Tag Archives: project planning

A change in approach to educational technology projects for a bursary winner

Matt Goral
Educational Technologist
City, University of London

Media and Learning 2018 Conference – Leuven

It’s been several months since I attended the Media and Learning conference in Leuven, courtesy of a UCISA bursary. Whilst I was very inspired by the cutting edge projects with 360 video and interactive video, and would love to do something similar, it was the less visible threads that I noticed running through the discussions that had the biggest impact on me and the projects that I’ve been involved with since I came back from the conference.

Pre-production and handover

The importance of pre-production and planning were mentioned by a lot of people during the conference, but in a rather understated way I felt. It was acknowledged as something that we all know is important and should be done, but something which is rarely the focus of presentations. Lots of sharing of successes, sometimes of failures or obstacles, but almost never any detailed discussion of the planning stage, what documentation is important, how to ensure pedagogical effectives at the point of delivery.
I recently completed a large project that resulted in about an hour of footage and took over three months to finish. The direction and scope changed a few times, there were technical problems and decisions which we couldn’t anticipate, illness and holidays meant people were unavailable and dates slipped, etc. Normal project stuff. Without planning we would have struggled a lot of course, and location scouting, shooting cut-aways, sharing of interview questions beforehand was essential. However, it was only when some project members got ill I realised a lot of the editing, design and implementation decisions, were not written down anywhere and made handover impossible. I have made recommendations to our Project Office for such fail-safes to be included during pre-production on critical projects, so that in case of project members being unavailable, someone with similar skills could pick up the project.

Presence and presentation

The other idea I still think about months after the conference is the fact that presentation is a skill and that some people are more “watchable” than others. It seems obvious but has some implications which changed the way I approach video shoots.
The most important consideration is that not every video needs to have the presenter visible if they are not comfortable with appearing on screen. Screencasts, animations, podcasts, etc., are all great options if it is not possible to have the expert appear in person. Furthermore, studio setups with lots of hot lights, hanging microphones and multiple people can intimidate people. The results whilst maybe having perfect light, will be found lacking. Lots of people who ask for video, imagine themselves talking to camera from a teleprompter both of which are hard things to do and require lots of practice, not realising that a much simpler approach could be potentially more effective.
Keeping this in mind, I started to make decisions about how to approach projects by thinking about the subject matter and the skills and personality of the participant first, rather than pushing for best quality every time. It also made me behave differently when filming, where I try to make the person feel as comfortable as possible at the expense of ideal setup. The results have been very positive so far with people being pleasantly surprised by the experience even if they were dreading it to begin with.
Those two ideas have greatly influenced the way I approach projects nowadays. Whilst seeing finished projects and innovative ideas has been inspiring, often it is difficult to implement projects we’ve seen at conferences immediately. There isn’t always someone who would be interested in using 360 video in their module, for example, and pushing for it can lead to the medium not fitting the message and using new tech for the sake of it. For me the most valuable aspect of this conference were the ideas about planning and setup, rather than specific tech. In the future I will be looking out for similar threads.
Thanks again to UCISA for not only making it possible for me to keep developing my practice, but also as a result of attending the event, my conference reflections are being fed into a review of video and multimedia at City.
My blogs from the conference as a whole can be found here.
Interested in finding out more about a UCISA bursary, then visit UCISA Bursary Scheme.

UCISA bursary winner presents at Lean in Higher Education conference

Marion Malcolm
Business Improvement Team Lead
University of Aberdeen

Australasian Lean HE Conference 2017, Macquarie University, NSW, Australia

Marion Malcolm was funded to attend this event as a 2017 UCISA bursary winner

The aim of my presentation, ‘Lean Training to Lean Projects’ (2.56MB) at the Australasian Lean HE Conference was to show why Business Improvement teams need to change their model of working during organisational change to ensure that they continue to deliver good lean practice in a relevant way. The Business Improvement (BI) Team at the University of Aberdeen in its initial stages were involved in a significant number of initiatives across the organisation. However, as the university entered a period of restructuring, it experienced a change in people’s availability and motivation to be involved in non-strategic initiatives.

The presentation summarised how the BI team at University of Aberdeen has used Lean training to train and support project teams on strategic programmes as well as kick-start other business improvement initiatives. As part of the presentation, I highlighted case studies to show the journey from the training to the project development and implementation e.g. Student Recruitment and Admissions (SRAS) have undertaken reviews of their key processes and have made changes:

  • to enhance the enquirer/applicant experience
  • to achieve better integration with other sections in the university (reducing duplication etc.)
  • to consolidate IT systems when various systems were used previously, allowing for much better planning and reporting, amongst other benefits.

