Sunday, February 14, 2016

Analyzing Scope Creep

According to Project Management by Portny, Mantel, Meredith, Shafer, and Sutton, “scope creep” 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” (350). Scope creep may happen when the client or team members want to include something that was not originally planned as part of the project, or if the timeline or team changes in unexpected ways. Project managers must keep in mind that scope creep is a potential part of any project and should plan ahead for contingencies in order to mitigate the effect on the project as much as possible.

While we may think of scope creep as a problem directly related to the professional realm, we can see this problem in our personal lives as well. When it fell to me to organize my first baby shower for a friend, I assumed that nothing much could go wrong. You send out invitations, people respond, you come up with a game or two to play, and the mom-to-be gets a few nice gifts. Simple, right? Apparently not, if you are a perfectionist (me), planning a shower for a forgetful friend, hosted at the home of an easily stressed procrastinator. While (spoiler alert!) the shower actually went quite well, I definitely did not plan for contingencies, and last-minute additions to the agenda caused more stress than such an occasion warranted.

As the planner and a dear friend of the mom-to-be, I did not want to be generic in the invitations, games, or food. I determined that the invitations would be handmade from fancy scrapbook paper, games would consist of fun trivia and worthwhile prizes, and the food would rival that of any tea parlor. (Should I mention again that I can tend to be a perfectionist?) Perhaps each of those goals would have been feasible if I had allowed enough time or delegated tasks to other attendees. Instead, one thing led to another: The lovely invitations were nearly sidelined by nothing but my own procrastination, but the true problem arose when the hostess needed to change the time of the event…after each of the handmade invitations had been completed. This change was managed by forcefully ignoring said inner perfectionist as each invitation was corrected with pen and ink, not to mention being thankful that the change had occurred before the invitations were actually mailed. The food might have gone off without a hitch if the mom-to-be hadn’t requested at a very late date that we avoid foods with nuts. As this was not something that had been made clear up front, some scrambling and rearranging needed to occur in the plans. Additionally, due to a lack of proper planning or budget estimation, prizes and favors cost more than anticipated.

All of these things were unforeseen but affected the planning of the party in important ways. Now that I know about the effects of not planning for contingencies and the possibility of scope creep, I believe that I am better able to handle projects such as this as well as professional projects in my career.


Reference:

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.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Communicating Effectively


In the multimedia program, “The Art of Effective Communication,” a message is conveyed in three different ways: email, voicemail, and face to face. My impression of the message after viewing each mode of delivery is as follows:
Email: Well, it looks like Jane really needs an ETA on the missing report, and I’d better get it over to her fast because she is also on a deadline. She sounds like should could be a bit upset about having to wait for it…but is she? Or is she just kindly stressing the urgency? I’d better get it to her before I figure out her general mood the hard way. I do wonder why she sent an email if it was this important. What if it got lost in the shuffle?
Voicemail: While I tried to get past the fact that the voice sounded like she was reading a script, I heard pretty much the same message, only she seemed friendly and reminding, rather than purely upset. Of course, I might have missed this voicemail, as I do not check my voice messages very frequently. Why didn’t she come down here and talk to me in person? She works just down the hall…
Face-to-Face: I feel confronted, and Jane keeps talking and can’t even put a positive spin on it. Why couldn’t she have just sent me an email? Or a voicemail, if she needed to? Is she done yet? Yikes, she reminds me of my mother when she would remind me as a child to clean my room. But: message received. I am getting right on it.
 
Alright, judging from my critical impressions, you would think that I can’t stand any communication whatsoever, but that really is not true. I simply prefer positive communication. When conveying a face-to-face message to a co-worker or professional associate, approaching them with respect is critical, and giving someone the benefit of the doubt when the reason for their delay is unknown can do wonders for a working relationship. In the email, it was unclear if she was upset. The ambiguity of the email was not the best way to convey the message. In person, her facial expressions and tone conveyed that she was not thrilled to be having to remind this person to do his job. In this particular scenario, I preferred the tone of the voicemail. It was kind enough so that the person in question would not feel that they were “in trouble,” but the urgency was conveyed by the fact that Jane picked up the phone and reached out in a more tangible way than simply typing out an email. That said, however, a message this urgent really should be conveyed in person so that the person receiving the message does not miss it. It should simply be conveyed respectfully and positively. :)
Above all, it is important to know how the person you are communicating with best receives communication. Do they prefer emails so that they can keep track of tasks and requests? Do they prefer voicemail as a more tangible reminder, because emails can be overlooked? Or do they prefer face-to-face communication as the most effective way of retaining information? Each person in the course who viewed this multimedia program probably reacted in different ways due to the ways we each prefer to receive communication. Understanding that and being able to tailor your style of communication to those around you is important to the success of any project.
 
