Not a week goes by that I don’t hear of librarians being told they need to ‘do more with less’ which I find infuriating for any number of reasons but mostly because it’s simply not possible. Physics has made that non-negotiable. I think the driver for these comments is the idea that libraries need to be efficient in their operations, which is a valid point and something that can actually be accomplished. Project management is one of the ways this can be accomplished. But to do that, it requires knowledge of the tools and techniques project managers have been using for years in other industries. My hope is this blog will highlight the literature, tools, techniques, and systems of project management in a way that librarians will find helpful.
To start talking about project management, we first need to really understand what project actually is. The Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) states “A project is a temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product, service, or result.” I like this definition because it doesn’t reduce projects to just the realm of software development and focus on the unique nature of projects. While it’s true the rise of project management is closely tied to the tech industry, a project can be so much more, especially to libraries. There is no shortage of libraries that are engaged in active software development but it’s the service part of the definition that interests me and shows just how broadly project management techniques might be applied. Setting up a program for your patrons, that’s a project. A new service to lend iPads to patrons, that’s a project as too. So we know what a project is but then what is project management? PMBOK calls it “the application of knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques to project activities to meet the project requirements.” I like this again because it doesn’t limit what the tools and techniques are. That is one of the things I like most about project management. Not only do I get to work on a series of different and interesting things, I often get to try out new tools or techniques along the way.
So what does project management do exactly? From my perspective, project management seeks to take a big picture idea and break it into discrete parts while identifying the resources needed to complete those parts. It is then the effective application of those resources to complete the project in the most efficient way possible. This can be monitoring the scope of the project to make sure things are not continuously added pushing back the project, monitoring budgets and time, or dealing with unknowns and potential risks.
My hope is that by exploring the ideas and tools behind project management and how they can be applied to libraries, I will be able to empower librarians to be more effective in their work and get better results. Beyond that, I find so much of project management to have great impacts on my day to day life. Home improvement projects or even my favorite hobby of home brewing tend to run much more smoothly if done in the framework of project management.