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Online Project Management and the Course Development Process

November 10, 2010

Working with virtual teams to develop online courses presents multiple challenges. Managers, designers, developers, and faculty content experts must all be able to communicate and collaborate effectively, and primarily asynchronously, across time zones. Online project management applications are available to help provide shared workspace and an overall structure for the process.

This post summarizes a Sloan-C poster session I presented with Noel Broman last week. We currently use Basecamp to facilitate the course development process with small teams. This service is a paid one, but there are others – many others, with a range of pricing schedules as well as free options. Take a look at this list of 15+ Project Management Tools.

Reviewing the Options

Consider how your team might use an online system and what features they need to get the work done.

  • How many people need access to the system as a whole? To an individual project?
  • How many projects do you have running simultaneously?
  • What is your budget?
  • Do you want/need a social networking component? (personal profiles, etc.)
  • What features do you need?

A short list of features to get you started:

  • Calendar
  • Milestones and benchmarks
  • Automated notifications
  • File storage
  • File version control
  • Check-in/Check-out function
  • Internal communication (email, instant messaging, conferencing)
  • Collaboration space (whiteboards, wikis)

Benefits and Challenges

From my own experience the following features make a positive difference in the process:

  • Version control of documents – Ending the need to ask the question: who has the latest development guide?
  • Visibility of milestones – calendar feature with email reminders ensures that dates and deliverables are openly posted and available to all members of the team.
  • Task assignment – creating to-do lists and assigning specific tasks to team members by name
  • Project templates – once you set up a project area with the milestones, etc. you need, you can copy it for use with other, similar projects.

A few things we are still working on:

  • Learning curve – take the tech skills and experiences of your team into consideration when making a selection and allow time for everyone to experiment with the interface.
  • Training – most of these applications come with guides and tutorials of some kind, but these may not be enough. Consider creating a sample project that everyone has access to just to try out all of the features and practice with the tools without fear that they will break anything.

Your Experiences

Are you using a specific tool or feature that you can recommend to the rest of us? Do you have questions about using an online project management system? Please post your ideas and questions.

Image credit: stock.xchng

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7 Comments leave one →
  1. November 15, 2010 1:48 am

    Hi there,

    I am biassed… I am one of the people behind Apollo, http://www.apollohq.com
    It does project and contact management, timers, calendar, cases&deals, and it’s a very zippy application.

    It does _most_ of the things you require in the article. Check it out!

    Merc.

    • November 15, 2010 6:24 pm

      Hi Tony,
      Thanks for taking the time to introduce something new here. Just took a quick tour of the Apollo website and the contact management piece looks helpful…and the fact that the system is free to use right now, well, also helpful. Good luck with the continued development. Keep us posted!
      Melissa

  2. Patryce permalink
    November 17, 2010 5:34 am

    Hi Melissa!!

    I am currently working on a virtual team and it is indeed a challenge and a culture change for the group I am working with. We are using project.net as the project management tool. It is open-source but requires some hosting on the user’s part. Unfortunately only the project manager and a few people from the team utilize the features and therefore I can’t really comment on how well it streamlines the interaction and communication for the virtual team. However, it seems to support all the features you mentioned in the article.

    This is such an important part of the course development experience. Thanks for sharing !
    Patryce.

    • November 21, 2010 1:13 pm

      Hi Patryce!

      Thanks for sharing your use of Project.net. I appreciate you introducing us to another option – and an open-source suggestion is always welcome.

      One of the challenges we’ve experienced with Basecamp is fully utilizing all of the tools and features that are available to help with the streamlining and communication you mention. We started with the basics – file sharing and milestones – and added a few other things, but we still have a way to go.

      Thanks again for adding to the discussion here!
      Melissa

  3. Steve permalink
    November 29, 2010 11:56 am

    Basecamp is a great tool. I’ve used it in the past but have recently cut over to a tool that was based on Basecamp functionality. ActiveCollab (http://www.activecollab.com) has grown into its own and has some pretty neat features for small / medium project management and collaboration.

    If you’re able to install to your own host, I think this is a really viable and affordable option.

    • November 29, 2010 12:15 pm

      Hi Steve,
      Thanks for adding ActiveCollab to the list! I am not familiar with this one, but am interested in finding out more. Nice that you mentioned “small/medium” project management – I think the needs and concerns are different than those projects that might warrant something more intense, like MS Project.
      Melissa

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