I would like to devote this post to a project that I was involved in back in 2013. I was not the PM but a member of the project team (a functional employee [Portny et al, 2008]). At the time, I was an Assistant Lecturer at an HE institution, and the faculty were tasked with producing new summative assessment tools and summative assessment materials that would meet the Federal State Educational Standards being introduced in Russia 2013 to replace the State Educational Standards. The FSES were designed to meet the requirements of the Bologna Process and the competency-based approach to education and learning (Pursiainen & Medvedev, 2005).
The project’s outcomes were pitiful, with the new assessment materials low-quality, unverified, not proofread, and often invalid and unreliable. There were many PM mistakes that contributed to the project’s overall failure. The PM was Director of Studies, who had formal direct authority, whose office was located in a different campus, and whom the functional employees never really saw or communicated with – indeed, very few knew the name of the PM. Functional managers (heads of departments) served as intermediaries between the PM and the functional employees, though it was always one-way communication – directives passed down from the PM to the functional employees. That was Mistake No.1 – Poor team communication (Portny et al, 2008), which, inevitably, led to Mistake No.2 – Weak team leadership (Portny et al, 2008) and Mistake No.3 – Lack of commitment by all team members to the project’s success (Portny et al, 2008). There were attempts on the part of the PM and the functional managers to ‘remedy’ the commitment deficiency through coercive measures.
There were no clear objectives, either. The faculty were assigned a task that was in no way specified. It seemed that the team members were supposed to figure out for themselves what the finished product was expected to be. It felt like: Go there, I don’t know where; fetch me the what, I don’t know what! None of the faculty had an understanding of it was that they were supposed to do. No one knew in what way(s) the new FSES were different from the SES, and what the new approach to education implied. It seems only sensible to have provided a training session on the new standards and the competency-based approach raise the faculty’s awareness; however, it was all left to chance.
As for assigning tasks to the team members, the PM took a very short-cut: each member of the faculty was responsible for the summative assessment tools and materials for each course that he/she taught. This resulted in a highly uneven distribution of workload: some taught one credit-hour-heavy course (worth 6 or more credit hours), while other had several shorter courses (only 3 credit hours each). As there was no financial reward involved, and the project tasks were supposed to be done in addition to the routine teaching activities and mostly outside the workplace for there was no hardware available, the distribution of workload issue caused many a conflict between the team members. According to Greer (2010), the effort and resources were largely underestimated.
Now I see that we were rushed into the Perform phase while the Define phase was not complete (Portny et al, 2008). There was no timeline, no milestones to keep the team members “focused on upcoming tasks, elapsed project time, and remaining project time” (Greer, 2010, p.23), only the deadline, therefore, it is no wonder that many of the team members shelved the task and procrastinated. However, in the end, they proved to have done the right thing. The few who started developing summative assessment tools the moment the project was announced launched, had a lot to redo later, when the PM, finally, specified the task, which was two weeks before the deadline and was, in fact, a major scope change (Greer, 2010). According to the specifications, the only assessment tool that was acceptable for the project was a 100-item multiple-choice test (a strange requirement for the competency-based approach, which should be more consistent with constructivism tenets [Bamform-Rees et al, 2013]).
I shudder to remember myself working almost 24/7 during the ten-day public holiday (May 1 – May 10) in order to prepare such tests for the 7 seven courses that I taught and which, not infrequently, ill-fit any assessment based on recall – it was working against time.
I am not at all proud of or satisfied with part of what I produced. I am certain, my colleagues and I would have done a lot better had we been allowed a chance to, that is, if the project has been better planned.
Bamford-Rees, D., Doyle, B., Klein-Collins, B., &Wertheim, J. (2013). 2013 CAEL forum & news: Competency-based education. Council for Adult and Experiential Learning/CAEL.
Greer, M. (2010). The project management minimalist: Just enough PM to rock your projects! (Laureate custom ed.). Baltimore: Laureate Education, Inc.
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.
Pursiainen, C., & Medvedev, S.A. (2005). The Bologna process and its implications for Russia: The European integration of higher education. Moscow: RECEP.