Tag Archives: workshops

Thoughts on "Cheat’s Guide to Project Management"

Sally Pewhairangi’s workshop “Cheat’s Guide to Project Management” covered the planning stages of managing a project in a way that made it clear why the planning is so vital.

We started by discussing reasons projects fail — one of those brainstorming sessions everyone always has plenty of material for and which can get downheartening. But Sally concluded this section by saying that while we can’t always make these problems disappear, we can manage them; and looking back at my notes now I can see that the vast majority of the problems we talked about would be much alleviated by the process the rest of the session modelled.

This, much abbreviated and paraphrased, was:

  1. Find out/figure out how the project fits into the institution’s goals. A project to merge serials into the main collection will go differently if the aim is to free up space or to aid findability. If push comes to shove, which consideration will win?
  2. Define the heck out the project. Make sure everyone’s on the same page about exactly what is to be achieved, by when, and with what resources. What’s included/excluded? Get it in writing and signed off by everyone to prevent confusion, co-option, mission creep, the sudden discovery that you have no budget, etc.
  3. Break the project down into tasks and subtasks so you know everything that has to be done and don’t get surprised.
  4. Work out who’s doing which subtasks by which dates.

For someone like me who just wants to achieve something, this often seems like a nuisance, and during the session my group was constantly having to rein ourselves back from rushing ahead to the what when we hadn’t sorted out the why. But when we did plan it all, it became much easier to come up with a much more innovative and relevant approach to solving the problem.

One of the other fascinating things came during the “silent brainstorm” section that is, everyone scribbling out all the tasks they could think of in silence. No talking meant no-one dominating or being shy, and no derailing into knocking ideas prematurely. And this really brought out the different strengths of different team members – when we categorised the tasks as a team we could see one person focusing more on communicating with stakeholders, one person on technical aspects of the project. Come to think about it, this could be a good way of deciding who should be responsible for managing what.

In short, a fantastic workshop which has given me a whole new perspective on planning and, more practically, the tools to do it systematically.

Plus, the template we worked through was so useful in breaking things down, guiding us through, and giving a real sense of accomplishment at the end, that I’m now pondering how something similar might work in an infolit class: guiding students through thinking about what information they need and where to find it. I’m thinking something like:

Plan your search

1. What’s your topic?

2. What kind of information do you need?

Well-tested research <-----------------------------------------------------------> Cutting-edge knowledge
Summarised information <------------------------------------------------------------> Detailed information
Layman’s level <---------------------------------------------------------------------------> Research level
Other:

3. Who would have written about it? When? Where would they have published?

Kinds of people
Date-range published
Kind of publication

4. What words would they have used to talk about it?

Keywords
Synonyms – any other words that mean the same

5. What sources would hold the publications from #3? What search features are available?

Database or other source
Available search features

and then some stuff on analysing results, facets, pearl-growing, etc. (I may abbreviate the above to try and fit the whole thing to a single A4 sheet for a one-hour class; or may leave it at two sides for the class I get two hours with.) I won’t have a chance to test this out probably until next year so would be happy to hear any ideas in the meantime!

Facilitating the unplannable

(aka, my view of how my “Getting People Onside” workshop at LIANZA09 went. I’ve written before about planning and about rehearsing this workshop.)

Ingredients:

  • A set of slides to structure my intro/warm-up
  • a bunch of topics on A3 paper for people to cluster around and discuss
  • an egg-timer to keep track of time with
  • a bell to ring to prompt people to move between topics every ten minutes
  • a box to collect email addresses in for those who wanted to join a mailing list to continue the conversation after conference

The conference organisers arranged for the room to be rearranged beforehand from “theatre-style” to “cabaret-style”, which terminology provided a certain amount of mirth to my colleagues in the days leading up to conference. We ended up with nine tables, each furnished with chairs, mints, and writing pads. I estimate about 60 people turned up, which was a great number.

I started off by introducing where I was coming from with this topic – basically that conference tends to give you all kinds of great ideas, except that you can have all the good ideas in the world, but if you’re not prepared and able to deal with the various obstacles/resistance to change then they may well sink without a trace; so this was a time to think positively and brainstorm about how to be prepared.

We did some warm-ups next. First, the “Mexican Wave” – because we didn’t have time to introduce 60+ people, I got people to just call out their first name as my arm swept around the room, and then we repeated that with a couple of other simple questions. It didn’t go as fast as I’d intended: partly because the shape of the room made it unclear where my finger was pointing, partly because we all fell into turn-taking mode instead of the babbling whoosh I’d envisioned, and I wasn’t confident enough to really get more energy in there. But it still worked and I think achieved its purpose; certainly when we moved on to brainstorming how to respond to the “50 Reasons Not to Change”, everyone was quite happy to participate.

