Thursday, April 9, 2015

Don't Keep Scope Creep Hidden Away in the Basement

Several years ago, my husband and I owned a condominium and lived through a major construction project.  It turns out that the original builders of the condominiums (1970’s) had never properly tied the water drainage lines into the sewer system and the units had been experiencing deterioration and water problems for many years.  As more and more unit owners requested repairs on their basements, the funds from the regular monthly assessment and the association budget and reserves were drained.   The association tried to sue the city for not enforcing building codes,  and also tried to go after the original construction company (which was out of business.) The city claimed it was up to the condominium owners to pay for the work.  After a lot of controversy and legality, the condominium association passed a special assessment onto the unit owners.   Each condominium unit owner’s basement and unit was evaluated for current damage and potential for future damage and every unit owner was assessed a large sum of money for repairs to be done regardless of the condition of their unit.  That’s how condominium ownership works in Ohio.

Anyway, the project finally got underway in 2004 and had a two year timeframe for all necessary repairs to be completed.     The plan was to start with the worst units first, and a map and schedule were provided to all owners so we would know when their unit was slated and when our neighbors units would be repaired.  The first couple units had basements dug out and lines redone and we all started feeling a little better about the whole situation as we started to see progress.   And then the third unit was getting repaired and it was identified during those repairs that the problem was much deeper than anyone expected.  Several basements (including mine) had to be completely removed one brick at a time and rebuilt while supporting frame beams were installed under the condominium.  “New requirements and needs become apparent during a project.” (Portney et al 2008) however scope creep also set in a bit, because basements that were completely rebuilt also had to have new drywall, new ceilings and new electrical fixtures etc.   Things got a little tricky because typically unit owners have responsibility for repairs and maintenance of the inside of their units, however, since those repairs were necessary and caused by the external repairs, they were in fact covered by the project.      So, homeowners whose basements needed minimal repairs wanted to feel like they were getting their monies worth and pressured the association to have a second set of engineers review the properties.  They also felt entitled to get new drywall and new ceilings even though they may have just had one small section of a wall repaired.   The toughest part of all of this was the lack of communication about the changes and new schedules and new game plans.   As homeowners, we would get some information at the monthly meetings and via a monthly newsletter, but given the amount of information, more frequent updates would have been appreciated.   Most information came very informally as homeowners walked their pets and talked to neighbors.   We even would get information from the construction crew at times.   The association had advised us at a meeting that the crew was going to work Saturday and Sundays, however that did not happen.   In talking with the construction crew, they indicated they had a contract which prohibited them from working on Saturdays and Sundays.

In looking back, had I been managing the project, I would have made the change control process very transparent to all of the homeowners and communicated changes to all concerned parties.  I would have stepped up the number of communications “including reports summarizing changes to date and their impacts.” (Portney et al 2008)    The association had a good initial plan but when the unforeseen changes started to occur they did a lot of reacting without any input from the homeowners and very little communication.   Because their change control system was not transparent, I am not sure how much analyzing occurred for requested changes or what requirements (if any) existed to determine if they would make a change.   I think for this type of project, having a change control process that is very transparent – perhaps posted to a website and updated every week would be an improvement.   As change orders are approved, project plans and schedules could be updated to reflect the impact of the change.   That way, questions fielded at the monthly meeting could be more productive.   In short, scope creep can and will happen.  It is information that needs to be communicated to stakeholders and how it is being managed should be in the limelight, not hidden away in the basement.

