Project Management Certificates and the SIF Program

First off, isn’t it remarkable how fast time flies? Thanksgiving Break is right around the corner, and the SIF team is working hard to close a couple of projects by the end of the year.

Today I want to take a brief moment to muse about the SIF program, its project management component, and how all of this relates to me personally as a PhD student in the humanities. I take inspiration from Ashley’s latest post which begins an examination of the ways various institutions of higher learning are responding to the “crisis in the humanities” and the need to revamp doctoral programs in the future (and rightly so if I may add). You can find her excellent and insightful post right here.

In her post, one item in particular caught my attention: the need to expand professionalization opportunities for grad students in the humanities and that departments should provide students with opportunities to develop their skill sets in various, but mostly traditionally non-academic areas, including project management. I agree with her assessment that the SIF program provides a great platform for humanities students to acquire project management experience, especially since they are the ones who usually occupy leading roles in the SIF project universe.

Yet, our role at SIF can both be seen as a blessing and a curse: a blessing because, for lack of a better phrase, we can get our hands dirty. Rather than confining ourselves to working on our own research, teaching classes for our respective departments, and assisting department faculty with their research tasks, the SIF program allows us not only to look beyond our own back yard but to engage in, manage, and supervise cross-disciplinary, cross-sector project activities. For someone like me who wouldn’t be opposed to the idea of seeking a career outside the academia, the SIF experience has been very rewarding. Then again, our role is also burdened by the fact that as grad students in the humanities we’re leading interdisciplinary projects without having gone through proper project management training first. Naturally, I cannot speak for other members of my graduate cohort, but as far as I’m concerned, I freely admit that most of the work I’m doing is based on the experiences I’ve gained as an instructor at Georgia State University, and not on knowledge I’ve gained through formal training in project management. My experiences as an instructor, i.e. syllabus design, semester planning, session prep, classroom dynamics, have been my main resource so far in terms of making project management related decisions. I’ve often drawn upon these experiences for guidance. It’s as simple as that, and things have worked out well so far. The thing that gives me solace and confidence, however, is that the projects I am or have been leading consisted of clear, manageable, and straightforward goals. If they hadn’t been, I might have encountered a few road blocks that would have left me truly exasperated. After all, teaching skills and classroom management experiences can only get you so far. Fortunately, problems haven’t happened yet, and I take further solace in the fact that I’m working with a great bunch of students whose work continues to amaze me. In fact, I might want to add this as an additional blessing here, actually.

Knocking on wood, here, but what if it does pose a problem? What if in our roles as project leaders we encounter times when we can’t draw on our experiences as instructors to resolve a project-related issue? As Ashley’s post illustrates, the field of humanities has, indeed, recognized the need to reassess doctoral programs and graduate student success. What this also means is that my doctoral cohort is located on the cusp of a major development in graduate education. While many still pursue a PhD degree to seek a career in academia, others are not so opposed to exploring alternative areas of employment that are outside the academy. For the latter group, the issue then surrounds the acquisition of proper skills that are applicable outside the academy while in grad school. And these are the kinds of skills that many of us, including me, are currently seeking and trying out in a, shall we say, rather messy way.

When I arrived at GSU, the first thing I had to do in order to be eligible for teaching was to attend a pedagogy class. That was mandatory, the pre-requisite. The same thing could and, as I believe, should be sought for graduate students who are eager to develop professionalization related skill sets. But from where? I’ve done some digging and the Robinson School of Business offers a certificate in project management. The certificate is awarded after the successful completion of a 4-day intensive class that helps participants to develop proper and successful project management skills. I think that the SIF program would benefit greatly if students who occupy roles as project leaders receive a more formal training in this area. The only and quite common problem, of course, is cost. Without question, this particular class is quite costly. But I still believe it would be a good idea to get into a conversation with Robinson faculty. My hope is that we can establish a single day workshop for the SIF program at the beginning of a semester that allows us to further develop and refresh our project management skills, not only in view of our personal professional goals in the future, but also in light of the projects we want to work on in the future. The better we are prepared as project managers, the more productive we can be in our roles as SIF fellows and the better we can manage our own responsibilities of finishing our degrees. As a current doctoral student who not only recognizes the need for a more wide-ranging training in the humanities but who also very much subscribes to proposed directions and goals, I’m very eager to participate in an effort to explore possible options for the SIF program to give its fellows a more formal training regarding project management.


So much for now.

I wish all of you a Happy Thanksgiving next week!

