Suggestions about a book on managing research projects

In summary, the conversation revolves around the topic of managing research projects and the people involved. The main issues discussed include lack of control over the project, difficulty in making decisions, and the need for effective communication and task management. Various solutions are proposed, such as assigning tasks, having weekly meetings, using project management software, and implementing a leader board. The conversation also suggests the use of weekly reports and informal face-to-face interactions for project management.
  • #1
serbring
271
2
Hi all,

I'm a researcher in engineering and sometimes, I feel to not have a solid control on the project I manage. For example, sometimes my PhD students haven't done that much about the project even if I assigned tasks to them. I think the main problem is also due to:

  • the information is not properly shared among the involved people.
  • sometimes, I have difficulties to make decisions on the next steps, especially for the one which involves the other people who work with me.
For these reasons, I want to read something about managing research projects and especially how manage the people. Is there any "scientific" book on that topic you would recommend? Thanks
 
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  • #2
You could start by assigning tasks to the students and then having weekly meetings where you get a status on where they are.

You could also ask them to evaluate the task and give you an estimate of when it will be complete.

You might want to construct a leader board in your office to keep track of where things are and what things still need to be done.

There are a lot of books on the market about how to manage people. One popular one was the One Minute Manager:

https://www.amazon.com/dp/074350917X/?tag=pfamazon01-20

where you learn the tricks of an effective manager.

Here's a synopsis of the book:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_One_Minute_Manager

Another idea is to investigate PERT charts and Mind maps to see if they could help you get organized as you need to do this to effectively manage the tasks.

Also dealing with students can be a little like herding cats especially since they don't view themselves as employees necessarily.

You could also bring donuts to the meeting. I think students may come for that.
 
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  • #3
@jedishrfu : Thanks for your reply. I'll keep in my the book you suggested. Weekly meetings is something extremely useful but unfortunately, we are understaffed and so I'm not constant in this activity.
I really love the idea of a leader board. I was thinking to use something like todoledo and share to-dos with my phd, but I felt it is something similar to micromanaging, but just a board in my office could be an effective idea.
About PERT charts, from a first look, it sound a bit "complex", but I'll investigate about them.
 
  • #4
@jedishrfu : I searched for an example of a leader board in google, but I haven't found any related to productivity/tasks assignments and so on. Do you have any reference material for further reading?

thanks
 
  • #5
Have you considered using project management software? When I was working for a software company, the managers used Microsoft Project. There are alternatives, including free and/or open source. There is a well established formalism for managing projects from large to small. The software handles PERT and Gantt charts, produces reports, schedules, and so on.

If I were managing a group in any kind of project, I would certainly use Project or an alternative. As they say in the software industry, it's a "no brainer."
 
  • #6
serbring said:
Weekly meetings is something extremely useful but unfortunately, we are understaffed and so I'm not constant in this activity.
Weekly meetings are probably the most effective way to keep people on task, but if I may offer another suggestion...I had a postdoc advisor who held joint professorships in the US and Europe, so he was always traveling back and forth and didn't have much time for weekly meetings either. He handled this in two ways. First, he had a lab manager to whom he would delegate the task of leading weekly group meetings, and the lab manager would report back to him. Second, he made everyone in the group do weekly reports: basically once a week we wrote a paragraph or two on what the status of our projects was, along with any concerns, questions, ideas, etc. I remember disliking it at the time, but it did keep most of the people in the group on track, and from my advisor's end, he was able to triage the most important items and spend more of his time dealing with those. I'll be the first to admit that it's not nearly as effective as face-to-face weekly meetings, but at least it's something, especially if you're understaffed.
 
  • #7
TeethWhitener said:
Weekly meetings are probably the most effective way to keep people on task, but if I may offer another suggestion...I had a postdoc advisor who held joint professorships in the US and Europe, so he was always traveling back and forth and didn't have much time for weekly meetings either. He handled this in two ways. First, he had a lab manager to whom he would delegate the task of leading weekly group meetings, and the lab manager would report back to him. Second, he made everyone in the group do weekly reports: basically once a week we wrote a paragraph or two on what the status of our projects was, along with any concerns, questions, ideas, etc. I remember disliking it at the time, but it did keep most of the people in the group on track, and from my advisor's end, he was able to triage the most important items and spend more of his time dealing with those. I'll be the first to admit that it's not nearly as effective as face-to-face weekly meetings, but at least it's something, especially if you're understaffed.

