Project Management Q&A (and some student comments too…)

During our online Project Management webinars, we get some excellent questions and comments from our academic scientists.  We share here some of those comments, questions and our responses for you to get a better taste of how project management can impact you now and as you move on in your professional career.

Students Comments

“This is making me wonder why fresh Ph.D. students are not taught project management. Now, in my fourth year, I feel I’ve learned all of this by trial by fire – sink or swim, either you manage the project well or it fails and you’ve wasted months. I wish that I had had explicit training on this before my general exam!”

“I was literally JUST writing a note about how useful this would be in like yr2”

“I am in my 2nd year about to give my general exam… this is really valuable for me to plan”

“Are there any good, free project management software with Gantt chart generators that you’d recommend?”

“I’m finding it very helpful to hear how you construct the “essential questions” to address in order to meet the criteria for each phase or each role. Thank you!”

Q & A

These are actual questions that were asked during SciPhD Project Management Online Training programs, along with our replies.

Q: I feal like my PI is project customer, sponsor and stakeholder at the same time.

A: In most cases, your PI is likely your customer since they fund your research (cost), approve your project plan (objectives), and agree on estimiated time for completion (time).  Your sponsor(s) are people who can use their administrative authority to get other stakeholders in line in support of your project (e.g. a department head).  The stakeholders are those who are interested in the project but can’t materially affect the project directly (e.g. committee members, interested faculty).

Q: I am not sure whether time estimation is realistic. Take literature review for example. Scientists keep discovering more and more articles. How do I reasonably make an estimate?

A: This is a critical skill as a project manager.  In professional organizations, you will likely be constrained by timelines that are difficult to change.  You therefore must make decisions on how much literature review can be obtained as part of your project.  One of your assumptions that you will state is that “the time allocated for review of the scientific literature will provide adequate background for the successful continuation of the project”.  When you review the project plan with the customer, they will have to either agree with that assumption, or re-negotiate the available time for the project.  These assumptions and agreements are documented so that you are covering your… … assumptions.

Q: What if you can identify the risk but cannot come up with a way to mitigate it just yet?

A:  If you can’t mitigate the risk, then you have three choices:  you either accept the risk, which essentially means that you and the project customer have agreed that the importance of the project is worth risking that eventuality occurring, or 2) you avoid the risk by changing the project if those conditions do occur.  Finally, you could 3) transfer the risk to a third party who may be better suited to successfully complete that part of the project.  For example, a core facility may be more likely to succeed at synthesizing a fusion protein that you, so you transfer the risk (and thereby lower risk of failure).  Again, your customer should be part of that decision and formally sign off on the agreed approach.

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