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Using Project Management Techniques in the University

written by: Ronda Bowen • edited by: Marlene Gundlach • updated: 3/16/2013

Project management techniques aren't just for businesses or corporations. The techniques can also work well for freelancers (on a small scale) or universities. This article focuses upon how universities can implement project management techniques into their research projects.

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    Not Just for Business Purposes

    While here on Bright Hub PM we most commonly discuss project management in conjunction with businesses, they aren't the only region where project planning and project management techniques are needed. Those strategies can also have great benefits in the university setting. The greatest benefit of project planning in the university context is the increase in efficiency and productivity that results from carefully planning a research undertaking from start to finish. Project planning also helps you to better budget grant funds and ensure that your graduate student lab researchers are used to their potential. Below, you will find some of the best techniques for implementing project management in a university setting.

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    Project Scope: Defining the Problem

    Project Scope is really nothing more than defining the project. In academic work, more than anywhere else, the scope of a project can quickly get away from you. Before beginning any project, time should be spent carefully planning the project. To define the scope of your project is to ask yourself what the project objectives are. Are you trying to research the properties of different metals? Why? What do you hope to do with the research after you answer your question? Once you answer the questions that define your problem, take the time to write a scope statement. If you already have funding for your research, this would include any input that comes from the grant makers, any department officials who need to sign off, and the input of any graduate assistants.

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    Milestones and Tasks: Breaking up the Work

    Once you have defined your research project, the next big to-do item is to decompose the project into milestones and tasks. "Decompose" is a fancy term for breaking the project down into its component parts. If you are performing research on the effects of psychotropic drugs on adolescent populations, you will want to break this project down. Component parts may include preliminary research, grant-seeking, observation, clinical trials, report writing, etc. Break down the project until you cannot break it down any further. A milestone is usually associated with some concrete deliverable product. Observation reports completed would be an example of a milestone and the reports would be an example of a deliverable.

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    Delegation: Resource Planning

    Once you know what needs to be done, you can delegate tasks to resources. If your research requires lab work, the resources category also refers to the equipment you will be using to complete the work. Make sure that you know when each resource will be available to complete work. You will need this information for the final step: Scheduling.

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    Risks: What You Don't Want to Happen

    Another component of project planning involves risk assessment and management. Risk assessment involves taking a look at what might go wrong in your project. If you are working with live subjects, hazardous materials, or materials with unknown effects, you will want to take special care to perform a thorough assessment of risk before undertaking your project. There are many arguments as to why risk assessment is the most important part of a project. The main reason is that it helps you eliminate unexpected costs - and plan what to do in case things go awry.

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    Grants: Cost Estimation and Budgeting

    Most likely, if you are working in a university, you are working with research grants. Project management and careful project planning can help you to make sure that every dollar of that grant is allocated. Project management can also help you to predict how much you will need in order to complete your research project by causing you to budget before the project gets underway. Finally, project management can help you to procure the grant you need for your project to succeed.

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    Scheduling the Project

    The final step discussed in this article is project scheduling. Project planning requires that you create a schedule for when all those milestones and tasks should be completed. MS Project is a great tool for project planning because it allows you to create a Gantt chart - a visual description of your project's schedule. Each task should have a deadline that leads it closer to the milestone deadline. By taking the time to schedule your project, you are moving closer to having a successful research project completed.