References

Portny, S. E., Mantel, S. J., Meredith, J. R., Shafer, S. M., Sutton, M. M., & Kramer, B. E. (2008). Project management: Planning, scheduling, and controlling projects. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Project Management Tools


In my internet search for project management budgeting and forecasting tools, I came across many templates and helpful guides as well as books, articles and discussion forums.   As a novice to formal project management, it was gratifying to see all of the free tools and advice available thanks to the collaborative learning environment available to all of us on the world wide web.   Two items caught my attention.    
video
 
First, a budget estimating spreadsheet template with video tutorial from Social Signal (SoSi) is available on their site at http://www.socialsignal.com/blog/alexandra-samuel/how-create-budget-estimates-proposals-and-project-management
I am including a video demonstration because it is a very well done step by step walk through showcasing the functionality of the tool.   What I liked about this tool, was that it is ready to use as is, but could be easily customized.    It lends itself well to both simple and complex projects.   The fact that there is a video tutorial that accompanies it's use is advantageous especially for a novice project manager.  
 
The second tool I came across was the event plan and budget sheet within Smartsheet's menu of project management templates.  

Smartsheet provides a user friendly interface and allow you to create online sheets and save them in a portal for easy access later.   I set up a free 30 day free trial and each account provides access to a portal with many project management templates geared for a project managers duties.   The event plan and budget sheet is just one example.  Click the link for a sneak peek that shows the tools on the left hand side.   Example event plan and budget template in Smartsheet

This would be a great tool for someone who manages a lot of projects.    While there is plenty of online help and the software has a lot of features built in,  using the functionality in my opinion would take some time to learn.   I don't think for that reason it would be beneficial for someone like myself who may only manage an occasional project at this point in time.

References:

Creative Commons 2010. Open SoSi: The Concept Jam Part 7How to create budget estimates for proposals and project management  retrieved from http://www.socialsignal.com/blog/alexandra-samuel/how-create-budget-estimates-proposals-and-project-management

Smartsheet Solutions: ©2015. All Rights Reserved Smartsheet.com  Collaborative project management for projects of any scale retrieved from https://www.smartsheet.com/solutions/project-management

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Getting the Message!


If the same message is delivered via email, voicemail or face to face, which one is the most impactful?  How is the message perceived differently depending on the delivery method?  For my EDUC course on Project Management in Education and Training, I compared three forms of communication, the context was exactly the same in these three modalities.  In email, I sensed a tone of desperation from the author.   It came across as very pleasant, but I felt the sense of importance. - The voicemail audio file came across less desperate and friendlier, and the F2F video was very friendly, apologetic even, and although the words were the same, the communicator’s body language did not convey a sense of urgency. 

I think that seeing the written words allowed me to focus on the content itself.   My perception when hearing the friendly tone in the voicemail made things seem less urgent and seeing the person’s casual demeanor in person, even less desperate, but I must admit it is hard to put off or ignore someone standing right in front of you.   Everyone feels more accountable to the in person requester simply because they looked you in the eye.   However, email is a form of documentation which in itself should make people feel accountable because it is time and date stamped and a record of exactly what was asked.

While all three communications relayed the true meaning and intent, for me personally in this communication, the email was the clearest.   I didn’t get caught up in the apologetic nature – just when can you send the data and/or can you just send the data?  I think all of them would make me act pretty quickly, but the email was the most insistent to me.    It may be because I deal with email communications so frequently.  Perhaps it has to do with the culture in which I work, (Laureate Video 3) for email is a very common form of communication there and it is the expectation and standard that one respond promptly to an email.

To communicate effectively with members of a project team, I think the project manager needs to be able to individualize and “tailor communications to individual stakeholders” (Laureate Video #2) “Communications are never one size fits all” (Laureate Video #3) Everyone responds differently to different types of communication and depending on the culture, one form may be seen as more appropriate or urgent than another.    Sometimes email is the best course of action, and sometimes it is not.   It depends on the receiver, the message, the culture and even the timing. 


