Scope Creep

The one project that I can relate to scope creep would be developing a set of videos for training purposes.  The program began easy enough with identification of the topics to be filmed and assignments made to write the scripts for the scenes.  A proposal was presented with an estimate of the time required to produce the required scripts.  Unfortunately the initial project scope was accepted with little to no analysis and the time line to produce the video was less than one third the time estimates to write the scripts.  To add insult to injuries the topics were in flux and additional topics were added while original topics were deleted.  The time was further reduced and the budget reduced.  Once the original shoot date was cancelled due to another project it was suggested that the scope be reevaluated to produce a higher quality product. the stakeholders response to this suggestion was if you can’t do it right in the amount of time we will get somebody who can. In the end the project was cancelled.

As the manager of this project I would have demanded an initial analysis of the project be codified and the scope formalized in written documents with scope change procedures. Dr. Stolovitch discussed who to handle scope change and the use of a scope change document to reduce the possibility of scope creep. (Laureate Education, n.d.). I would have enforced this procedure to the point of extreme especially with an original short suspense.

I found a video which demonstrates scope creep on a real life project. I hope you enjoy this video as much as I did.

Vidoe by EngPMgt (2011).

EngPMgt, 2011, Scope Creep- Project Management retrieved from http://youtu.be/AHSjpFUKQR4

Laureate Education (Producer). (n.d.). Monitoring projects [Video file]. Retrieved from https://class.waldenu.edu

Advertisements

Project Management Tools I found

The first tool that I found to be useful is SmartSheet at https://app.smartsheet.com. This tool allows a project manager to plan and collaborate in the cloud. Documents may be attached, forms designed to add new task, Gantt charts and colander views are available with alert capability. Collaboration can be performed in workspaces and reports can be shared or kept private. Being cloud based the products can be viewed from tablets and smartphones to increase productivity. Task my subdivided and each sub division assigned to a different individuals. Formulas can assigned to cells and a dashboard tracking mechanism is included. Overall, I think this tool has a lot of potential and can assist a project manager’s tracking of projects.

The second tool is Project Manager Tools at http://www.projectmanager.com/project-management-tools?utm_source=bing&utm_medium=cpc&utm_campaign=Search%20(Main%20Countries)&utm_term=project%20management%20tools. This web based program assist the project with collaboration tools, budget tools and tracking mechanisms. This one stop shop allows a manager to manage time, budgets, and risk management techniques. The team can be included in discussions, calendars, shared contacts, searchable email storage, and shared document storage

The Sender, The Receiver, and the Message

As one evaluates the effectiveness of the different techniques to deliver the same message one must understand that there is three parts to any message,: the sender, the receiver, and the message. The message is a sum of both written, verbal, and non-verbal communication techniques. It is generally assumed that face-to-face communication is the most effective due to the ability to have both the verbal and non-verbal messages and the ability to ask questions to clarify what is not understood. The second most effective of communication is verbal only as the opportunity to clarify still exist as well as tonality, cadence, and inflection of the humane voice. The lest effective method of communication is written text which contains no non-verbal cues, no inflection, no cadence, no tonal cues only punctuation marks and capitalization and special characters to help express emotion. These concepts are instructed during primary leadership development course, Warrior Leader Course today, to every Non-commissioned officer in the United States Army.

Effective communication is an art that one most learn if they are to manage others effectively. Each of the three forms of communication listed above have a role in the communication process and all should be utilized. Effective communication is “clear , concise, and focused”(Laureate Education, n.d.). All communication needs to be documented (Laureate Education, n.d.) and this is one of the primary usages of written communication today. Technology is also elevating a form of written communication to an asynchronous environment with emails and text.

The three modalities demonstrated in “The Art of Effective Communication” demonstrates that the most effective method means of communication might not produce the best results. To me the voicemail was received the best ut might not elicit the desired effect based on the capability of being forgotten or replaced by a project with greater importance. The second best received message in my opinion was the email. In my opinion both the voice message and email was presented in a business friendly and respectful tone. The Face-to-Face message, tone, and cadence was good but the body language invoked a severe negative impression and I would fulfill her request based on professionalism and company pride but no further assistance or explanation would be given.

