Project Scope – A Personal Experience

12 06 2014

When I think about scope creep from a personal experience, I think about my experience working on a group project in my first Instructional design class at Walden.  Even though our group completed the assignment and prevailed in the end.  It was quite the learning experience.  In the beginning, we had a project manager who organized us and together we came up with a communication plan and work breakdown structure. Even though I did not recognize it at the time, we were walking through the different parts of project management!  Somewhere around the third week we lost communication with our project manager and we were lost for a good week or two trying to get back on track.  We also started to complicate the original objectives of the assignment because we had experienced team members with some ID experience under their belt that had the knowledge to complete the project at a more advanced level.  There were those of us like me who lacked ID experience and wanted to absorb the basic process.  “Another common source of change is the natural tendency of the client, as well as project team members, to try to improve the project’s output as the project progresses, a phenomenon known as scope creep” (Portny, Mantel, Meredith, Shafer, Sutton and Kramer, 2008, p. 346).  It seemed without a solid project manager to keep us focused we had some group members lagging behind with their assigned contribution and others who did not stick to the objectives of the assignment.

Our project manager did not show up online until the last week, so we had to regroup in order to meet required deadlines.  Somehow, I always seem to get thrown into a group leader role and this project was no different. Lynch and Roecker (2007) explain that “Scope control involves trying to contain changes to project scope when that is possible and managing changes when they must occur.  When scope changes are unavoidable, the project manager should identify their impact on the project plan and obtain approval from the customer and sponsor” (p. 96).  I immediately drafted an email to the remaining group members summarizing our progress and re-establishing our communication plan.  Next, I asked for help from another group member who was diligent in his communication with me to help clarify the scope of our project and to light a fire under our other group members. According to Portny et. al., 2008), this is called corrective action.  I remember face-to-face group work in my undergraduate years being stressful and frustrating at times.  If you have ever tried online group work, then you can probably share how the stress and frustration level can be intensified.  Our group did managed to work through our schedule/resources lag, leadership change, and project focus by taking the right corrective action to get our project back on track in order to satisfy the project’s objectives and deadline.  Overall, I was pleased with final project we turned in to our instructor.

References

Lynch, M. M., & Roecker, J. (2007). Project managing e-learning: A handbook for successful design, delivery, and management. London: Routledge.

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.

 

 

 





Exploring Free Project Management Software

6 06 2014

Project management software can definitely make organizing and collaboration much easier.  I always tell my financial literacy workshop participants that “Google” is the best friend who I can ask a question of at any time and receive feedback! Well, I asked “Google” about free project management software I could explore and use to help me organize and finish creating my class project.  I am sure there are others, but I came across two I wanted to mention here: Tom’s Planner and SmartSheet are two websites I explored.

Tom’s Planner -http://www.tomsplanner.com/software/project-planning/productinfo.aspx – You can try it free with a personal account, but the features are limited.  Reasonable plans of $9.00 and $19.00 are offered beyond the personal account.  Tom’s planner is good for those like myself new to creating Gantt charts due to its quick drag and drop set up .  Project templates are available and provide some ideas as a starting point.  It is a web based project management tool. 

SmartSheet – http://www.smartsheet.com/ – offers a 30 day trial period.  Smart Sheet has pre templates, collaboration tools, and the capability for mobile use and file sharing to complete the project management cycle. The drag and drop feature is also found in Smart sheet..  When you create an account, you will receive periodic email tips to help you enhance your experience.  Smart sheet is definitely worth trying and has a variety of features If you desire to sign up after 30 days, then the price range is from $13 – $39 a hour.

If you have ease with Excel spreadsheets you could be up and running with both websites in about 30 minutes.





