Controlling Archival Projects to Keep Them on Course

Margot Note

Margot Note

July 22, 2019

Control within an archival project takes prompt corrective action. As the project progresses, you’ll want to change things within the project’s boundaries. Changes in the environment of the project will impact the activities that are part of the project itself.

Control depends on a stable scope. “Scope creep” or failing to manage scope change within a project is one of the most common reasons for loss of control. When the scope drifts, the results are unfavorable. The project may be over budget, behind schedule, and inadequate with little warning until it’s too late. Control is achievable with a plan against which to measure progress. Best practices for archival projects include developing a plan that is unambiguous about what should be accomplished and when; with that foundation, it’s possible to monitor and control correctly.

The Control Process

The control process manages significant change. Good project managers delegate, monitor, and report progress as a matter of course, making decisions regularly. Even so, overconfidence can be a project manager’s downfall. Slight changes can have a lasting effect on a project. When added together, minute variances may become a critical mass that affects the underlying justification of the project.

Don’t try to solve problems that lie beyond the scope of your archival project, even legitimate or urgent problems that your organization needs to address. It’s okay to change the objectives mid-project but do so consciously, after making sure your stakeholders agree to the new objectives.

Whenever there’s a decision to change the plan, record the changes so that a master plan is maintained. If you register changes, you’ll keep a living document as a basis of continued achievements.

When the Schedule Slips

Slippage occurs when it takes longer than expected to complete tasks, and so it becomes impossible to adhere to the project schedule. Once the project manager has identified that the schedule is slipping, and assignments are late, different responses exist. For example, additional resources may be obtained. However, adding more staff to the project may delay the project further. New team members will need time to be trained and may take time away from the current project team. Introducing a small number of additional people sometimes produces benefits, often when they are given familiar or specific tasks.

You can modify a project in several ways to maintain costs, schedules, and quality, including:

  • Renegotiating with stakeholders. Can you increase the budget or extend the deadline?
  • Using contingency. Can you make up the work later?
  • Narrowing the project’s scope. Can you remove features to reduce costs and save time?
  • Deploying more resources. Can you employ more people?
  • Allowing substitutions. Can you use less expensive or more readily available items?
  • Accepting partial delivery. Can you receive the rest of the work later?
  • Offering incentives. Can you supply enticements to help the work?
  • Demanding compliance. Can you insist that people keep their promises? Use this tactic selectively to avoid damaging relationships in pursuit of your goal.

Other Actions to Gain Control

A project manager can ask people to work harder or longer. In the short term, this strategy works. If funding is available in the budget, paying overtime is possible. However, used as a long-term solution, overtime can demotivate staff and lead to stress, burnout, and increases in sick leave or staff turnover.

Another response is to accept the slippage and renegotiate a new end date. Sometimes this is the most sensible course of action, as the implementation process often reveals blockages or problems that hadn’t been anticipated earlier.

If the progress of activities is different from the plan, you’ll need to take action. A danger exists that the project will miss its targets because progress is too slow, or if a delay in one activity will impact on others causing further delay. Control may be regained either by taking action to change the progress or by revising the plan to accommodate the variation in the development of activities. Either way, best practices for archival projects include taking control of a project before it takes control of you.

Margot Note

Margot Note

Margot Note, archivist and consultant, writes for Lucidea, provider of ArchivEra, archival collections management software for today’s challenges and tomorrow’s. Read more of Margot’s posts with advice on running successful archival projects.

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