The voice mail had a very pleasant and understanding tone while still expressing her need for the material. This was an effective message and I would provide the required information at the earliest time possible. I would then call and confirm that she received the information, offer an apology for delaying her report and inquire if I could be of any further assistance. The same actions would result from the email, however the urgency of the requirement for the material is lost if the email is the only communication as I do not live by my computer and I might not check my email regularly if other projects require higher priority.

The body language I refer to in the face-to-face communication begins with the crossed arms in front of the body. This is an indication of defensive attitude but when combined with the raised finger turns into an accusation of incompetence only to be further magnified by the rolling of the eyes. These sub conscious indicators indicates to me that she is highly upset that I did not place her required information above all my other priorities. The head shakes and the facial expression at the end showed frustration. Of course not having a relationship with the person could result in a totally misreading of her non-verbals.

I also first viewed this scenario after having a disagreement with my spouse which could result in the negative impression. In communication you must look at the sender, the receiver, and the message and understand the external aspects can influence all three aspects.

References:

Laureate Education (Producer). (n.d.). Communicating with stakeholders [Video file]. Retrieved from https://class.waldenu.edu

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

Can you do a Post Mortem before the Project is dead?

Do to the nature of work that I do, failure is not an option. For as far back as I can remember all the projects I have been associated with have been conducted to standard and inside the prescribed time frame and under budget. I currently have the fear that a project which I am now working will not accomplish the required task in the prescribed time. I will therefore identify the issues involved but cannot provide many details of the project.

The project has seven main outcomes and is scheduled to be completed in the next eight months. Working on this project leaves one frustrated and confused. The Project Manager has tried multiple techniques to improve communication but is being blocked by the group lead, which insist keeping information in silos and performing task in a waterfall methodology. The group lead consistently fails to provide the information required to schedule the outcomes and deconflict resources. To make matters worse the group lead works for a different company and the Project Manager has little to no ability to enforce procedures or policies. An indicator of the team morale is of the four people originally in the group only two remain, one being the lead.

Phase I is to determine need and feasibility. This portion of the project was conducted by the client and the group lead prior to the Project Manager being assigned. The needs analysis is based on congressional requirements and the desire to produce the highest quality of training possible. The project started with a singular instance as a proof of concept and was then expanded as a new project. I feel that this phase was completed adequately and has not had a negative influence on the project.

Phase II is creating a project plan. This phase is where the project starts showing indications that failure is possible. The first three months of the project was spent with no clear goals and limited information. The expansion occurred prior to the completion of the first project and the group lead is still heavily involved in the initial proof of concept, which dominates their time. This phenomenon will continue until mid December when the proof of concept will officially be complete. After three months the additional seven projects were declared but with minimal information. The group lead could not produce a tentative plan to complete the outcomes in the specified time frame. The Project Manager tried to develop a tentative plan but without the required information from the group lead the plan lacks detail and is not sufficient to ensure resources are being adequately applied. To make the situation worse all work must be approved by the group lead and this causes a funneling effect and is a very inefficient process. Assignment to personnel to task is complex due to the fact that the group lead keeps information in silo, loves email, and dislikes sharepoint and other methods to share information across a team. This is a clear indication that the communication plan is ineffective and as Allen and Hardin (2008) states,” Communication effectively is probably the greatest challenge that people encounter during any project so it is imperative that instructional designers model and establish good techniques and patterns at the onset of a project.” Team members must request help from others members on the team independently as others cannot view each other’s progress as individual task are unknown. Indicators are visible that the project is in trouble and has the potential for less than superior performance.

