The Research Capacity Building Network (RCBN) held its first "open" workshop, Introduction to Complex Project Management, on 20 May 2002 at the MRC in London. This workshop represented the first stage of the RCBN's facilitation of capacity building in complex project management amongst the educational research community. David Parsons lectured on the basic concepts of complex project management as they have been developed in a business context. Gareth Rees and Laurence Moore applied and debated the relevance of these concepts to (educational) research. Nineteen workshop participants attended the one-day event.
Two written forms were used to evaluate the content of the workshop - one to be completed during the final session of the workshop (an immediate evaluation form), and one to be completed one week after the event (a post-RCBN event evaluation form). All nineteen workshop "attendees" completed the immediate evaluation. In general, participants indicated that the workshop provided a good, generic introduction to project management. Specific results for the quantitative part of the immediate evaluation are presented in Table 1.
In terms of their personal objectives in attending the course, the overall course objectives, and their training / development needs, workshop participants indicated that their needs had been "just met". The organisation of the event and the pre-course administration were rated as being between "good" and "excellent". The trainer, the pace of the event, the room facilities and the venue facilities were rated between "okay" and "good".
Qualitative comments provided a substantial amount of information regarding the content, conduct and organisation of the workshop. Participants indicted that their personal objectives for the workshop were not fully met in terms of: the politics of project management (working with funders who are very "hands on" and a large number of diverse stakeholders); actually being able to use the practical skills of managing projects in the context of their own research and good practice (this was repeated by many participants); sharing personal experiences; staff management; budget management; closer application to the management of educational research, particularly complex educational projects; using software for project management; and how the ESRC uses project management. One person indicated that their personal objectives had been fully met, and one person provided no comment.
Main benefits of the event and most valuable things that participants learnt, included: critical path analysis; the introduction to Microsoft Project (six participants mentioned this); the opportunity to network with other TLRP members; "valuable" sessions on risk management and planning issues; a "good" introduction to a structured framework for the management of projects; PRINCE and general techniques; applications to their own project ("project structure and roles") and the opportunity to speak to colleagues from the same project ("opportunity to speak to colleagues (from project) about the issues raised…"); issues regarding relationships with stakeholders; "interactive session" on management skills; the project structure model; and how to apply project management concepts to academic research projects.
Many people collapsed the sections that asked them to indicate how their performance would be improved, and how their future work may benefit, so these responses will be combined. Participants indicated that they would: plan and manage time and projects more effectively; develop a publications policy; value the processes of planning, monitoring and reviewing; take risk management into account; use the techniques they had learnt for the preparation of future project applications; consider the role of sub-groups; use a more structured approach to communicating with end users; improve the management of multi-site, partnership research; use what they had learnt to help with putting a proposal together and to judge it's viability; consider the link between school and project schedules. One participant indicated that the workshop would have little impact on the management of their project or on their future work, another indicated that the value of the workshop to management of academic research was marginal, and one participant suggested that they were sceptical about the relevance of a "Master Plan" approach to research and about whether funders would provide the resources that the use of project management techniques would require. One participant indicated that their performance would be greatly improved as a result of attending the workshop.
Participants provided a substantial amount of constructive feedback about how the workshop might be improved. These comments included: more tasks and exercises (perhaps in the form of vignettes) to help vary the pace and to provide opportunities for putting the concepts into practice; that the trainer should be better briefed regarding participants' backgrounds; closer collaboration between Cardiff and the external consultant to apply content more closely to educational research; the expertise and experience amongst workshop participants should have been drawn on; some opportunity to apply the topics to their own projects; practical examples; more opportunities for networking; different shaped room and more ventilation; workshop should be conducted before the projects start; TLRP directorate should attend; and adhere to the programme.
To date, five post event evaluation forms have been received. These indicate that "some" personal objectives were met by this introductory workshop. Four of the post event evaluation forms provide additional constructive feedback, and these sum up the general evaluation of the workshop very well. This feedback re-emphasises the usefulness of the concepts that were conveyed in the workshop, the clarity of their presentation, and the critical approach that was taken to their presentation. It also stresses, though, the need for small group discussion to vary the mode of presentation, the need for a more suitable room, and the need for follow on courses in project management. One individual also highlights the context within which requests for interaction within the workshop are made: "There are so few opportunities for TLRP colleagues to meet that it would have been useful to exchange ideas / experiences / views in the framework provided by the event."
Four individuals have completed the action plan components of the post event evaluation, and these clearly indicate an intention to use the concepts and techniques taught during the workshop both within their current projects (even if this means revising established work plans and changing existing management strategies) and within future projects, and a clear desire to use Microsoft Project if it is available within their institutions and to receive training in its use.
Suggestions from participants for future events related to project management included: getting projects together on the basis of regional proximity to discuss their specific needs in project management; funding or budgeting issues; training in the use of MS Project; working in large teams or staff management; and practical, hands on skills of project management. As a consequence, the RCBN is attempting to source support for the use of MS Project as its next step in facilitating capacity building in complex project management, particularly as an intention to use MS Project is a clear component of individuals' action plans. This will perhaps be followed by an opportunity to acquire more practical project management skills, particularly in the context of "complex" projects.
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This page was last updated 18th February 2004