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Managing large scale projects

March 4th, 2014 by Graham Attwell

I seem to have spent most of the last month in project meetings. Besides the ongoing Learning Layers project, Pontydysgu are partners in a new European Research Framework project, Employ-ID. I will write more on this in another post but in brief Employ-ID is looking to support online professional development, including e-coaching, for workers in European Public Employment Services. As with Learning Layers, Employ-ID is a relatively large scale project, with some twelve or so partners drawn from countries throughout Europe. The project will run over four years.

Pontydysgu have participated in a number of such projects. And it seems to me that despite the hard work of most partners, the problems of project organisation and management are almost insuperable. Its not the lack of communication – far from it. Some days the volume of group emails and the sheer number of online meetings seems overwealming. A big problem is the complexity of the projects. There are huge difficulties in achieving a common understanding of what we are doing, particularly as the projects involve specialists from many different disciplines. Even more problematic is the form of plans the EU insists on. The work programme is outlined in something called a Description of Work or DOW. This tends to be written in EU project speak and can run as long as 150 or so pages. And the work is divided up into work packages, most of which run over the full four years of the project. In truth the division of work is often somewhat arbitrary. But given the number of people working on the projects, the work packages tend to form semi autonomous mini projects themselves with their own methods of working, momentum and practices. Communication between work packages then becomes an issue.

Employ0ID has adopted a different structure. Despite being compelled to have separate work packages for the point of administration, the project is being organised through a sort of SCRUM process. Thus at three or six monthly intervals the project will form work reams, drawn from across the work packages with aims and milestones set out for the next work period. The members will organise sprints to achieve those goals, reporting back to the next face to face meeting where the outcomes will be reviewed and new goals and teams set up. This process seems to me a much better way of working, so much so that I think it deserves some research in itself. Anyway I will report back on this blog how the process evolves.

 

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