Little is written on the topic of managing computer programmers, and I find that frustrating considering how important this is to managing an eLearning business.  The book entitled Leading Geeks by Paul Glen presented new ideas that inspired me to share a list of reasons why the idea of creating many small projects are central to the execution of programmers’ work, an idea Glen terms as “projectizing”.

Glen has successfully described the necessity to “projectize” as the instances in which managers commend “the virtue of setting explicit goals to focus attention and energies on specific, measurable, and achievable targets”–I interpret this as whenever possible, create a mini-project (Glen 111).  He goes on to describe that with programmers, the best way to achieve objectives is to identify the goal as a project.  Sounds like a list of management tips in the making!

Here are the most important purposes of projects summarized from Leading Geeks.  Projects offer the following advantages:

  1. Aid alignment. Because well-managed projects plainly state goals and processes for production, the method of bringing the two together allows for the needs of the company and the outputs of the project to be balanced.  Programmers will know what problems exist and why they are fixing it.  They will also understand end goals to ensure that they stay on task.
  2. Ensure that you do only important stuff.  Successful projects can only exist when goals exist that are important.
  3. Limit scope. Projects force teams to make a decision about what problems will be fixed and which problems may not be.  Limited expectations and goals are more probable to be met.  This helps avoid the dreaded but always prevalent “scope creep.”
  4. Review individual performers.  Project teams are not highly tolerant of members that are not contributing.  When team goals are declared, it is more apparent when a poor performer in the team exists. Programmers are usually especially aware of this and projects can motivate everyone to do their best.
  5. Force trade-offs.  Because projects have a limit as to how much time and what amount of resources are available, it is sometimes necessary for project teams to get creative in order to fulfill a goal.  Though this may elicit complaints from programmers, the limits (a project creates) actually provide great challenges that motivate team members.

As I said before, this topic brought out some of my own ideas as to why it is important to “projectize” or create multiple small projects with eLearning programmers.  So, in addition to Glen’s thoughts, here are some of my own:

  1. Projects encourage micro-collaboration and interactivity. Projects focus on the small teams that are tasked with designing and developing online learning objects.  In order to generate immersive, highly interactive learning objects, these teams must contain people of very different backgrounds with very different skills. Because it is a project, the collaboration gets managed.
  2. Projects place problems into a structured form. Projects lineate the problem into an easy-to-work-with structure.  It helps define a beginning point with a set of problems to solve.
  3. Projects create opportunities to reward and motivate. Smaller projects instead of one large project seem to be well-suited to help motivate programmers.  When benchmarks are hit either on time or sooner than expected, the team should be complimented on their hard work.  Task deadlines encourage members of the team to work hard consistently.
  4. Projects help encourage positive momentum. Projects not only allow momentum to be at the center of all operations, but also help to encourage positive momentum.  By flattening power relationships, and by establishing project management positions, an iterative design process, and good communication processes in teams, a project’s momentum is going to work in your favor.
  5. Projects foster review and improvementMembers of a project team are encouraged to make suggestions, voice new ideas, and listen to feedback.  Projects allow teams to answer not only “What did we do well, and what could we have done better,” but also encourage formative evaluation, which is most effective when attempting to critique plans and ideas as they emerge during completion of a project.

References: Glen, P.  (2003).  Leading Geeks.  San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Managing eLearning is written by the Blog team at Web Courseworks which includes Jon Aleckson and Jillian Bichanich.  Ideas and concepts are originated and final copy reviewed by Jon Aleckson.