Creating a Project Communication Blueprint

23 05 2014

Effective communication has been on my radar all week due to some project communication issues I am dealing with at work!  When it came to completing this week’s assignment in my project management class, I fully understood how communication in various forms can and will affect the success of a project and even so much of what you try to accomplish in your own personal life.  Portny, Mantel, Meredith, Shafer, Sutton and Kramer (2008) explain:

The key to successful project management is effective communication ̶ sharing the right message with the right people in a timely manner.  Through communication people exchange and share information with one another, and influence one’s another’s attitudes, behaviors, and understandings. (p.357)

Throughout much of our lives, we have received various messages regarding the importance of effective communication, but yet there are times we all fall short of practicing it!  I am currently going through a management situation where control and communication are at the center.  I feel as if I am forced to adapt to a particular manager’s communication style, and yet, they are not making enough effort to adapt to my communication needs.  Whatever happened to compromise and collaboration? 

As I evaluated this week’s class exercise, I could definitely relate. In the exercise, we had to review a message sent to the receiver using three different mediums (email, voicemail, and face-to-face) and report the different interpretations.  The sender of the email requested the ETA of a missing report because it was delaying them from finishing up their report in order to meet a deadline.  When I read the email, my initial thoughts centered on the urgency and possible annoyance reflected through the written communication.  I know email is a huge part of our daily workday and communication channels, but I have some issues with the way email can sometimes come across as either too vague or too abrupt.   Another problem I see with email in my daily communications at work is the back and forth that can occur with emails.  Sometimes one simple question or request can take up to ten emails to arrive at the original point or solution.  In all of the back and forth, you will often see the interpretation of the message change.   The voicemail of this same message sounded professional and less urgent.  I actually related to this message a lot better.  The face-to-face message also sounded professional.  However, the facial expressions stood out to me.  While the message still had a sense of urgency, the speaker conveyed patience and professionalism through verbal expressions and body language.  “Nonverbal means of communication, such as gestures and facial expression, establish a closer connection with the audience, and enhance the message being communicated” (Kondrat, 2009).

Project management is governed by effective communication.  It pays to take the time to establish a good communication plan to undergird the project at hand.  Whether the communication is formal or informal, it is vital to make sure the right communication medium is appropriate. More important is to take a few minutes to evaluate how it will be perceived by the team members involved.  Communication can definitely make or break the success of a project.  It is important that each team member take some accountability for their communication contributions.  It is well worth the time and effort upfront to establish a communication blueprint to be used throughout the project life cycle. 

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.

Kondrat, A (2009, February 15). Developing effective communication skills. [Blog Message]. Retrieved from https://suite.io/alla-kondrat/1esx22h

 





Going Paperless – Post Mortem Analysis

16 05 2014

This week in our project management class we looked at identifying key stakeholders who can influence the outcome of your project.  One project I recalled to mind happened during my 26 year career in the property and casualty field.  Our company entered the 21st century and decided to go paperless with a system called ImageRight.  This system would eliminate the hundreds of file one could see lying on everyone’s desk as they walked around the office. Of course, this change meant learning a new system and also learning new workflow processes.  It was a huge project, but a rewarding project because in the end the company saved office space and increased productivity.  Our North Carolina branch president chose me and another manager to travel to the Alabama corporate office to spend about two weeks learning the system.  We were officially chosen as the project leaders for our office.  Back then I had no clue I was acting in the role of a project co-manager.  It was a jammed pack two weeks of learning the system and also meeting with other team members to discuss how to rollout the system to others in the company.  Once my co-worker and I finished up our training, the difficult task before us was to go head back to our office and come up a plan to train the whole office.

