First off, disclaimer time - turning LITERALLY EVERYTHING into a project is perhaps not the best thing to do for the get go. However, looking at simple project management techniques is a great way to cut down on stress, workload, and time spent faffing around!
Having worked in the commercial sector for a while its easy to get lost in the collection of business help guides, systems, and complicated methods to manage large projects. This isnt what I want to focus on today, but i do want to take some of the cooler aspects of these and place them into a school context.
Clarity, Communication, Collaboration
The biggest issue I face with leadership teams in school isn't; enthusiasm, drive, knowledge, it is lack of clarity, communication, being ‘on the same page, keeping track, having time. I hope this little article will go some way to help. It certainly has helped several teams I am currently working with!
I've found (and its fairly straight forward really) is that for a system to be taken in and used by everyone in the team/group, it needs to be:
Simple - stupidly easy to pick up, use, learn
Quick - fast input of ideas, or collecting resources, messaging others
Accessible - work on as many platforms as I can think of (and many more I cant!), be ‘always on’ so people get updates at what I call a ‘Stalker Rate’ (constant updates)
I'm not thinking here about the application, program, device I'm using it on - I assume your team can use a phone, PC, laptop, web browser etc. What is needed is a clear and simple process which is flexible enough to cater for all types of colleagues, and importantly works.
The system I am going to explain is something that REALLY works for me and the leadership teams LearnMaker is privilege enough to work with. It involves some element of buying but not necessarily all… I will give you a few hints on how to encourage ‘buy in’ as they say (in a nice way...of course!)
There are many awesome ways to manage projects, most involve complicated processes, or many overlaid systems and theories. Lets make life easy...lets try just one!
The easiest way I have found is what is known as Kanban (Japanese for card). Essentially the method involves 3 columns; To Do, Doing, Done. Tasks are written on cards, tasks are actually ‘granular’ steps not broad jobs - for example ‘Create a Scheme of Work for KS2 Maths’ isn't a task, but ‘Create a KS2 Maths folder on DropBox’ is.
This method of working is very similar to 'Scrum', another rather 'off the wall way' of managing the ‘flow’ of projects. Both systems are mainly used in program or app development teams as a more flexible and faster response to traditional ‘PRINCE’ style project management. All methods are great, but for me I want something a little more agile or lean than larger models.
At first all the tasks, doesn't matter who will be responsible for them, go into the To Do column. The idea is that your team should ‘pull’ the tasks across the ‘board’ to the Done column. The delegation of tasks is typically when team members are free, or have finished a previous task. So this is a great leveller, rather than having one person in charge (who might end up going on a field trip, out of contact, or have parent meetings etc.) everyone shares in the project - pretty much equally. Of course, there will be an overall responsibility, but day to day flow of the project is as a team, in its greatest sense!
What you will find is the actual process of creating tasks is harder than it seems. You will start with one task, then realise that it can be broken down into further tasks/steps/processes. Its a really great way of pulling apart a big job! A great way of doing this is to allocate time within a meeting to focus on one challenge/task at a time that each member is focussed on. An awesome side effect to this, is that meetings DONT over run … I think that will be another blog post!
So, breaking down the project into tasks or steps is the first thing. Next up we need to look at creating a checklist of todo’s for each task. On the task card the team need to make lists of what is needed / required for each task - resources, ideas, processes, people to talk to etc.
The difficulty with larger team management is keeping everyone on the same page. Each task that is written down needs to be visible to all members, as do the conversations between members across all tasks. It helps maintain accountability, but importantly means everyone has an equal say / view in everything that is going on. Proper team work!
Too often in a project, someone will meet you in the corridor and mention ‘X’, you agree then walk off and forget. Or someone emails, sends a note, calls, sends a carrier pigeon etc. All those elements are between individuals and not the team - again here, my focus is on different ways of working - you could be thinking, “ Well I there could be conversations we don't want public”, true, but if it relates to the project with members involved why wouldn't that need to be shared?
Back to the system…
Something that I have really appreciated recently, is the ability to track EXACTLY what time I am spending where. Seeing as I am currently managing several school projects its really important for me to see what time is being spent where. Now, I have a confession, I am the worst time keeper I know. I think it comes from having a rather creative family, but rather than delving deeply into my family history, lets place the blame firmly at my feet!
I was recalling this fact to a leadership team this morning, in essence ( I don't want to bore you too much) I always thought I never had enough time whilst teaching - I actually didn't, the systems and processes I had to jump through took up far too much time than was really needed. Now however, being able to put in place (and cut out) systems that aren't needed I still need to be super organised. My long suffering sister has even commented that she used to be the uber organised one. I'm not organised… I just have a system that stops me being disorganised!
My point here is that a simple, robust and flexible system can save little nuggets of time here and there. To quote one SLT member today, ‘I cant prove at the moment HOW much time I'm saving, but I can tell you how much this has reduced my stress levels!’
It would be great to eventually get data on time saved, stress is a bit more tricky to measure in this kind of process, but my thoughts are...why not bloody try it?!
There are as many online/apps platforms as there are Jelly Bean flavours, so picking one is quite simply...up to you. If you are like me, and want to just get the damn thing going, then here are a few suggestions:
Its free, but only has a web based version at the moment. The site doesnt play too well with my iPhone or iPad (Pro and Mini)
Really popular, has apps for pretty much every platform - this doesnt matter too much as the website version adapts to most screens. It CAN cost though if you want app integrations like Dropbox or Google Drive.
A great web app, the free version is good but doesn’t come with the ability to attach files. Also missing from the free version is calendar and time analysis - nice to have. It is a bit cheaper per user than the other systems.
This is the one we use at LearnMaker. For me, it has a quick learning curve, simple to use, integrates with loads of external systems (like Google Drive), is free (although the paid version allows MORE integrations) and has a range of apps for mobile devices like iPhone and Android. The web app looks the same across all screen sizes, which is great for familiarity! The paid version also has a few ‘automations’ which work really well for managing many school teams, but aren’t necessary for single team use!
What I have found
When introducing this to leadership teams, there is an initial hesitation, “Its not got email”, or, “But everyone can see what I'm doing” - and that’s kind of the point. This method of working and collaborating on a project stems from the need to reduce workload (limit the confusion, or time taken to get into the flow), save time (minimise the long bloody meetings where all you do is explain what has been done so far...not where you should be, or how you are getting there), and reduce stress (so that you and your team can focus on more than just one project, so that you can work better).
Ultimately its up to you if you want to use this way of working, and by getting this far through the post Im guessing you want to maybe look at it. Quite simply… just give the bloody thing a go!
As with all my posts, I want to know what you think. Let me know in the comments below, or if you prefer not shouting out to the world, send me an email...or even better...add me to a Google Hangout or Facetime… my email is firstname.lastname@example.org