Tips for managing digital projects in higher education
While it has never been easy to manage digital projects in higher education, it has become increasingly complicated. Only five years ago, a website redesign and a web content system implementation were the two most challenging—and often dreaded—types of digital projects web professionals knew they would have to tackle in their career.
Today, these are only two items in a long list of projects implemented by digital teams.
The continuous flow of new technologies—coupled with financial pressures on budgets and evolving expectations—have put online capabilities at the forefront of institutional goals and constituents’ needs. As a result, university digital teams now manage a larger number of diverse projects.
While some institutions have hired more digital professionals over the past few years, the lack of resources is often identified as the biggest challenge for web project managers working for an institution.
“We could all use more financial and human resources to accomplish our goals,” says Beth Fox, director of web content strategy and project management at Vanderbilt University in Nashville.
Starla Stensaas, communication manager for information technology services at the University of Arkansas, completed 12 different interactive projects in just the month of August. She was still working with her team on seven other projects in early September.
“Putting together a collaborative team that meets a high standard of excellence in [design and programming], given the salary range of positions in higher education, is a challenge,” she says.
With this increasing volume and diversity of digital projects, it’s not possible anymore to deliver on time, on schedule, and on budget without a solid project management methodology.
Making it work
At Providence College, Director of Web Design Dan Demmons says it is important to learn as much as possible about the different project management strategies “and adapt or adopt the one that makes the most sense for your particular team and environment.”
Eric Kreider, director of web services at The University of Akron in Ohio, reports similar issues.
“When you are pressed for time and demanding stakeholders, it’s very difficult to do project management by the book.” But, it doesn’t mean that formal methodologies, frameworks, and best practices should be ignored. Kreider recommends learning how project management ought to be done and to adhere to best practices. “This will save your sanity in the long run,” he says.
The best project management methodology in the world won’t get anything delivered if all stakeholders or internal clients aren’t on the same page. That’s the reason communication is identified as the other top challenge for digital project managers in higher education and elsewhere.
Brian Clark, senior director of digital media communications at the Rhode Island School of Design, manages dozens of digital projects that involve many “siloed” stakeholders. He recommends that you “listen to a broad range of voices from across campus” before prioritizing, while also keeping an eye on quality.
Communication is often at the source of every successful (or failed) digital project.
“People have a vague idea of what they want and have a hard time communicating it to us,” says Patrick Collette, senior web specialist at Genesee Community College in rural northern New York. There have been times when he was well into working on a project only to be told that it wasn’t what the client wanted.
For Ashleigh Brymer, project manager at Florida International University, lack of communication is why it’s so important to educate stakeholders about digital processes so they understand how things work and why quality work takes time.
Jeremy Cluchey, director of creative design at Bates College in Maine, sums this point up nicely: “Wherever he or she works, a digital project manager needs to speak many languages, from policy and goals to design and code.”