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.

Digital Storytelling on Instagram, Tumblr, Tik Tok and YouTube

Picture of keyboard, smartphone and pencil

Photo by Largo Polacsek at Pexels.

A couple of years ago, I created a module at Nottingham Trent University called Digital Storytelling. It is now a compulsory module and forms part of a ‘digital spine’ running through the B.A. Creative Writing. It encourages students to experiment with media platforms and consider how the narrative of their stories adjusts to the grammar of their chosen medium. Hopefully the module encourages students to think more broadly about outputs for their work and to be excited at the potential to create new forms of storytelling through innovation and experimentation.

Here’s a flavour of some of the work that was submitted this year.

Course Correction (Tumblr)

Screenshot of a branching narrative.

The Stanley Parable was the main source of inspiration for the Sci-Fi story, Course Correction, as Tom Combley and Sofia Bartram wanted to make their own rendition of the ‘disembodied voice that tells the player/reader where to go and then the player/reader can choose to listen to it’ – style story. The flowchart of their branching narrative is a reminder of how much planning goes into such projects.

Undead Sims (Sims)

Screenshot of Sims

Being sent to boarding school is daunting enough, but discovering it’s filled with vampires is even worse. Isabella Thompson spent ages creating Sims characters and then commanding them to do various things to get screenshots for her story. This was an arduous process, particularly when the Sims failed to do as instructed.

Resisting Royalty_ (Instagram)

Map of an Instagram account called Resisting Royalty.

Eloisa Herron has created a choose your own pathway story with ten possible outcomes on instagram. In some respects, this is a bit like flash fiction with each world concluding an event (rather than feeding into the whole). The worlds were created by AI which shows how this can be an aid to writers. But best of all is Eloisa’s use of all aspects of Instagram. The story reels are used to provide context and user information and panels are numbered to aid navigation.

Good Evening Madam (YouTube)

This short ‘film’ by Benjamin Windibank was made completely from digital assets, with AI programmes like Eleven Labs generating the voices and Openai.com (dalle-e-2) generating images. The story addresses resistance from the perspective of an elderly woman who receives a scam email requesting money. It’s set back in the early days of the internet in the 1990s and so Ben downloaded UTM to imitate Windows XP.

Welcome to the Experience (Tik Tok)

Screenshots of Tik Tok story welcome to the experience.

Ellie Morrin explores the soporific effects of screen addiction in her Tik Tok ‘Welcome to the Experience’. The digital story includes some of her own artwork as well as video edited using Canva effects. This should be watched/listened to with earphones.

You can view these and other examples of digital storytelling on the Instagram account @Digitalstorytelling29821. Please get in contact if there’s stuff you’d like to share.