References:
Laureate Education (Producer). (n.d.). “The Art of Effective Communication.” Retrieved from http://mym.cdn.laureate-media.com/2dett4d/Walden/EDUC/6145/03/mm/aoc/index.html
Laureate Education (Producer). (n.d.). Practitioner voices: Strategies for working with stakeholders [Video file]. Retrieved from https://class.waldenu.edu

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Learning from a Project “Post-mortem”…or, The Great Christmas Dinner Party Disaster of 2010

When one hears the words “project management,” visions of office boardrooms or executives may come to mind. However, project management can be applied to many areas of our lives, both personal and professional. Even something as small as planning a get together, a vacation, or the arrival of a new child is a project that needs managing. And as with any project, poor management can cause disaster. One such failure that I wish to completely erase from my mind (but cannot quite manage to do so) is the Great Christmas Dinner Party Disaster of 2010. Yes. I named it.

A few years ago, I was in the midst of a short-lived domestic phase. I wanted to cook – which couldn’t be that much harder than take-out, right? I wanted to host a gathering of my friends, something I heard that grown-ups with houses occasionally did. And I wanted to do it right around Christmastime…because nobody’s schedules are even the slightest bit busy around the holidays. Right? That’s what I thought.

I ran this idea by some friends, and it was met with enthusiasm and the suggestion that we do a potluck. (Quite possibly to spare them from having to eat some meat-like concoction made for the first time in my crock pot…which was still shiny-new and in the box.) Even though I would not be doing most of the cooking, I decided to make my dinner party memorable. I sent out invitations, almost all of which were accepted. I borrowed an extra table, and on the day of the party, I set up both tables with elegant tablecloths, fancy place settings, and homemade gingerbread place cards. (I know. I impressed myself, too.) I spent a great deal of time choosing an excellent selection of Christmas tunes and set them to play in the background, and I cleaned the house from top to bottom while listening to it myself. I pulled out my board games for some after dinner fun, and then…a guest called to cancel. I was disappointed, of course, but people do get sick…a lot, apparently, because that was not the only phone call. More than half of my guests called to cancel on the day of the party. As I talked to one after another, it occurred to me that my party was about to become a disaster – not only because of the lack of guests, but because I had no contingency plan for what to eat if not all of the potluck dishes made it to my house. Multiple people had offered to bring main dish-type foods, so I had focused my efforts on salad and dessert. And something told me even in my new-to-domesticity haze that the boxes of Minute Rice and Top Ramen in my pantry were not going to make very good substitutes.

In the end, the party wasn’t that bad – probably not bad enough to have a foreboding name. I had a few guests. We had fun. We ignored the extra table and ate salad, jalapeno poppers, and cheesecake for dinner. We played some party games, and I learned that there is nothing nicer than having laidback, flexible friends at a failed dinner party. Even if I don’t like jalapenos. (I hid one or two in my napkin while they weren’t looking. Don’t tell.)

If I were able to rewind time and plan that dinner party again, there are many changes that I would make. I would first analyze the idea, the timing, and the logistics, and then move on to contingency and guest planning:
  • Timing is vitally important in the planning of any project. Instead of planning a dinner around a holiday, when many people are busy, burnt out, and more susceptible to getting sick, I could have decided to postpone until January or February. 
  • Potlucks are fun, but I should not have relied upon others to bring what they promised to bring. I should have either provided the main meal or had enough prepared food (or something on hand that was easy to whip up) in order to make up for possible cancellations. Planning for contingencies and finding solutions to potential problems before they occur are important in any project management role. This was my primary failure as a novice party planner.
  • Another problem is that the guests may not have been engaged in the idea, despite their earlier enthusiasm. Perhaps they were all sick...or perhaps the stress of holiday shopping and a dish to cook and many other parties to go to convinced them that the indigestion that they were experiencing could easily be called The Flu and used to make an excuse to a dinner hostess. (Not to call my friends liars. I love them. Dearly. Even when they lie.) Guest/customer/client engagement is not something that should be treated lightly, and in this instance, I could have thought of different ways to engage them. One possible solution would be to limit their responsibility – no potluck – while increasing their involvement. Perhaps Lisa would have had fun selecting some of her own music to play, Rachel would have been eager to come if I had asked for her favorite recipe to try, and Evan might have been over the moon if I had asked him for some entertainment advice. Determining the most effective way for a guest or client to participate is key in engaging them without overwhelming them. 
  • Paying attention to warning signs is also important. After the first guest cancelled…and the second…and the third, I could have rushed into action and made an emergency last-minute run to the grocery store for some rotisserie chicken and ready-made sides. Instead, I was worried about not getting my decorating done or not being home when the first guest arrived. When things go wrong in project management, priorities need to be considered. Is it more important that the plate looks pretty or that it is filled with food? My guests would have understood if I had called or left a note asking them to come inside: that I had run out for a last-minute something and would be right back.
You may perhaps be yet unconvinced that throwing a simple dinner party qualifies as project management, much less rocket science, but hopefully you can now see that all of the variables that go into something so simple as inviting people over for food, company, and games require a decent amount of skill and planning. Above all, good project managers and good party planners know that one of the most important things to learn from a failed project is to not make the same mistakes next time. Each failed project is a learning experience (not to mention a story to tell and laugh about).