And then we split into 10-minute groups. Well, actually 9 minutes for each one, because I had a close eye on my timer. 🙂 I kept the ‘ground rules’ up on the slides during these, following a suggestion from the rehearsal. I sort of hovered and spent a few minutes at each table, occasionally sticking my oar in but mostly just listening, and it was all very cool. Some of the keywords I’d come up with as conversation starters were interpreted differently by the participants than how I’d intended them, but that didn’t matter in the slightest of course. During the last 10 9 minutes I passed around my box for email addresses.

Finally we spent five minutes getting someone at each table to report back a highlight or two; and then some kind soul helped me gather all the notes people made while brainstorming, which I’ve now duly transcribed.

I was really happy with how it went, which of course is all down to everyone’s participation – it was exactly what I’d hoped for when I proposed the session.

Rehearsing the unplannable

After my post about planning the LIANZA 2009 un-workshop I’ll be facilitating, I met with Erin Kimber, who’s going to be chairing the session, and we talked and brainstormed some more. She gave me some really great ideas including one that will probably be obvious to people who’ve actually been to unconferences: that, instead of dividing the time up among the topics, I should divide up the space so there can be three simultaneous conversations going on.

So this afternoon I ran a practice session at my workplace and that’s how we did it. We got just enough people (about a dozen) to make this viable. I started off by going over the ‘groundrules’ and explaining where I was coming from and what we were going to do, except I babbled a bit so that wasn’t entirely clear. Lesson learned: I need to write a script. Word-for-word scripts aren’t for everyone – they can make you sound like a robot sometimes – but I know how to write in speaking-language, and can memorise sufficiently well, and the alternative for me is to babble for twice the time with half the sense.

We did introductions, but even with only 12 people it took too long. So far apparently 86 people have registered interest in the session itself (I deliberately didn’t put an upper limit on numbers. 86, or 100, or whoever turns up, sounds like , but if 86 people are interested then it’d suck to turn away 56 of them. Besides, I think the format really is that flexible) so I’ll go with a kind of “Mexican Wave” of first names, as a warm-up, instead — which gives me the opportunity to add on a few more Mexican Waves of increasingly challenging questions.

The “50 Reasons” exercise worked okay but probably won’t scale up without me providing more guidance – I’m thinking of a variation on Mitch Ditkoff’s suggestion, of answering each excuse with a question: in this case eg “I don’t have the authority” -> “Who does have the authority?”

We divided into three topics, with a spare table in case of break-out topics. With only 12 people, one of the groups dissolved about halfway through; with 86, we’ll probably need 10+ topics to start with.

It wasn’t always easy to follow the “keep it positive” rule, so I’ll focus on that more in the warm-ups. Also in the real thing I’ll be wandering around instead of being a part of any group, so I can intercede and help encourage turning problems into questions.

Other than the one group dissolving and splitting among the other two, there wasn’t any movement between topics. This isn’t deadly because there’s only a short time anyway and people might well want to stick with a single topic — also it might partly have been because the groups were so small — but someone suggested it’d be good to remind people of the opportunity by blowing a whistle (or, less martially, ringing a bell) every ten minutes.

I ended by passing around a sign-up sheet for the mailing list (again, with 86 people, this will be too time-consuming — I’ll go instead with a box for people to put in their email addresses if interested) and then a very brief wrap-up. People suggested it’d be good to have a takeaway, eg come back to the larger group at the end with a bullet-point list of tips – they also pointed out that having “Come up with some bullet-point tips” as a goal would help keep conversation on track. So I’ll do this in the conference session too.

So that’s where I am at the moment. Having that kind of dress rehearsal was 1000% value for money, and has got me even more excited about the conference session itself in two weeks.

How to give a successful workshop: lessons learnt from a dream

I don’t dream about work every night. Just the nights I actually get enough sleep to hit the appropriate REM cycle. But when I do, why not share the lessons learnt? I take no responsibility for workshops based on this advice…

  1. Know how many people will be taking the workshop.
  2. Limit the number to something you can handle.
  3. Make sure there are enough workstations for everyone to work at.
  4. If people continually arriving will disrupt the workshop, close the door soon after starting.
  5. If people continually leaving will disrupt the workshop, chain participants to their desks soon after starting.
  6. Prepare a realistic lesson plan with built-in leeway.
  7. Check all equipment, internet connections, URLs, logins, etc, beforehand.
  8. Have a list of all necessary URLs, logins, etc. In multiple handy places.
  9. If workshop participants need URLs, logins, etc, email them in advance. And have handouts ready as well.

If all else fails — as it clearly had in my dream — be prepared to be flexible:

  1. If you originally planned to run an interactive workshop and find that due to hundreds of people turning up this is impractical, just deliver a lecture instead.
  2. If you originally planned to cover two topics and are halfway through your time having barely started on the first, just shrug off the second one.
  3. If you originally planned to show examples but can’t remember your log-in / can’t find the URL / can’t get the wireless connection working, just move on to something else.
  4. If despite utter confusion and chaos you’ve managed to muddle through to the end and attendees inexplicably begin applauding, accept their thanks gracefully. It isn’t often one has an anxiety dream without the anxiety.