One of the things me and my co-worker did as we rode for hours in the car was to use our time strategizing!  Back then I hated highway driving and barely did any, so my co-worker did not mind doing the driving there and back.  I was really grateful to her and she was grateful to me for being the highly organized person and note taker.  We had formulated a plan to hold a kickoff meeting with each manager to put together our project team and to get their buy-in for our training plan.   We also knew in this meeting that managers would quickly select key personnel from their area who they knew they could rely upon to follow through and make the project a success.  Successful projects more than likely result from a project team where team members have established working relationships among themselves.  Portney, Mantel, Meredith, Shafer, Sutton, and Kramer (2008) explain:

Projects assigned to a group are performed by combinations of the people employed within a specific unit or division.  Therefore, over time, team members become familiar with each person’s skills, knowledge, and operating style.  Managers come to know which people they can count on to honor their promises and commitments. (p. 61)

I believe our planning on the way back from Alabama paid off, and the kickoff meeting was a great start to the project.  In our kickoff meeting, we were able to identify key stakeholders for each stage of the project and team members from each department who would participate in the initial training phase.  We also established how we would control the project in regards to reporting problems and resolving conflicts.  “All project assignments are made or approved by the director of a specialty area.  Therefore, choices for how to resolve conflicting demands can be made by one person” (Portney et. al., 2008, p. 61).  

One of the biggest hurdles and frustrations I recall was pulling team members away from their daily work schedules to do the initial training.  We did not realize how much overtime was going to come into play as the project progressed This was definitely the part of the project that we underestimated.  We eventually had to bring in temporary employees to fill in the gaps as this was not a short project!  We had hundreds of files to convert to our new system. We should have built assumptions into our project plan early on to accommodate for overtime and additional resources.  Progress tracking became critical to the project in order to be good stewards over our resources.  Josler and Burger (2005) write:

The second main area of project management methodology that can add value to human resource management is progress tracking. This can be done with various levels of formality, involving weekly team updates, reports to stakeholders, baseline and variance reports, and earned value analyses. A seasoned project manager will possess the various tools necessary to promote efficient reporting. Progress tracking enables the project manager to report to stakeholders on the status of risks and also keeps the team and other affected parties aware of progress. (p. 28)

Overall, the training process and conversion took us about 2 years to complete.  Our team had to draft training manuals, create workflow diagrams, prepare files to be scanned, and still keep up with our daily work of servicing customers.  We definitely had to plan, schedule, and control to get through the project even though at the time we did not know we were carrying out stages of project management.

References

Josler, C. & Burger, J. (2005). Project management methodology in human resource management. Cupa.Hr Journal, 56(2), 25-30.

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.

 

 





Distance Learning: Where do we go from here?

2 03 2014

When I named my blog “The New School Adult,” I was literally reflecting on my own challenges and experiences as an adult learner who decided to return back to school late in life.  I remember my first walk on campus and my first college course like it was just yesterday, even though it was August of 2005.  I stepped into a whole new world of education that had evolved since I graduated high school back in the 1980s.  Not only had the learning environment changed, but the world of technology as I knew it had changed.  I was overwhelmed to say the least!

If you can imagine how I felt in the physical environment, then try imagining how I felt when I first tried online learning.  Like many learners, I had my own perceptions regarding online learning.  I questioned its validity in terms of quality education and how it would measure up to the experience I had in the campus classroom. Moller, Foshay, & Huett (2008) argues that “However, models of classroom instructional delivery and models of online delivery systems are vastly different; they should not be seen as one and the same.  Taking what one is familiar with and/or using what works in one environment and simply duplicating it in a new environment can lead to limited positive results” (p. 67).  I soon realized that the learning community in my undergraduate experience was going to have a different format and feel in the distance learning environment.  I believe one of the biggest perceptions of online learning is who has control of the learning environment once it is let out of the confines of the classroom.  Will this perception improve or worsen as technology continues to evolve?

I am now at the completion of my 7th course for distance learning, and I have come to realize and accept that my online learning community may have shifted in terms of dynamics, but it is still a valid learning community that involves interaction and feedback just like a physical classroom learning community.  The difference in online learning is the heavy use of technology to create a convenient learning solution for those who wish to learn new skills while pursuing careers, taking care of their families and fulfilling community roles.  This technology use requires that the learning community takes a shift.  ONeil (2009) explains:

When integrating student experiences with technology, the role of the teacher changes.  The teacher no longer has to be in charge, but can give some of the control over to the students and the technology.  The task for the teacher is to arrange the learning environment in such a way as to provide situations in which students use their own knowledge to construct meaning of a particular problem.  A learning environment is created in which students are active participants in the learning process. (p. 5)

What helped me to see the online learning community as a valid one is seeing how learning communities even exist in social media.  As people share text, images, and videos, they are learning about each other’s attitudes, opinions, and life experiences.  The atmosphere in a social media community may be more informal and relaxed than the academic setting, but it still mimics a distance learning community. As social media and technology continues to evolve, our understanding of learning communities will grow and improve our knowledge of online learning.

As an instructional design student, I see the future of online learning evolving and becoming more respected as rich research is developed regarding learning communities/learning styles and their development in an online setting.  Our society craves innovative products and ideas to enhance the quality of their daily lives and the educational arena is one of those areas.  Dede (2005) points out:

Increasingly, people want educational products and services tailored to their individual needs rather than one-size-fits all courses of fixed length, content, and pedagogy.  Whether this individualization of educational products is effective depends both on the insight with which learners access their needs and desires and on the degree to which institutions provide quality customized services rather than Frankenstein-like mixtures of learning modules. (p. 8)

Understanding how students interact and learn according to different learning styles and environments will require the instructional design student to study multiple theories and not be afraid to create those innovative products using a mix of theories and technology.

The distance learning course I just completed with a very passionate and knowledgeable instructor has challenged me as an instructional design student not to just accept the status quo.  My instructor and learning community has challenged me to do my research and to put theory into practice, as well as to access my own knowledge and experiences to create high quality e-learning products that will meet the demands of a changing educational arena.  Mayer (2008) explains:

Finally, in the two-way approach, there is a reciprocal relation between learning theory and educational practice in which the science of learning must be expanded to be able to explain how learning works in authentic learning situations, and the science of instruction must be expanded to consider the conditions for each instructional principle based on an understanding of how the human mind works. (p. 760)

I believe the beauty of the emerging instructional design process is the understanding how multiple disciplines and theories can work together to create an educational experience that promotes change and has lasting impact.

References

 Dede, C. (2005). Planning for neomillennial learning styles. Educause Quarterly, 28(2), 7-12

Mayer, R. E. (2008). Applying the science of learning: Evidence-based principles for the design of multimedia instruction. American Psychologist, 63(8), 760-767.

Moller, L., Foshay, W., & Huett, J. (2008). The evolution of distance education: Implications for instructional design on the potential of the web (part 2: higher education). TechTrends, 52(3), 66–70

Oneil, T.D. (2009). How distance education has changed teaching and the role of the instructor. Information Systems Education Journal, 7(48), 1-11





Best Practices in a Blended Learning Environment

24 02 2014

This week in my instructional design graduate class we were asked to prepare a best practices guide for a trainer who is considering changing the format of their classroom training environment to a blended format because due to dissatisfaction with the quality of communication among his trainees.  We were asked to consider the following questions in the formation of the guide:

What are some of the pre-planning strategies the trainer needs to consider before converting his program?

  • What aspects of his original training program could be enhanced in the distance learning format?
  • How will his role, as trainer, change in a distance learning environment?
  • What steps should the trainer take to encourage the trainees to communicate online?

Please click on the following PDF to view the best practices guide: WK7AssgnBrooksPooleC





Free Education on Your Own Time

9 02 2014

As a productive community member of today’s society, you can probably share a great summary of how the world of technology has individually evolved for you and changed the means of how you communicate and learn on a daily basis.  Technology accessibility has changed the face of our educational system, and the learner is no longer confined to the traditional classroom to learn the tools needed to be a contributing society member.  Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, & Zvacek (2012) explain:

In the last few years, distance education has become a major topic in education.  In a recent year, over 60 conferences dealt with some aspect of distance education, and almost every professional organization’s publications and conferences have shown a huge increase in the number of presentations and articles related to distance education.  Many educators are making grand claims about how distance education is likely to change education and training. Certainly, the concept is exciting, and recent hardware and software innovations are making telecommunications distance education systems more available, easier to use, and less costly.  Distance education has begun to enter the mainstream. (p. 4)

The exciting news about distance learning and education is you do not have to be officially enrolled as a student to experience distance learning! According to OCW Consortium, “Open Education incorporates free and open learning communities, educational networks, teaching and learning materials, open textbooks, open data, open scholarship, and on and on. Open Education gives people access to knowledge, provides platforms for sharing, enables innovation, and connects communities of learners and educators around the world” (www.ocwconsortium).  Open courses afford you the opportunity to experience what other enrolled college students are learning for free!

This week in our graduate Distance Education course we had a chance to review an individual open course to see how it fit into the parameters of the distance learning environment.  I chose to examine an open Yale course entitled Phil 181: Philosophy and the Science of Human Nature. First and foremost, the technology component of distance education is critical, but there are other important factors making up a distance learning environment.  Simonson et al., 2012) states:

As important as is the appropriate selection and use of technologies of instruction and communication, technologies are not critical elements in shaping students’ satisfaction with their distance course.  Rather, satisfaction is determined by ‘the
attention they receive from the teachers and from the system they work in to meet their needs.’ Those needs, ‘what all distant learners want, and deserve’ include:

  • Content that they feel is relevant to their needs
  • Clear directions for what they should do at every stage of the course
  • As much control of the pace as learning as possible
  • A means of drawing attention to individual concerns
  • A way of testing their progress and getting feedback from their instruction
  • Materials that are useful, active, and interesting. (p. 176)

When you open the course, you see clearly identified links directing the learner to the syllabus, course sessions, survey, and where to buy books.  The layout of each of the 26 learning sessions is one I found simple to navigate.  Each session has an overview, listed assignments, a reading guide, reference guide, a lecture video (divided by chapters), and different formats of course media.  The course revolves around the three central themes of Happiness and Flourishing, Morality and Justice and Political Legitimacy and Soul Structures.  The sessions flow according to the intent of the course objectives.

In exploring the above criteria by Simonson et al., (2012,) the open course does have related content the learner of philosophy will find relevant to their needs.  I would have liked to see the session layout include a section on the learner’s next steps and how to proceed through the sessions.  The video format and reading guide does offer the learner control over pacing their learning.  They can start and stop at their own pace.  Although the course offers the learner a chance to complete a survey, I would have loved to see some type of chat software or discussion where the student has the option of reaching out to other learners taking the open course or even to ask the faculty to offer some additional feedback to explain a concept. The materials for the course are offered in HTML, MP3, and video formats, which offers the learner different technology formats.  The exciting part for me was the video lectures! Even though I was not a physical part of the classroom, the video lecture drew me in and connected me to the learning experience versus moving through a module that required a bunch of reading.  Dede (2005) argues:

Increasingly, people want educational products and services tailored to their individual needs rather than one-size-fits-all courses of fixed length, content, and pedagogy. Whether this individualization of educational products is effective depends both on the insight with which learners assess their needs and desires and on the degree to which institutions provide quality customized services rather than Frankenstein-like mixtures of learning modules. (p.8)

In my review of the open Yale course, I found overall that the distance format does embody most of the above elements of a distance course I outlined by Simonson et al., (2012) and will offer the distance learner an average to above average experience with the distance learning environment.

References

Dede, C. (2005). Planning for neomillennial learning styles. Educause Quarterly 28(1). 7-12

Gendler, T. S. (2011). Phil 181: Philosophy and the science of human nature. Retrieved from Open Yale Courses website: http://oyc.yale.edu/philosophy/phil-181#overview

Open Courseware Consortium (2014). What is open education? Retrieved from http://www.ocwconsortium.org/about-ocw/

Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., Albright, M., & Zvacek, S. (2012). Teaching and learning at a distance: Foundations of distance education (5th ed.) Boston, MA: Pearson