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Welcome to Project Management in Education and Training

Hello to my instructor, fellow classmates, and any internet travelers interested in project management in the context of Instructional Design! Throughout the next eight weeks, I will be learning and posting about the ins and outs of project management. I hope that you will enjoy learning right alongside me!

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Reflection on Learning

Over the past eight weeks, I have been challenged with approaching technology and distance learning in new ways. I have had to step outside my comfort zone and rethink many of the assumptions that I have made about distance learning. Many subjects and skills that I thought were best left to the face-to-face classroom now seem to me nothing more than a challenge for the instructional designer (Simonson, 2015). Creating new ways to reach the learner and teach knowledge and skills through distance learning has never seemed quite so exciting, and creating thriving communities of distance learners is well within the realm of possibility (Lim, 2004).
 
Perceptions of distance learning have changed drastically in the past couple decades, and they will continue to change as more and more people complete education and training through the use of distance learning. There still exists negative views of distance learning, but as familiarity increases and more people are able to use the skills and knowledge that they have learned in life and in the workplace, perceptions will become more positive and welcoming. It will also become more commonplace, with the increase of opportunities for technological advancement and distance learning development, as well as the increasing ability for people in remote locations and developing countries to obtain education (Emmanuel, 2011).
 
As a future instructional designer, there are many things that I can do to be a proponent for improving societal perceptions of distance learning. Most simply, I will continue to talk to friends, family, and coworkers about the benefits of online education. In my professional life, I can look to my understanding of distance learning to find positive and effective solutions to problems. By advocating for distance learning through my personal and professional life, I can help to little by little improve perceptions of this type of learning.
 
I hope to use my new knowledge and skills to be a positive force for continuous improvement in the field of distance education by contributing to the field in real and concrete ways. By utilizing the elements of instructional design and distance learning theories, I can contribute to the design of effective and challenging courses and impact the lives of distance learners and instructors (Simonson, 2015). I will look to the future and not be afraid to embrace new learning technologies and attempt innovative thinking and projects throughout my career.
 
References:
 
 
Lim, C. P. (2004). Engaging learners in online learning environments. Techtrends: Linking research & Practice To Improve Learning, 48(4), 16-23.
 
Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., & Zvacek, S. (2015). Teaching and learning at a distance: Foundations of distance education (6th ed.) Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Converting to a Blended Learning Format

In a hypothetical situation, a training manager has been frustrated with the quality of communication among trainees in his face-to-face training sessions and wants to try something new. With his supervisor’s permission, the trainer plans to convert all current training modules to a blended learning format, which would provide trainees and trainers the opportunity to interact with each other and learn the material in both a face-to-face and online environment. In addition, he is considering putting all of his training materials on a server so that the trainees have access to resources and assignments at all times.
 
There are several steps that this training manager should take before converting this program. It is ideal that he work with an instructional designer. Pre-planning will be an important part of his process, and it is essential that it not be skipped or taken lightly. First, he should aim for achieving equivalency between his face-to-face training and the blended format. In other words, the two trainings will not be identical, as some face-to-face methods do not translate well to blended learning, but the learners should have access to the same range of instruction and achieve the same educational outcomes (Simonson, 2015). He should determine the important objectives of the training and how those objectives will be best translated to a blended learning format. The trainer should also analyze the audience to determine how many learners will attend, what characteristics they share, and what technology access and know-how they might need in order to participate in the class (Gendelman, 2013).
 
There are several aspects of his original training program that could be enhanced in the distance learning format. Some of the training materials that he currently uses may be used in the blended format of the training and posted for trainers to have access online. Some of the materials or content delivery methods will likely need to be changed, however. This could mean replacing a lecture format or group work into something better suited to the online environment (Simonson, 2015).
 
His role as trainer will also change somewhat in a distance learning environment. As this course will be blended, he will retain much the same role in the face-to-face component of the course, but he will need to learn to operate as a facilitator of the online environment. It is important that he understand thoroughly the instructional materials, the technology being used, and the assignments that are given to the students (Laureate Education, n.d.). He will also be responsible for ensuring that students are engaged, that the lessons are clear, and that they understand what is expected of them through the different delivery methods within the same training course. He will also need to be aware of the challenges that synchronous or asynchronous discussion may face and how to keep the momentum when moving from in-person to online discussions.
 
