Project Management & Digital Libraries

In Week 7’s lecture, we touched upon project planning and project management, and I’d like to expand on that a bit now.

Why is project management important in digital libraries?

Within most digital libraries, the work is project-based. It is important to properly manage these projects because often your resources (time, money, employees) are limited and you want to get your digital library completed in a timely manner before those resources run out.  It is also important that clear expectations are set for your team and everyone knows what their responsibilities are and how the project will work.

What project management methods are out there?

There are two basic types of project management: traditional (also referred to as waterfall) and agile.

Traditional project management requires a formal planning process.  It looks at the breadth and scope of a project from the beginning and plans all workloads and deadlines through the to end.  There is often little tolerance for change within this methodology.  This style of project management takes a lot of time and planning in the beginning and attempts to predict outcomes, despite at times multiple variables. In many environments for many types of projects, this methodology works just fine.

Unlike traditional project management, agile project management only needs enough of a plan to get started (though deadlines are vital).  Cervone has a wonderful set of articles (cited below) on using agile project management within digital libraries. They are short, quick reads and I highly recommend them.  Agile was originally created for software development, though many digital libraries have adopted it to suit their project management needs.

In agile, there is a focus on milestones, and every milestone must be tied to a deliverable with a completion date attached to it (Cervone, 2012b).  Given the newness of the methodology, many people comfortable with traditional project management may be resistant to try agile. Therefore, it is important that within the project plan communication is a priority, including how much communication people can expect, how communication will occur, a change management plan, and identification of the standards and norms for the team (Cervone, 2012c).

The main practice of agile is Scrum project management (yes, many terms and ideas of this methodology have been borrowed from rugby). Scrum’s main focus is on “sprints,” or spans of time (usually 2-4 weeks) where progress is made on a project. At the beginning of a project, a “backlog” of tasks to be completed is created (Dulock, 2015). Daily meetings, called Scrums, occur where each member tells the group 3 things:

  1. What they accomplished since the last Scrum
  2. What they will accomplish before the next Scrum
  3. What obstacles hinder their progress

The Scrum Master’s job is to eliminate the obstacles for his or her team. Team members are in constant communication and constantly collaborate. The goal at the end of every sprint is to have a product (or a piece of the larger product) that is shippable.

However, agile has its downsides as well. Agile works best when the project is an employee’s entire job. This is rare in libraries, as everyone in a library has other responsibilities throughout the day. However, while agile was created for software development, libraries can still take aspects of the methodology to apply to their projects.

University of Colorado Boulder took on a digitization project using Scrum methods. They didn’t use the entire methodology; rather adopted principles that would best suit them and their team’s needs (Dulock, 2015). The resultant process allowed the library to have more projects going at once, faster publication of digital collections, and more objects digitized and surrogate records created than before (Dulock, 2015).

There is no consensus on which methodology is best for LIS institutions. When planning a digital libraries project, it’s important to be aware of various methodologies and to know the culture of your institution and your team to know which would work best for a given project.  Sometimes it may be necessary to use some aspects from traditional and some aspects from agile to create a project plan that is optimal for your project.  At the end of the day, if a project is completed on time, on (or under) budget, and the employees are satisfied with the process as well as the product, it doesn’t really matter what methodology was used.

References

Cervone, H. F. (2012a). Understanding the elements of a digital library project plan: part 1. OCLC Systems & Services: International Digital Library Perspectives,28(2), 75-78.

Cervone, H. F. (2012b). Understanding the elements of a digital library project plan: part 2. OCLC Systems & Services: International Digital Library Perspectives,28(3), 126-129.

Cervone, H. F. (2012c). Understanding the elements of a digital library project plan: part 3. OCLC Systems & Services: International Digital Library Perspectives,28(4), 176-179.

Dulock, M. J., & Long, H. (2015). Digital collections are a sprint, not a marathon: adapting scrum projects management techniques to library digital initiatives. Information Technology and Libraries, 34(4), 5-17.

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