Here’s the good news: the board approved the budget for a new learning management system (LMS). And, the not-so-good news: it looks like LMS project management is now part of your job.
Don’t fret, there is a bright side: you’ll learn highly marketable skills and gain valuable experience as a project manager. But you’ll have to pull off this new role without the years of training and experience that professional project managers have.
You can do it! In the first post of this two-part series, we discussed the project charter and the basics of the project planning process. Now, we’ll take you through the basics of LMS project management from kickoff to close. But don't stop here, you can find an abundance of project management resources online.
The Basics of LMS Project Management from Kickoff to Close
With your project charter in hand, it’s time to get rolling. During the project kickoff meeting, you (the project manager or PM), the project sponsor, and your project team review the following:
• Team roles and responsibilities
• Project objectives: an opportunity for the project sponsor to present the business case for the new technology and put the project in strategic context
• Project timeline and key milestones
• Project scope
• Project approach: how the work will happen
During this meeting, you should also go over ground rules, for example, how decisions will be made and how discussions will be conducted. Take this time to address any issues that could crop up later.
Discuss your plan and expectations for communication. Let the team know about upcoming meetings and your plan for using collaboration tools.
Throughout the project, the PM must keep an eye on the big picture as well as the minutia of detailed tasks. Because it’s easy for people to get overwhelmed by juggling project work with other responsibilities, regularly remind the team of your common purpose. Refer to strategic goals and how this project fits in.
Continual project review
Project plans usually need tweaking. You’ll make discoveries along the way of things you didn’t expect. For this reason, don’t wait until project close to review how things went. Continually assess progress as you go so you can improve collaboration, communication, task management, and project processes.
Continually scan the horizon for risks so you can proactively address them. It takes a certain level of courage to deal with conflict and other scary scenarios head-on—and it’s good practice for future job responsibilities.
Schedule regular team meetings to assess progress, handle issues, and keep people accountable. Distribute agendas and preparatory materials for these meetings ahead of time.
Out of respect for your team’s work schedule, you could try a scrum approach to meetings by using standing huddles. Catch up quickly on where everyone is on their work, and who needs what.
End meetings with action items and an owner for each of those items. The team should know who’s accountable and what direction everyone is going in.
An essential element of the project planning process is creating a communication plan:
• With whom do you need to communicate? Hint: project sponsor, stakeholders, team, and vendor.
• What will you communicate about to each group?
• How often will you communicate?
• What method will you use to communicate?
One of most important roles of the PM is to ensure regular communication so everyone is kept well informed on project status and their responsibilities. Don’t allow anyone to make assumptions. For example, don’t assume John knows he’s expected to get Task A done by next Friday. Remind him that Mary can’t start doing Task B until he finishes Task A.
Be transparent: don’t sugarcoat or withhold information. Frank communication builds trust and helps to prevent issues.
Stay in close contact with your team. Find out if they’re on schedule or if they need help. Listen—that’s a big part of the PM job. They may need to vent about this extra work. Be understanding but firm. You’re all taking on extra work, that’s why appreciation and celebration is so important.
If possible, don’t rely on email for project communication. In full inboxes, important messages can get lost. You might want to try a collaboration platform, like Slack or Teams. Find out what your vendor uses. Many specialized project management tools exist, but it’s best to use something people are already familiar with or can learn quickly. You don’t want to overcomplicate their lives.
Scope change control
Ideally, if something is not within project scope, it’s not happening. However, new requirements can arise, perhaps as a result of a change in strategic direction or new market research. Changes in scope can have an impact on schedule and budget, so you need a documented process to manage any requests for scope change.
Don’t think “this one little change won’t matter” or you may end up with a series of little changes that could ultimately have a big impact on your budget or schedule. How will a request be brought to your attention? How will you track and report request for changes? Who makes the decision on whether the change will be added to the scope?
When assessing a scope change request, let the sponsor and stakeholders know how it could affect the project. Your options are: accept it, put it in the “parking lot” to discuss for a later phase of the project, or reject it.
“Other duties as assigned”
Who hasn’t had “other duties” added to their plate? If this is your first project, you’re bound to miss something during planning and end up having to do it yourself just to get it done, it happens.
Know thyself. The best leaders understand their own biases and tendencies. For example, how will you react to and handle team conflict? You can’t avoid it. You have to address the elephants in the room.
How will you cope if things start to go wrong? For example, imagine a key team member announces they’re leaving the organization, or you discover a missing requirement that requires more time (and money) for developers to deliver. Can you be cool, calm, and collected in these situations? If you’re not sure, can you fake it?
As the leader of the project team, you set the tone. If you’re visibly stressed, your team will become stressed too.
Project close or debriefing
Once your new LMS is launched, it’s tempting to move on from project mode, but don’t, not quite yet. You must take time to review the entire project with your core team (at least) and the vendor team in separate meetings.
These discussions can reveal issues that will help your department and colleagues in other departments manage future projects. Talk about what went well, and what could have gone better or been done differently. Identify best practices to continue. Document lessons learned, especially about collaboration and communication. You’re not doing this only for your department—it’s not likely you’ll need a new LMS for a long long time. You’re doing this for your association, so include IT staff in these meetings and ask them to make these findings available to other departments.
Finally, write a thank-you note to the supervisors of your team members—and “cc” the HR department. Explain the valuable impact made by their help and expertise during the project.
If you follow the advice in this post—and in last week’s LMS project manager post—you’ll know much more than most “accidental” project managers. And, you’ll be able to keep your technology project on schedule, within budget, and on the path to success.