The trainer should prepare in advance for the steps he can take to encourage the trainees to communicate online. Asking insightful questions that require thoughtful discussion will give the trainees more room for analyzing the training material and applying it to problems in the real world as well as to discuss these solutions with each other (Laureate, n.d.). It is also important to ensure at the beginning of the training that students are aware of the requirements of the course. Clear guidelines regarding discussion, communication, assignments, and other expectations are necessary in order to ensure that expectations are met.
 
 
References:                                                                              

Gendelman, J. (2013). Converting classroom training to virtual instruction: Some tips. Retrieved from http://www.learningsolutionsmag.com/articles/1084/converting-classroom-training-to-virtual-instruction-some-tips

Hanna, D. (2012). Converting your course to a blended format. Retrieved from http://www.ryerson.ca/content/dam/lt/instructional/instructor_guide_hybrid.pdf

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

Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., & Zvacek, S. (2015). Teaching and learning at a distance: Foundations of distance education (6th ed.) Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

The Impact of Open Source

A recent trend in higher education is the use of Open Course websites to offer free (non-credit) courses to the general public. These courses are available on a wide variety of topics, from philosophy, science, and history, to art, literature, and music. One such course is HIST 116: The American Revolution, a course taught by Joanne Freeman, a Professor of History at Yale University. This course was taught in a lecture environment at Yale University in 2010, and the lectures were recorded with the intent of offering it through Open Yale Courses (http://oyc.yale.edu/). While not designed specifically for the distance learner in mind, this course offers a fantastic opportunity for the casual or serious distance learner to gain more knowledge in this area of history, either for personal development or to prepare for further university study in this area.
 
Let’s first lay out what is actually covered in the course. The course lectures were designed to give the learners both topical and sequential histories of events leading up to and throughout the American Revolution. It examines the war from the perspective of both Britain and the colonists and discusses political, social, and emotional factors contributing to the rise of the Revolution. It covers the beginning of unrest in the colonies through to the crafting of the Constitution.
 
The site for the course includes multiple resources that will be helpful to a learner wishing to learn more about the American Revolution. A syllabus is included with course description, assigned texts for reading, and a basic description of the assignments required in the original course. Transcripts of each lecture are provided, which is an excellent resource for those who may not have ready access to the video lectures. There is not an overabundance of additional materials; however, within the downloadable materials are a few scans of newspaper and book pages that are referred to within the lectures. This visual aid is an excellent addition to the course and gives the learner opportunity to be connected to the same resources as the in-person class. There is also a link to Yale University Press to purchase any books published by them at a 10% discount. (Unfortunately, none of the books assigned to this course appear to be eligible for the discount. However, when available, it is a great idea to offer a discount to people interested in completing an Open Course.) 
 
While these resources are excellent, the main star of this course is Professor Joanne Freeman. With the intelligence and studiousness of a historian and the engaging speech of a storyteller, her enthusiasm for the course topic shines through in every lecture. She arranges the lectures topically when needing to give students a feel for the era and the people involved, then transitions fluidly into a discussion of the sequential course of events. Her knowledge of the era and her excitement for the material has the potential to draw in even reluctant learners, and that is a definite boon for a course offered to students who will be taking this for personal development rather than for college credit.
 
One drawback to offering this as a course for distance learners is that this course does not appear to have been designed for the active online learner in mind. According to the book Teaching and Learning at a Distance, it is important to analyze potential for learner interactivity and learner characteristics when planning distance education (Simonson, 2015). However, this course has not been altered significantly from its original classroom format or designed with interactivity or online learner characteristics in mind. For instance, the format of the original course was a twice-weekly lecture as well as small discussion groups during the week. As this is an Open Course and not a for-credit college course, there are no discussion forums or groups, and no provision has been made for learners to discuss the course and topic with each other. Because it is limited mostly to video lectures and syllabus information, no course management system is utilized. There is no instructor or facilitator to assist the student with the learning process. The assignments listed on the syllabus are also not designed with the online learner in mind, as they consist of essays and exam (not provided for the Open Course). This course is essentially an opportunity for a learner to audit a course lectures from a distance without discussion or assignment opportunities. However, as that appears to be the goal of this course, it has therefore succeeded well in meeting that goal. Additionally, the video recordings of the lectures are of good quality, and it is apparent that the school took the effort to compile information and resources for the Open Course learner. As an additional note, this course is available through iTunes and YouTube as well, which increases convenience for the learner.
 
Overall, this course is an excellent opportunity for the casual distance learner who wishes to follow along with engaging lectures on the American Revolution. However, the distance learner who wishes to engage in discussion, assignments, or course activities in order to aid in the learning of materials may want to look elsewhere.


References:

Open Yale courses. (2010). HIST 116: The American Revolution course. Retrieved from http://oyc.yale.edu/history/hist-116

Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., & Zvacek, S. (2015). Teaching and learning at a distance: Foundations of distance education (6th ed.) Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing.