La Vie Digital Yearbook - Project Management

Penn State's La Vie digital yearbook collection is the first professional project I ever managed. It's the largest project my department has ever worked on, it's a template for other large-scale projects we have on the docket, and it's the highest-profile project we have ever worked on. The La Vie digital collection is due to be premiered at a University Open House for VIP donors before the Penn State football team's exhibition 'Blue & White' game in April.

I was given the project because while I'm new to project management, I am the most knowledgeable member of the department (including the supervisor, who is relatively new) when it comes to our resources, personnel, and procedures. This is due to my habit of keeping track of what's happening and of learning new aspects of the job when I'm not otherwise busy with assigned work--a habit I've deliberately cultivated to improve my initiative and work ethic. I find that establishing a pattern of behavior is a great way to get motivated.

We had outsourced the initial scanning of the volumes to a vendor. Once the files came back (over 55,000 images in 110 volumes), the supervisor decided that it was a perfect time for me to learnmore about project management, and placed the La Vie project in my hands for further development. I had to decide on what resources we would need, develop the project procedure, and select and manage the team that would work on it. My supervisor helped me develop a time line and made himself available if I needed advice. It was definitely crash-course learning, but if you're willing to be flexible, then I can attest to its effectiveness!

The teamwork involved has developed my leadership skills. As project coordinator, I'm the one they all turn to when they have questions or need help. It can be taxing sometimes, but I know I always need to be ready to help them with a smile and an appreciative word. As my co-workers, to take out my frustrations on them would be detrimental to our relationships with one another. Also, encouraging their pride and enthusiasm for the project is what gives them a sense of personal investment and motivation to do their best. As an example, one day I spent five hours training everyone on a single process with the software. We kept encountering problems and having to repeat the process, and then I had to do individual walkthroughs for members who hadn't been able to be present for the session. No matter how repetitive or frustrating it got, though, I kept a positive attitude by reminding myself that it wasn't their fault and that they wanted to learn so that they could be helpful. It's hard to snap at somebody when you know they're trying to please you.

In this case, the arrangement of the team--six other people, including two who work out of a different building--has also called for exceptional communication skills and exceptional awareness of the need for communication, due to the separation of offices. I've made habit of emailing everyone with updates at least once a week, even if there's not much to report. If things are progressing rapidly, I'll email updates once a day, or occasionally even more frequently. Maybe that's more than they really want to hear about the project, but it means that everybody stays on the same page...and from my own experience, I know that being inundated with emails isn't as frustrating as working in an information vacuum.

Finally, the teamwork requires a willingness to listen to my teammates as well as give them instructions, and knowledge of their skills and weak points, so that I know when to rely on them and when to give them backup. The policy of listening has actually been the source of some of our best work. A chat with our imaging expert produced his idea to rescan the covers of all the books at maximum quality in order to showcase them in the display. A jawing session with another teammate resulted in the solution to a software problem. My co-workers are smart, experienced people with their own areas of expertise, and it'd be foolish of me to think that I know better than they do about everything.

Most importantly, the complications--everything from trouble with the software licenses to weathering a server upgrade in the middle of the project--have taught me about time, risk, and resource management, foresight, collaborating with other departments, admitting to and fixing my own mistakes, and troubleshooting. We've had over two months worth of bugs, problems, and setbacks. That has meant a lot of time spent on the horn with our IT department, and intensive collaboration with them to overcome these issues. Also, by speaking to them beforehand, we learned about the biggest complications we'd be likely to face--such as the fact that they were going to replace the collections content server sometime in February or March. Once we became aware of that (through the simple means of asking!) I was able to predict and compensate for the time lost (I anticipated about a month, due to the likelihood of software conflicts and bugs during setup of the new server) and keep us on schedule to finish the project two weeks before deadline, by structuring (and restructuring) the timeline to absorb complications.

At the beginning of this project, I felt in over my head, but as is so often the case, I discovered that what feels like uncontrolled chaos is simply a situation that needs organizing. The single most important tool in that organization is communication! Every one of the problems we've overcome and the successes we've had have emerged from communicating with teammates and other investors on the project. Don't be afraid to ask for information, and most importantly, don't be afraid to ask for help or advice! It won't make teammates think less of you if you admit when you need help; it will make them feel respected, valued members of the team, and it will give you the assistance you need. It's a team project, after all. You can't do it alone, and no one expects you to!