Connecting Globally Award

Images of an award ceremony

A few weeks ago, myself and  (Dr Elaine Arici, Dr Lyn Adamson, Dr Kerry Lemon, Dr Sheri Scott, Magdalena LaurikovaFaye Martin and Peta Nicol received a Team Excellence – Global Connectivity Award for our project, the European Sustainable Towns Challenge (ESTC). This is an inquiry-based learning initiative focused on developing sustainability initiatives for local impact. 50+ students collaborated with academic mentors and local councillors from Ashfield, Bolsover, and Mansfield to enhance their communities through innovative green initiatives explored in Europe.

My group visited Lille, Ghent, Utrecht and Rotterdam as part of their research and devised a versatile Community Connection Hub that could be adapted to the needs of the community. Each day the hub transforms into a bespoke service, such as language classes for refugees or skill sharing for aspiring businesses and can function as a pop-up or a new build – depending on budget. Seeing students embrace the principles of the brief and then conceptualise a truly unique interpretation that reflects the economic situation of each council was truly inspiring for all involved. The best form of education is always the one where the tutor learns from the students rather than the other way around.

I’ll be heading off with a new group of students at the end of March. This time our brief is AI and Social Inclusion. I chose this subject because I feel very conflicted about AI. On one level, I see it as the complicit handing over of individuality and creativity – the very things that make us human – to technology. This attitude is born out of living through an epoch of immense social change which renders us aliens in our own lives. Therefore, best to look the beast in the eyes and see what it has to offer. Being proven wrong is one of the great pleasures of learning, so I’m hoping the latest batch of students will help me on this journey. Sadly, this may be my last trip with students as I’ve accepted voluntary redundancy from NTU and leave on 31 August, along with other colleagues in the humanities.

A Project Manager’s Lessons Learned

Astronaut in space.

Image Pixabay. Design James Walker.

I’ve just started a Project Management course at University of Liverpool, kindly funded by one of my employers. Despite running many digital literary/educational projects, I’ve never had formal training and so was concerned I may have picked up bad habits on the way – a bit like learning to drive from a friend. The course is an opportunity to provide a bit of context, depth and theory to a self-taught profession that has kept me busy and stimulated for many years.

To get the best out of education, you need an inquisitive mind. So, I’m loving being directed to readings and sources I’d never have encountered otherwise, such as Jerry Madden’s ‘A Project Manager’s Lessons Learned’. Madden retired in 1995 as Associate Director of Flight Projects at Goddard Space Flight Center. The ‘Lessons Learned’ are a collection of 128 observations compiled during his distinguished 37-year career with NASA. As his colleague Les Meredith observed, “God only gave us Ten Commandments. Jerry has listed over a hundred instructions for a Project Manager. It is evident a lot more is expected from a Project Manager.”

Here’s some of my favourite tips. The first is particularly resonant to me as it is incredibly difficult to relinquish control when putting together a literary project as you have such a strong vision of the outcome. But I guess as I’m conceptualising projects and then running them, there’s a blurring between Project Manager and Sponsor. Having said that, all my projects involve collaboration and co-creation; experience has taught that getting the right team together makes delegation a lot easier. Anyway, here’s a few tips from Madden.

  • A manager who is his own systems engineer or financial manager is one who will probably try to do open heart surgery on himself.
  • The project manager who is the smartest man on his project has done a lousy job of recruitment.
  • A puzzle is hard to discern from just one piece, so don’t be surprised if team members deprived of information reach the wrong conclusion.
  • Wrong decisions made early can be salvaged, but “right” decisions made late cannot.
  • Experience may be fine but testing is better. Knowing something will work never takes the place of proving that it will.
  • Management principles are still the same. It is just the tools that have changed. You still should find the right people to do the work and get out of the way so they can do it.
  • A working meeting has about six people attending. Meetings larger than this are for information transfer.
  • Abbreviations are getting to be a pain. Each project now has a few thousand. This calls on senior management to know a couple hundred thousand. Use them sparingly in presentations unless your objective is to confuse.