While I have been involved in many projects throughout my career, I have only been involved in one “formal” project, meaning there was a project manager, project charter, project team, etc. It was several years ago that I took part in a project to standardize departmental documentation for a municipal government. This project resulted from a previous one that focused on standardizing standard operating procedures (SOPs); during the SOP project, it was discovered that the department had many other document types, including business processes, codes of practices, work instructions, etc. The new project had the goal of formalizing a “repeatable process” for each document type. There was over 100 documents and I was the sole technical writer on the project. In addition to technical writing tasks, it was up to me to define the repeatable process.
At the time I was new to both the project management process, as well as the department; I had moved cities to take the job, so I had not involved in the previous SOP project. The project started before I arrived, so there had already been some project meetings and the creation of the project charter. The project team was made up of the project manager, project sponsor, technical writer, and representatives from each team within the department.
The main barrier to this project was the project manager who lacked in project management expertise (Watt, 2014). Specifically, the project manager’s lack of leadership loomed over the project as they did not “motivate and inspire individuals to work toward expected results” (p. 21). Over time, this was apparent in the attendance drop-off for project meetings and lack of communication. The project manager had tasked project team members to inform their respective teams of project updates but did not follow up to ensure it was being done. There were a few times when I went to interview subject matter experts and discovered they were unaware of who I was and what I would be doing. This led to some uncomfortable moments as I believe they perceived that I was trying to tell them how to do their job, as opposed to asking questions to do my job. This was likely due to a lack of trust among the project team, me included, with the project manager. As Watt (2014) states, “without a minimum level of trust, communication breaks down…” (p. 123). A couple of times, project team members approached me for clarification on what they should doing, as opposed to going to the project manager.
Another barrier to the project was reliance on the SOP project. The project manager seemed to think that both projects were carbon copies of each other, and the steps taken in the SOP project would easily apply in this project. As stated by Conway et al., (2017), “different kinds of problems require different methods of system analysis’ (p. 14). While there was some overlap as they were both documentation projects, the project manager failed to consider the nuances that came with the different document types and their impact on the department. Had the project manager used systems thinking, the project manager could have understood the type of problem, problem situation, and power dynamics that this new project entailed (Conway et al., 2017).
For future projects, I would focus on applying strong leadership skills, whether I was the project manager or a project team member. Project issues can usually be traced back to lack of leadership, including breakdown in communication, uncommitted project team members, and role confusion (Watt, 2014). With respect to learning technologies, I would also focus on using one of the University of Calgary’s strategies by facilitating connections and communications with all stakeholders. Specifically, I would strive to provide clear and regular communications to everyone in the organization about any technology changes and their impact (University of Calgary, 2014).
Conway, R., Masters, J., & Thorold, J., (2017). From design thinking to systems change: How to invest in innovation for social impact. Royal Society of Arts, Action and Research Centre. https://www.thersa.org/globalassets/pdfs/reports/rsa_from-design-thinking-to-system-change-report.pdf
University of Calgary, Learning Technologies Task Force. (2014). Strategic framework for Learning Technologies. https://www.ucalgary.ca/provost/sites/default/files/teams/1/ final_lttf_report_gfc_june_2014.pdf
Watt, A. (2014). Project Management. Victoria, BC: BCcampus.