One item not specifically mentioned but requires discussion is the political environment in the work area. This is critical as the group leader is in a better political light than the Project Manager with the stakeholder. The group leader has over a year worth of interaction with the stakeholder and is currently presenting a peer reviewed paper to professional organizations. The Program Manager is fairly new and has limited input to the stakeholder. This political environment also signals danger to the project’s success. Charles Murphy (1994) describes the characteristics of a Program Manager as “be able to plan, reiterate, organize, delegate, understand, communicate, and evaluate” but in this political environment the Program Manager’s ability to conduct these task are undercut.

Specification for deliverables, or phase III, is independent for each outcome. Each specification has to be developed by the group lead and approved by the stakeholder. At this time several of the outcome specifications have not been identified. This process could be improved if the team develops this specification and submits them for approval thru the group lead to the stakeholder. This action would allow parallel development of outcomes, which is not occurring at this time.

The draft deliverables do not show the level of professionalism expected from my perspective. An example of this is that the initial project is currently on draft version 7. The review process for deliverables is not effective and simple edits are not incorporated and are rejected.

References:

Allen, S., & Hardin, P. C. (2008). Developing instructional technology products using effective project management practicesJournal of Computing in Higher Education, 19(2), 72–97.

Murphy, C. (1994). Utilizing project management techniques in the design of instructional materialsPerformance & Instruction, 33(3), 9–11.

Welcome and here we go again

To all my new friends I invite you to join the new ride for 8 weeks while we explore project management.  I can tell you from experience that this class will be worth its weight in gold if we get stuck in this position on a project.  I am currently assisting a project manager track eight different evaluation projects and one design project and I am surprised he still has any hair left.

As a retired First Sergeant I can tell you management looks easy until you are the one balancing all the balls. I look forward to learning new techniques that I can place in my kit bag to make me a better project manager as we will all perfrom this task in our future.

My two cents!

Distance learning is a tool, proven to be effective in the past and in current times, and will become more effective in the future with the development of new technology and the change in social norms. As we explore distance learning the topic of knowing the learner, their capabilities, their motivations, and their desires was an important part of the discussion, as it should have been.  The learners of tomorrow are an unknown quantity of which we can only guess at their abilities and motivations.

If one applies Moore’s Law, the software systems of today will be ¼ as capable as the systems in five years and 1/32 as capable as a system in 10 years. This is just the technological ability that will be available to both the learner and the instructor.  Will the world be completely encompassed in free high-speed Wi-Fi making distance learning not only convenient but also accessible 24/7/365 regardless of location?  Three-D modeling with avatars will allow social interactions around the world without the student ever leaving their house.  The avatars will be able to reflect the non-verbal cues and it is not beyond the realm of possibility for tactile sensory to be involved as well.

We, as instructional designers, have the task on staying relevant in technology and applying the innovations to both challenge and inform students utilizing the best possible techniques. Could it be possible for traditional brick and mortar schools to decrease in numbers, from pre-k to post secondary, due to the effectiveness of distance learning?  Will a shift in social norms result in more people studying from the safety of their own homes?  Will the cost of transportation increase the demand for distance learning?  Any answers to these questions can only be guessed at because we do not know what the future holds.

As the public educational reputation declines and the reputation of distance learning, such as the Kahn Academy, increases, I foresee growth in the future of distance learning in secondary and below education levels. As we progress into a more global market, I foresee distance learning being a growth industry in the post secondary education market.  The bottom line is that in today’s society the lowest cost method to provide the required services will triumph, even over traditional methods.  The real challenge is not will distance learning increase but how do we control, regulate, and evaluate the information being presented to ensure that invalid and just wrong information is not being presented as fact.  This problem also pertains to traditional education methods and unfortunately, politics determine at times, what is right and what is wrong, as the victor writes the history.

We, as instructional designers, must be guardians of truth when we design training products and must not let the basis of others or ourselves determine the information provided. This is the hardest challenge in the future, as the amount of available information will continue to expand as availability to documents, historical accounts, opinion, and lies increase on the internet, is to determine what should and what should not be included in the block of instructions.