An Interesting Take on Finding Your Managing Style

I feel this semester I’m pretty much on a “project management” information expedition, trying to come to grips with various aspects pertaining to the field. Things like how to keep track of work; how to define suitable and manageable timelines; how to keep everyone engaged and sustain high levels of motivation for a project over an extended period of time. In the end, it’s all about making appropriate decisions.

Some of these aspects have been quite straightforward to figure out I would say. Over the summer, for example, I slashed my way through a formidable jungle of online project management platforms currently available. I demoed many, and we finally settled on Producteev (I talked about this in a previous post). I must say that having Producteev has been really helpful so far for us to keep track of progress, and set project goals over the course of a semester or a year.

But figuring out how to best engage members of a team, who bring various skills to the table, how to keep everyone motivated, how to avoid bottlenecks…essentially, how to lead and how to make sure that you feel comfortable in that role, that’s something a bit more complex as it turns out. Granted, when you look for information regarding project management, you can find lots of information on how to structure project tasks and tailor the work to the deliverable (for example, you may want to apply a traditional waterfall approach, or you think an agile or iterative approach might make more sense). But that doesn’t really address how you might want to project yourself to the team, and most importantly, how you can make that you feel comfortable in that role. That being said, I’m currently trying to figure out a suitable persona for myself. Do I consider myself more of a control freak? Do I want to give as much freedom to the team as possible? Or would I feel most comfortable as someone whose managing style falls somewhere in between these two extremes?

Just to be clear, I’m not starting from scratch. Having taught writing classes at GSU prior to starting my position as a SIF fellow, I do feel comfortable managing people and I believe that teaching provides a great foundation in that regard. Yet, I recognize that the managing skills I’ve developed as a university instructor can only get me so far when it comes to managing project teams. After all, one crucial, and obvious difference between managing a class of students and leading the members of a project team is that in the classroom environment the goal is to help improve each student’s skill(s) related to the subject, i.e. the goals and requirements for each student to succeed in the class are pretty much the same. But when it comes to leading and managing a project team, the work is usually more collaborative in nature. Project teams consist of members that bring different sets of skills to a given project. A database related project that has a website component, for example, brings together someone who is an expert in database/backend work, and a designer who is responsible for the corresponding frontend, the website. And not to forget, the goal is to successfully submit a deliverable, and not assign grades. Still, I consider teaching experience of great value here especially as it relates to organizational questions such as time management, setting goals, and identifying resources. But spending some time to learn about different managing styles can be equally helpful.

So, for today’s post I thought I’d share with you a video I recently stumbled upon. It’s a TED talk by orchestra director, author, and consultant, Itay Talgam. In this very engaging and entertaining and insightful talk, Mr. Talgam discusses various managing styles by way of using the particular conducting styles of various, famous orchestra conductors as an analogy. Let’s watch!

First off, what I take from this video–and that’s quite comforting–is that the product, the deliverable, i.e. the performance, is wonderful in each case. So, it’s really a matter of personal preference…to choose which style of conducting, i.e. managing, you find most appealing, either for yourself in general, or in light of the particular requirements of a given project.

It’s quite obvious that each conductor shown here embraces a different approach to leading the orchestra. The late Carlos Kleiber seems to excel in a process-based approach. He motivates his team by projecting confidence, by providing the conditions for each musician to have a personal investment in the success of the performance. Highly flexible, very 21st century, in my opinion. Kleiber’s conducting approach works really well for a project that’s based on an agile or iterative management approach, I would say, in which the goals of a project need to remain flexible in order to respond to a client’s needs. By contrast, famous Italian conductor Riccardo Muti, seems to prefer a highly structured approach to conducting, which might work well for a project that uses a waterfall approach. He displays a commanding presence because he considers himself responsible for the success or failure of the performance. He ostensibly controls the performance. He is very clear in his instructions. As Itay Talgam notes: “maybe a little bit over-clear.”

Richard Strauss, then, is very much in favor of playing things by the book. His approach is rather formulaic, he prefers pragmatism over personal expression, and his conducting style is very much about sticking to what’s necessary. This approach certainly gets the job done, but I wonder whether the team could have made the product better if they had been given a bit more room for personal expression and experimentation…Now, Herbert von Karajan’s conducting style seems to be pretty out there, putting a lot of responsibility onto the shoulders of the team members. To paraphrase Talgam, team members are much more responsible for figuring out how the goals of a project can be met, how they can ensure that the deliverable becomes a success and is submitted on time. That style of leadership may certainly enable a team to bond, but I find that approach a bit too chaotic, to be honest…

Finally, Leonard Bernstein. His approach, as Talgam puts it, enables each musician to tell a story and to claim partial ownership of the entire performance. It’s a very feedback-based, reflective style of leading. This, to me, might be a suitable for a large-scale project which consists of various sub-projects that have their own teams.

