Many SEKE modules will be based around the concept of a project. There is a start and an end, and resources will be limited. Each project is unique in some way, even if you are one of several students or teams working with the same client.
There are many well established project management approaches, and we will set out the main features of each. You can adopt any of these approaches, and in some cases, create a blend of differing approaches.
A stage by stage or “waterfall” approach
The word waterfall is often used as one of the key tools, a Gantt chart (see image below) looks like a waterfall, with tasks flowing down the page, time going across the right, and lots of arrows showing links between tasks.
This approach is where a project is broken down into a number of different stages or phases. Generally each stage follows the previous one, although there can be some overlap.
This is good for standard, well-known projects, where it is relatively simple to know in advance how much effort and time each stage takes. But even if the project type and content is familiar to the client, you as students may not be able to easily estimate how long tasks will take. You might not know in advance that after Stage A, we will be going to Stage B - it might depend on how Stage A turns out, and if the project needs a change in direction.
An agile or SCRUM approach
These terms are often used interchangeably, but specialists in these two areas usually see these are quite separate.
The agile approach
As its name implies, is where instead of going for a fully planned fixed plan, with a large deliverable at the end, a more nimble and agile style is adopted. This means changing the plan based on the situation, and seeing what works. The Agile Manifesto originated from the need to find a way to manage large software development projects, where typically projects often went over budget and got delayed - but Agile is now used across all industries.
SCRUM is a word borrowed from rugby. If you wanted to “plan” how to win a rugby game, you cannot have a series of timed blocks of activity to achieve the aim. There is interaction with the other team, things happen, play gets stopped, and the scene gets reset every time there is a SCRUM.
SCRUM is about tackling the project bit by bit, with frequent reviews, and maintaining “to do lists”. It is about dealing with the priorities week by week, or day by day, and delivering a series of smaller deliverables to the client. Many organisations use the full discipline of SCRUM, with terms such as a SCRUM Master used
In SEKE projects, we can easily use all 3 methods, and agile and scrum often can be combined.
SCRUM works well for student teams, as it emphasises the whole team focusing on getting a task done, rather than say a team of 4 being split into 4 separate tasks, where an individual student may struggle. Working in pairs results in higher quality work and is a good compromise of the whole team working on a task vs individuals. It can be tempting to allocate different tasks to different students, but then time and quality can slip. Teams will usually be more efficient if all the team works on a task, or a small number of tasks at once. This means everyone is informed, and brings to bear different viewpoints to the task at hand.
Holding short, daily meetings (say 15 mins) where the team members share progress since yesterday, and what they expect to do today is often helpful.
You can easily combine some of the approaches above, and this is well suited to many SEKE projects.
Examples of the different approaches in action are:
- In a business consultancy project, where the student team is researching and recommending ways to improve the client’s marketing. You need the discipline of the stage by stage approach to break the project down, but you also are likely to be coming across new information that you couldn't have predicted, or found that some stakeholders are not available for an interview, or new tasks may arise at short notice - so you have to adopt an agile or scrum mindset. A template for an undergraduate business consultancy project is here
- In an architectural project involving analysis of requirements, site assessment, creation of concept designs, creation of scale models, these can be broken down into distinct tasks. Your tutor will have a good feel for how long each task takes, and so a more waterfall–like approach is needed. Clients might change their minds, but it is unlikely to rapidly change, and there probably will not be high levels of uncertainty.
- In a project delivering a series of theatre workshops to a school, the approach might be simple in that the way workshops are designed and delivered follows well established steps. A waterfall approach is probably best, but clearly, the students need to respond to changes as they occur.
There are various different approaches to managing a project. Whichever approach you take, the steps we have provided above are a sound starting point for getting started with a project.
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