track my progress:

Induction Plan 2012

Down the left hand side, I’ve listed the main activities that need to be completed. At the top, I’ve plotted out the weeks between the beginning and end of the project. Then I work out when I think each activity should be completed by, but also (and here’s the big difference between that and the simpler communications plans) how long I think each activity might take.

This is a plan from very near the end of the project. How can I tell? Well, most of the bars are green, which in the traffic light system I use, mean they’ve been completed. Usually, I’ll adjust the bars if activities are completed earlier/later than planned, so the finished plan reflects the timescales I actually worked to. I felt that this worked really well for induction last year, and I’ll be using this same system in 2013. In fact, it’s a technique I’d like to use more, but I find that I often don’t feel like I can afford the time to set it up.

So what’s next?

I think the next big thing I have to tackle in this area is evaluating projects – I have very little time for reflecting on projects in any great depth at the moment, as I’m straight onto the next deadline. As and when more support is found for my role, this is something I’d like to do more of. I’d also like to undertake some training to further improve my skills in this area too!

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Written by missrachelsmith

February 2, 2013 at 18:02