So far I’m very much in favor of Kleiber’s approach, but I’m curious to know your perspective. Let me know in the comments. Which conducting/managing style do you prefer? Keep in mind that each performance, as you’ve seen in the video, was beautiful, so there is no right and wrong answer really.

To end my post, I’d like to leave you with yet another conducting style, which some of you might prefer

…I doubt it, though. 😉

Enjoy! (quick note: the performance really starts one minute into the video, so be patient 😉 )

Jack of all trades? Not really…

At the end of the summer and shortly before the beginning of the fall semester I went on a little quest to find a dedicated project management environment for the SIF program. In previous years, we had been using Microsoft SharePoint, and while this tool is great to manage individual projects, it really falls flat when you want to get an overall view of the work happening across projects. For the SIF program this is especially important because our work is fluid and flexible and we frequently move SIF fellows between projects to ensure timely completion of a deliverable, and to give our fellows the opportunity to participate, learn about, and contribute to various projects over the course of the semester.

Pretty soon after I embarked on this little journey, I found that among the plethora of managing software currently available, the jack-of-all-trades type doesn’t really exist, especially when you’re looking for a free option. So, I started jotting down a few points that I considered crucial for our project managing needs at SIF, and went from there. These points included:

  1. Quickly track both progress of projects as well as progress of tasks assigned to fellows.
  2. See at a glance which projects SIF fellows are part of
  3. A strong tool to communicate with one another
  4. Ability to divide a project into subtasks
  5. A way of sending out push-notifications of deadlines automatically
  6. A feature to rank the tasks of a project in terms of importance
  7. No steep learning curve / a ‘clean’ user-interface
  8. MS Outlook integration

In the end, I decided to go with Producteev as our dedicated project management tool even though it doesn’t check off all the points listed above.

For one, our version of Producteev doesn’t offer Outlook integration (the subscription option does, though), and the tool also doesn’t allow admins to quickly see current member lists for each project. Yet, for our purposes Producteev excels at all the other points, especially with regards to the clean interface and the low learning curve. On top of that you can assign several levels of priority for each tasks so that members can quickly see which tasks are more important than others. It’s definitely worth checking out in case you’re looking for a dedicated project management software tool yourself. That being said, it’s crucial to spend some time in advance with your team to figure out what you want the tool to do before you go software-hunting on the Web.

So, therefore I’m going to use the remainder of my post today to share with you my take on a couple of other, freely available tools that I’ve checked out rather than tossing my notes directly into the trash.




Trello is probably best for those who are used to sticking post-its all around their work space.

Basically, Trello allows you to manage numerous little notes. Those notes can be a task, a list of tasks, or a to-do list. That makes it ideal for personal use. Not only that, Trello is also good for collaborative brainstorming activities, and it’s fun to do that. Everyone brings a litte idea to the table and Trello allows you to curate everything. So, keep that in mind if you’re a group of students working on a bigger project for a class and you want to keep track of everyone’s progress. Those little ideas can then turn into bigger projects. On a more general note, the way that Trello works is by using so-called “boards”, which can be customized. Each board consists of various tasks that can be assigned to project members. To further customize a board you can use lists, which provides an overview and can help keeping track of individual phases of a bigger project. So, I think Trello works really well for personal use, but it also excels for temporary groups.



Basecamp is a tool that really focuses on communication between participants.

As far as project management is concerned, Basecamp resorts to the basics: collaboration, file-sharing, to-do lists, calendars, and so-called “milestones,” which is basically as system of labelling relevant, major events over the course of a project’s lifespan. The “milestones” really sounded nice at first, but the tool doesn’t provide more flexibility when it comes to distinguishing crucial due dates from not so crucial, but still important due dates. On top of that, what I really found tricky when figuring out Basecamp was how to keep track of the work of individual members. Since the tool really focuses on communication, the information is arranged similar to a comment section on a social-networking platform like Facebook. It’s difficult to isolate an individual’s contributions to a project since you need to scroll through a lot of communication activity. I’m sure that Basecamp works nicely for student groups that collaborate on a project but when you need a tool that can handle various projects and you need to see information regarding progress quickly, then the interface might be a deal-breaker.


I hope that information helps! Let me know if you have any questions. I think it’s a great idea to familiarize yourself with various project management tools since many companies rely on those. If you’re a student and you’re working on a project, either personal or group-based, then definitely check out one of these tools. You’re basically killing two birds with one stone. For one, you get your work done together and you can keep track of everybody who is part of your project, but you also get a feel for using these kinds of tools, which should come in handy in your professional life after graduation.