Delegates’ feedback was that they found the practical examples in the session helpful and came away with some useful ideas on how to train across their organisations, and how to make Lean stick.

A wide variety of interesting and useful speaker talks from the conference are available here.

I had a key set of conference objectives to meet in attending the conference, and came away with some key learning from the event. I will be blogging further about my intended next steps following what I learnt at the conference.

Interested in finding out more about a UCISA bursary, then visit UCISA Bursary Scheme.

Everything starts with a Project Initiation Document…!

Graham Francis
Director of Continuous Improvement
Havering Sixth Form College

In the first part of this blog , we looked at the reasons why projects fail and the process that we have adopted to try and ensure that this did not happen with our own projects at Havering Sixth Form College. In this blog, we will look at the process that we go through to get a project from an idea to being agreed and adopted by the College Executive.

Often projects will start with a senior member of college management identifying a need such as “we must have a better Asset Management system” or “wouldn’t it be great if we could see our data visually”. Just how these projects would come to fruition was not really considered. In the past, these projects (if adopted) would remain with the originator and would often result in a project, which ultimately exceeded all forms of whatever controls may have been thought to have been put in place in terms of time, cost, resources and staffing, or any possible combination thereof.

In an effort to end this, we have adopted an approach that specifies that no project can proceed before it had been thoroughly researched and a Project Initiation Document had been produced (well that was the theory!).

But what is a Project Initiation Document (or PID for short)? Wikipedia describes its purpose is to capture and record basic information needed to correctly define and plan the project and that it provides “a reference point throughout the project for both the customer and the Project team”. But what does a PID look like? Well, if I’m honest I had no idea and attempts to create one proved frustrating so after much searching of the Internet, which housed many examples, none really suitable to a college environment, I discovered Susanne Madsen’s website and adopted the Blank PID 2016 that she had developed, customising it as necessary.

This document consisted of a number of sections:
• Executive Summary (at the beginning but completed last)
• Project Definition
• Business Case
• Project Planning
• Risks and Issues (an invaluable tool to assist in developing this is the 130 Project Risks (List) created by Anna Mar)
• Project Organisation and Communication
• Project Controls
• Project Acceptance Sign-Off.

By completing each of these sections (in detail), a tightly prescribed understanding of each project is developed. An example of a PID for a recent website redevelopment project that we have undertaken can be found here Website PID.

Whilst considering the purpose of the PID, it was at this point that we started to think quite radically about why previous projects had failed and how we could avoid this in the future. As part of the development of the PID itself, it is necessary to define who the Executive Sponsor is and who is going to manage the project team. This caused us to consider two further questions: ‘How could we get effective Senior Management (Executive) buy-in into the project?’ and ‘How could we ensure that the project meets the needs of the (internal) customer?’.

One requirement of any project managed in this way is to nominate an Executive Sponsor and an Internal Project Team Leader. This again gave us an opportunity for some radical thinking:

• What if (with their agreement) the member of Executive in whose area of responsibility the project would have the most impact, became the Executive Sponsor?
• What if (again with their agreement) we were to make the member of staff who would ultimately be most affected by the changes that the project was envisaged to have, became the Project Team Leader?

We adopted this approach considering that it would ensure Senior Management buy-in whilst also reducing any impact that change would have as the Project Team leader was fully involved with the project itself.

During the process of developing the PID, it is reviewed by a small team of reviewers to ensure clarity and completeness. Once this group have agreed that the PID is complete, then it is passed to the Executive Sponsor for confirmation and signature. Until such time as it is agreed by the executive Sponsor, no work on the project itself is undertaken.

With the PID formally agreed then it is used as the basis for the Terms of Reference (TOR). The TOR for the Website Redevelopment project can be found here Website TOR . This document acts as a synopsis of the project requirements themselves and is given to prospective suppliers along with the Invitation To Tender/Quotation (ITT/ITQ), an example of which is located ITQ Website. The Terms of Reference is written in such a way that it can be used as a basis for evaluating the project when it has been completed/reached its completion date.

In the next blog, I will focus on monitoring the live project and the evaluation process undertaken when it has been completed.