References:

Laureate Education (Producer). (n.d.). Practitioner voices: Strategies for working with stakeholders [Video file]. Retrieved from https://class.waldenu.edu

Laureate Education (Producer). (n.d.). Project management concerns: Communication strategies and organizational culture [Video file]. Retrieved from https://class.waldenu.edu

 

Thursday, March 12, 2015

A lesson learned in project management


An example of a project that could have gone better dates back quite a few years to when I was an elementary school teacher.   Every year at the school where I taught, a congratulatory dinner dance party was thrown for the 8th graders about a week prior to their graduation.  Each year, the coordination of this event was the responsibility of the 7th grade home room teacher (which in 1991 happened to be me) and so I found myself leading a project.   Thankfully with the help from students, teachers and parents, we pulled it off, however, I was too naïve at the time to realize that the team members and stakeholders really carried me through.

Since this dance was an annual tradition, there was already a pre-event planning process in place and I quickly conformed to it.   I got the students involved early on and we incorporated making decorations during art class, and fundraising activities into our general business class.  My students really wanted their kickoff dinner dance to top all years prior so motivating my team members was not an issue.   I did have clear vision and sold them on the theme of “A night on the town “– with a silhouetted NY skyline city scape – black white and silver stars and an elegant glittering disco ball.   They selected an Italian themed menu and we even restored old wine bottles as candle holders.   Things really came together. 

Rallying up the parents was easy.  This was a small Catholic school grades 1-8 much like the one I attended as a student and it was really like a community.   Lots of parents came forward throughout the year and offered to help however they could.  One parent offered her home to make homemade spaghetti sauce two nights in advance of the party and a group of parents and teachers including me got together to prepare an Italian feast so nearly everything could be reheated the night of the dinner in the large utility kitchen at the school.  

So, those were things that went well, but I was (and still am) so much more of a ‘doer’ than an organizer/planner.   The biggest mistake I made as project manager was that I failed to plan the details of the actual event and breakdown the duties for that evening.  I did not outline roles and responsibilities!   The actual dance event ended up being quite chaotic behind the scenes, primarily since I felt that I needed to be personally responsible and involved in every facet.    Confused parents and teachers were standing around asking me what they should do and meanwhile I was running around like a one armed paper hanger. 

At one point a couple parents came up to me and were like, “Mrs. Bellitto! You can’t be doing all of these details, you need to step back and oversee how things are going in general!” You’re in charge!”  I was stunned,   I felt so uncomfortable telling parents what to do!  I was in my early twenties and had no problem leading my students, but felt very awkward directing adults.   So, I very timidly put each parent ‘in charge’ of something.   In hindsight, things would have gone so much smoother, had I mapped out the various duties in advance and delegated specifics to individual parents.  I should have had a work breakdown structure “an organized, detailed, and hierarchical representation of all work to be performed.” (Portney et al 2008)  For example, greeting the DJ upon arrival, assisting him to the area where he should set up, ensuring the sound checked out okay and answering any questions he may have.   Having a checklist with subtasks outlined, would have eliminated a lot of unnecessary frustration and confusion for my team members.  

The other big lesson learned was that we didn’t keep records or track our progress, like how long planning activities took.   Had we kept and saved organized records, it would have made things easier for the next year’s 7th grade teacher.  

References: 

Portny, S. E., Mantel, S. J., Meredith, J. R., Shafer, S. M., Sutton, M. M., & Kramer, B. E. (2008). Project management: Planning, scheduling, and controlling projects. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Welcome to my blog

Hello classmates and colleagues.   A special welcome to all new followers from EDUC 6145 Project Management!   I am looking forward to the next 8 weeks as we take on project management and think about our roles and the various hats we may wear in our careers as instructional design professionals.  I really feel as though I've gotten to know so many of you as we learn together.   I'm doing an informal survey as I am curious how many of us reside in the purple area shown in the graphic below?  And how many do not?   

I came across this graphic and found it belongs to an interesting free, collaborative and expert reviewed site called the Encyclopedia of Earth and thought - what a great example of knowledge sharing, and the site design is quite fabulous. 

 
Regardless, I know it's been a long winter for everyone and the second graphic is representative of
my attitude as of late!  :)
 

It's really coming, the calendar says so! 
 
