Project management is both a set of principles and best practices as well as a tool. For museum collection managers project management can be a great support to our work.
Whether it’s everyday processes or a multi-year project, project management can help us complete projects successfully, avoid major pitfalls, and protect precious staff time and other resources. Overall, the incorporation of project management can increase the sustainability of the quality of work we are responsible for.
What is Project Management?
Project management is a specialized area of study and there are Project Management Professionals (PMPs) out there that can help. But you don’t have to wait for a PMP to incorporate some project management basics into your work. There are resources available online, informational YouTube videos and formal courses, and platforms that help with the heavy lifting you’d otherwise be doing by hand.
Why Project Management for Collection Managers?
We are specialists in our subject matter. While our knowledge is deep, it isn’t necessarily broad and we could definitely benefit from working with experts in other areas—like a PMP. Here are a few reasons as to why we should consider learning the basics to project management:
- With the right project setup, management, and tools, we can help save ourselves project-related headaches AND help save the museum money.
- Putting thought and intentionality into the project creation phase can help alert us to resources need, help us avoid potential pitfalls, and offer us a more accurate understanding of how long the project will take.
- Excellent project creation is necessary to win grant money, and diligent project management is necessary to complete any project successfully.
Each of these benefits contribute toward the overall sustainability of our work. And considering how overworked many museum staff are, sustainability of work is an important metric to strive toward.
Where Project Management Tools Can Help
There are a few circumstances where project management tools can help make the work more sustainable (less burdensome) and our lives a little easier. Here are a few examples of where a project management tool or platform can help:
- Repeatable task management to help keep track of tasks required for day-to-day operations.
- Repeatable process management to help an asynchronous team track where things are at with a project and what they need to do next. (E.g. processing, inventorying, digitizing, cataloging)
- Stand-alone projects that contain multiple phases, a set of activities per phase, a timeline, and deliverables. (E.g. a digital collection project where digitization and cataloging are taking place).
As museum digital projects are one of the more technically complex projects we work on, having a project management dashboard to help with the heavy lifting is a wise investment of your time.
Get Yourself a Project Management Platform
There are dozens of project management (PM) platforms available online, many offering a freemium model to help get you started. If you’re a small team and are new to project management dashboards, a free version of a project management dashboard is an excellent place to start. Here are five steps to get you kick started.
- For those just starting out, pick a product you like the look of. All products will offer similar functionality so it’s really down to how you like the “look and feel”. And, because most offer free membership levels, there’s no risk of financially committing to a product you end up not liking.
- All mainstream project management platforms will offer introduction videos, tutorials, help forums, and other resources to help get you started. Most platforms are fairly intuitive and as you’re just starting out, I recommend playing on the platform as there’s literally nothing you can break here.
- Once you have a feel for the platform functionality, begin to transpose a fairly basic and straight forward project. This activity will require you to know all the steps necessary to complete project, the approximate time it will take to complete each step, and who will be assigned to each step.
Project Management Benefits
Any amount of project management you can incorporate into your work will be a benefit to you, your team, and your projects. In case you need to make the case to your boss to support your attendance at a project management course or to test a project management platform, here are some talking points:
- Best practices
- Quality work
- Meeting goals, milestones, and commitments
- Stumbling blocks
- Project downtime
- Expensive mistakes
- Headaches, wasted time, and lost information
Essentially: Implementing project management principles and tools will help save the museum staff time and project time, keep the projects on budget and on time, and help the museum avoid costly mistakes. These all contribute toward saving the museum money and it helps to make the work museum staff perform more sustainable.
To learn more about project management please visit the Project Management Institution: PMI.org. Please also pick up Margot Note’s ebook: Demystifying Archival Projects: 5 Essentials for Success, available as a free digital download courtesy of Lucidea Press. While written for an archivist audience, Note’s book is an excellent primer for project management applied to collections work.
Rachael Cristine Woody
If you’d like to learn more about this topic, register here for Rachael’s webinar, “Sustainable Project Management for Museum Digital Projects” on August 24, 2022. Rachael Woody advises on museum strategies, digital museums, collections management, and grant writing for a wide variety of clients. In addition to several titles published by Lucidea Press, she is a regular contributor to the Think Clearly blog and an always popular presenter.
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