At the Air Force Academy, we had the weekly sitrep: situation report - most commonly a 1 paragraph description of the week's activities that was forwarded up the chain of command. Lots of informal face-to-face - project leaders walking around checking on things. There was often a scheduled weekly meeting, but it was more to provide a face-to-face opportunity for directives to flow down than for accountability and reports to flow up.

I mentor a lot of student projects, but the form of reporting depends on the timeline for deliverables. Tight timelines work best when the student emails me his work product on a daily basis for my review and feedback. This allows problems to get fixed quickly and not propagate leading to a whole week of work needing to be fixed. Less demanding timelines can work OK with weekly feedback, or even just feedback at major milestones or when a work product is getting ready to be incorporated in a larger piece. But the more aggressive the project goals are relative to the timeline, the shorter the feedback loop needs to be.
 
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  • #8
Use blog or forum style interaction .

Members post entries under headings like : ' What I've done today ' and or ' I've got this problem - need some help' .

Supervisor scans every few hours to see what has turned up and responds as necessary .

This interaction style also means that everyone involved is kept in the loop about overall project progress and anyone can contribute to solving problems or suggest new directions for project work to proceed .
 
  • #9
David Reeves said:
Have you considered using project management software? When I was working for a software company, the managers used Microsoft Project. There are alternatives, including free and/or open source. There is a well established formalism for managing projects from large to small. The software handles PERT and Gantt charts, produces reports, schedules, and so on.

If I were managing a group in any kind of project, I would certainly use Project or an alternative. As they say in the software industry, it's a "no brainer."

I considered using a project management sw but before using it, I need to know how a sw should be managed, right?

TeethWhitener said:
Weekly meetings are probably the most effective way to keep people on task, but if I may offer another suggestion...I had a postdoc advisor who held joint professorships in the US and Europe, so he was always traveling back and forth and didn't have much time for weekly meetings either. He handled this in two ways. First, he had a lab manager to whom he would delegate the task of leading weekly group meetings, and the lab manager would report back to him. Second, he made everyone in the group do weekly reports: basically once a week we wrote a paragraph or two on what the status of our projects was, along with any concerns, questions, ideas, etc. I remember disliking it at the time, but it did keep most of the people in the group on track, and from my advisor's end, he was able to triage the most important items and spend more of his time dealing with those. I'll be the first to admit that it's not nearly as effective as face-to-face weekly meetings, but at least it's something, especially if you're understaffed.

TeethWhitener said:
Weekly meetings are probably the most effective way to keep people on task, but if I may offer another suggestion...I had a postdoc advisor who held joint professorships in the US and Europe, so he was always traveling back and forth and didn't have much time for weekly meetings either. He handled this in two ways. First, he had a lab manager to whom he would delegate the task of leading weekly group meetings, and the lab manager would report back to him. Second, he made everyone in the group do weekly reports: basically once a week we wrote a paragraph or two on what the status of our projects was, along with any concerns, questions, ideas, etc. I remember disliking it at the time, but it did keep most of the people in the group on track, and from my advisor's end, he was able to triage the most important items and spend more of his time dealing with those. I'll be the first to admit that it's not nearly as effective as face-to-face weekly meetings, but at least it's something, especially if you're understaffed.

These are really good suggestions, I'm going to implement the report activity. What about managing the information flow between students, phds and so on? How to store notes in an efficient way?
 
  • #10
Our system was all done by email. I think he had folders and subfolders for weekly reports by person. I don't know for sure though.
 

Related to Suggestions about a book on managing research projects

1. What topics should be covered in a book on managing research projects?

The book should cover topics such as project planning and organization, time and resource management, communication and collaboration, data management and analysis, and problem-solving and decision-making strategies.

2. Is it necessary to have experience in managing research projects to benefit from this book?

No, this book can benefit anyone involved in research projects, whether they have prior experience in managing them or not. It provides a comprehensive guide to effectively managing research projects for individuals at any level of experience.

3. Can this book be applied to manage any type of research project?

Yes, the principles and strategies outlined in the book can be applied to manage various types of research projects, including scientific, academic, and industry-based projects. The focus is on general management techniques that can be adapted to different project types.

4. Are there any case studies or real-life examples included in the book?

Yes, the book includes case studies and examples from real-life research projects to illustrate the concepts and strategies discussed. This allows readers to see how these techniques have been applied in practice and learn from real-world scenarios.

5. Will this book also cover the management of a research team?

Yes, the book includes a section on team management, which covers topics such as team dynamics, conflict resolution, and leadership skills. These are essential aspects of managing research projects, as most projects involve collaboration and teamwork.

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