 
References:
 
Image Location of the D climate types in the Köppen Classification System. (Image Source: Wikimedia) The Encyclopedia of Earth 

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Reflection on Distance Learning


As I reflect back on my learning in this course EDUC 6135 – Distance Learning, I realize that I have hit a turning point in my thinking.  Yes, I have learned how to build a course in a CMS, steeped in theory and inclusive of multi-media presentations some of which I even created myself.   But in working towards this objective, I learned so much more.   I learned that it is a challenge to engage a learner that I may never meet in person.   I realize there are strategies to close the gap of distance and time and that there is an ever growing array of media and learning objects to choose from to engage the learner and create a comfortable online learning environment.  “The design of instruction captures those elements that create a learning environment that facilitates student learning.” (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright & Zvacek 2012.)

I think in 5 years, we will see an evening out or leveling of perceptions of online learning being equivalent to traditional school. Technology in general is changing the way we do everything and “we are recognizing that distance isn’t as significant a factor as it was even five years ago.”  (Laureate Video) I think both advocates and skeptics will play a part in this leveling out.

Advocates for distance learning such as online graduates will be more prominent and holding positions of hiring decision and influence.   In education, business, and government ‘distributed teams’ span across the globe and it is becoming more and more common for us to communicate with diverse groups for many different purposes including learning.  Personnel in the technology and knowledge management arena are in fact advocates for distance learning and distance communications.

Skeptics will be more accepting of the idea of distance learning because they will encounter online communication more often, both informally like seeing video of their grandchildren to more formally like seeing their children attend school online, and knowing others in their circle of coworkers, bosses, or family members who have earned an online degree.    Interacting from a distance will become part of our global culture in the next 10 years.  It will simply be how we do things as a planet.   Higher education will be no exception.   Howell, Williams, Lindsay (2003) reference  Dunn(2000) who projected by 2025 that half of the independent colleges of 2000 would be closed, merged or significantly altered in their mission – with traditional campuses declining yet degree granting institutions growing overall.

As an instructional designer, I can be a proponent to improve the perception of distance learning by making distance learning a quality scholarly experience.  It all begins with ensuring the learner is comfortable with the technology and with the distance learning environment.  From there it goes to following sound instructional design theory and practices to develop the best possible learning experience.   I think I can be a positive force for continuous improvement in the field of distance education, by continuously striving to improve myself and expand my knowledge.  I have come to understand that the sharing of information is what moves each of us forward.      It is difficult for me to speculate what the educational landscape will look like in twenty years 2035; however, lifelong learning has already become a competitive necessity.  I am certain that will continue well past the next two decades.
References:
Howell, Scott L.; Williams, Peter B.; Lindsay, Nathan K. (2003) Thirty-two trends affecting Distance Education:  An Informed Foundation for Strategic Planning Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration Volume VI Number 3 retrieved from http://www.westga.edu/~distance/ojdla/fall63/howell63.html
 
Laureate Education (Producer). (n.d.). The future of distance education [Video file]. Retrieved from https://class.waldenu.edu
Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., Albright, M., & Zvacek, S. (2012). Teaching and learning at a distance: Foundations of distance education (5th ed.) Boston, MA: Pearson.
 

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Best Practice Guide for Moving a F2F Course to a Blended/Hybrid Learning Course

This is week 7 in my 8 week Distance Learning Course.   The home stretch!  This week's application assignment entailed pulling together a best practice guide to use when moving a face to face course into a hybrid/blended learning course.   Portions of the course will still be handled face to face, but other portions will be conducted online.  In this particular scenario, improving communications was an anticipated outcome. There are many things to consider when taking on a task like this.  The attached guide tips are founded in research.  References are at the end of the document. https://drive.google.com/a/waldenu.edu/file/d/0B8xMSYj8CwppWmlvZk92dklMRnc/view?usp=sharing