 

Best Practices to Help Avoid the Mines During Development of a Blend Learning Course

Before one transforms a synchronous traditional classroom into a blend learning environments there are several areas of concern, which should be addressed prior to the endeavor. The act of transforming a traditional classroom into a blended learning environment could require substantial investment of resources. Therefore the first required step of transforming the course is to obtain buy-in from your stakeholder or administration. “Blended courses can be employed when the instructor feels that the online activities are more productive learning experience for students,”( Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, Zvacek, 2012). When Dr. George Piskurich was asked about how to determine if your course topic is appropriate for distance learning he states,” You have some ideas of what you need, and how you need it and what needs be done based on talking through the rest of analysis with your subject matter experts, with your stakeholders and varies and sundry people that you will be working with, and you take all of that information to roughly about the job task analysis level, and you put it all together and you look at it for a while… A good instructional designer looks for the blended approaches, and that makes the delivery process, ah, delivery analysis a little bit more difficult but at the same time it makes the actual class a lot more effective,” (Laureate Education, n.d) If your funding source agrees on your methodology and your assessment of more productive learning experience can be achieved then you can proceed.

The next step is to examine your objectives and determine if your objectives can be meet using a blended approach or will your objects require modification. “Some topics may not adapt well to delivery by computer,”(Simonson, et al, 2012). One needs to determine which portion of the objectives are viable distance learning objectives and which objectives must remain synchronous traditional classroom objectives.

Once the distance learning objectives have been identified then the methods of presenting the information must be designed. “Well-designed Internet-based course may be labor-intensive to develop, requiring time and personnel resources not available to many instructors,”(Simonson, et al, 2012). Areas of concern in this aspect is what technology is available, how much time will be required to develop the new courseware, how much will the new course cost, how will you distribute the new courseware, and how will you perform the assessment of if the material presented was effective and retained or not.

So far everything is in the best-case scenario, so the final consideration is how to handle situations when the best case fails to happen. “The support infrastructure, providing training and technical assistance to both students and instructors, is often minimal or nonexistent…Bandwidth limitations make it difficult to present advanced technologies, such as streamed video, multimedia, and memory-intensive graphics, over the Web,”(Simonson, et al, 2012). Bandwidth, software, video, webcast, and podcast all have failure rates, which must be considered and alternate methods for presentation of material must be available when the best case fails to occur. Being blended allows the instructor the flexibility of providing students with DVDs or alternate methods to obtain the material that may not be present during a total distance-learning course.

Education world produced an article titled Blended Learning: How to Do It Right and they present other best practices and resources to assist you on your journey. Topics such as keeping your eye on the target and placing the teacher at the center, and keeping the course easy to use are presented and discussed, (Granata, 2014). Remember that best practices are not universal solution but concepts available to assist you in performing your project and different writers coma at their best practices from different aspects. Are there other considerations which must be considered such as the learner, the instructor, the material, etc., but these are not blended learning specific considerations as all courseware need to be designed with these aspects in mind. The transforming a traditional classroom to distance learning is much more complex than just placing the material onto the web for the students to obtain and must be performed in a deliberate, planned, and methodically executed procedure.

Once the course has been transformed to a blended learning course do not expect the workload to decrease. In the distance learning environment communication is critical. The instructor might discover that some students prefer to communicate in the virtual world while others prefer the terrestrial world. The instructor must convince the students that communication in both worlds are imperative and they need to be able to defend their virtual post in a live debate. The virtual debate allows one to research, assimilate data, and synthetize a response while a live debate requires entirely different skill sets where one must develop a response from the knowledge available in their memory. The compilation of the two methods results in a deeper understanding than any single method alone.

To facilitate this learning the instructor must follow the virtual discussion and guide the learning through thought provoking questions, which highlights the concepts their students need to learn in relation to the course objectives. The instructor role changes from presenter to guide, allowing students to obtain additional information from multiple sources. As the guide the instructor must keep the students on the desired path.

Resources:

Granata, K., 2014, Blended Learning: How to Do It Right, educational world retrieved from http://www.educationworld.com/a_tech/blended-learning-best-practices.shtml

Laureate Education (Producer). (n.d.). Delivery analysis [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.