Tag Archives: October 2014

The 7 beauties of project management

Read this article and more in Weve

There is an abundance of library literature that suggests we as librarians need to do better in raising our profile to those outside the profession. That we need to increase our visibility, and improve our marketing and communication so that others will truly realise the value of librarians and libraries.

We’ve heard it all before right? So why aren’t we doing it?

Why doesn’t the world already know that librarians are vital to a vibrant and growing organisation, economy and society?

Here’s what I think. Before we can sell the value of librarianship to those outside the profession, we need to do better at selling our work to ourselves. Because after-all if we, as individuals aren’t excited, enthralled and enthusiastic about our work, how can we expect others to be?
This article is not about the gantt chart, the schedule nor the budget. These are tools that project managers, good ones at least, use the world over. But these are only tools. They aren’t the work itself. They aren’t what makes us fondly recall a project we worked on two, five, or twenty-five years ago. Today I want to share with you seven ways to transform a typical library project into something that you will recall fondly; something that challenges you and excites you enough to be memorable.

1. Give Yourself Goosebumps
I know what you’re probably thinking … Goosebumps? At work? Me? With the projects I’ve got? YES.

Think about it this way. Your projects do not exist in a vacuum. EVERY project you’re currently working on contains the entire strand of your organisation’s DNA.

Manukau Institute of Technology Library had plans to turn one floor of the library into a learning commons. As a result, the serials collection needed to be moved onto the same floor as the rest of the collection.

Paula Martin and I were hired in a job-share arrangement to make this happen. We had job-shared together the previous three months on another project for the Library so we had some prior experience of working with each other, and Manukau Institute of Technology. The project began in February 2010 and needed to be completed 8 months later when the contract expired.
Moving collections to make space for other activities is a fairly common library project. And you probably can’t see how it could possibly give you goosebumps. Neither could Paula Martin and I.
We ruminated on this a while and altered the project from being ho-hum to goosebump-inducing. As we would need to weed both collections to make them fit, why not integrate all formats into one sequence? 

Students would be able to find more information in the same place. We couldn’t find any other NZ academic library that had done this. But we knew deep down that this was right. It gave us goosebumps. Implementing that dream created a ripple effect that altered the Library’s genetic makeup. It led to improvements in lending policies, staff workflows, relationships with teaching staff, and a myriad of other things. The overall project didn’t change – we were still moving the serials collection, but our approach to it did. Project Shift was born.

Why not tweak your project to give yourself goosebumps? Start with what would give you goosebumps and see what happens.

2. Sell the Sizzle
Selling and sales is largely neglected in both project management; and in libraries. Selling is not a dirty word. It means gaining support and supporters. And supporters are absolutely vital to the success of any project.

Sell the sizzle is about the beauty of the project through the eyes of the supporter, whether that is the advisory board, team member or end user. What is important to the supporter, what will it do for them, what problem will it solve, what benefit will they gain?

It’s less about the deliverables, the features, or the nuts and bolts of a project, and more about the story. Creating a compelling story that will quickly hook them, pique their interest and beg them to learn more.

Project Shift included a marketing and communications plan for library staff and academic staff and students.

Once again we spent a lot of time thinking about selling the sizzle and gaining supporters – because Paula and I definitely couldn’t do this on our own.

Our overarching message was “making information easier to find” which reinforced the benefit of deselection to academic staff, and highlighted the benefit of an integrated collection. Although this message was essentially an easy sell, it did require a lot of work to gain support and maintain momentum.

We attended every library team meeting, held discussion groups, unmeetings and blogged. We wrote articles for campus publications, and drafted key messages for the library leadership team to present at campus meetings.

In libraries, it may not be as effortless or as charismatic as Don Draper makes it out to be, but it can be done.

3. Dream With Deadlines
We have the dream, our goosebump project. Next we need a plan to achieve that dream. A map that we, and others can follow.

In the movie Sucker Punch Babydoll has been locked away against her will. Determined to fight for her freedom, she urges four other girls to band together and try to escape their terrible fate at the hands of their captors by revealing the map to freedom. Babydoll’s plan is pretty straightforward.

And the plan for Project Shift was also pretty straightforward. We only had three things to do – review the collection, move the collection, and tidy up the loose ends. And the Project definitely had deadlines.

With the majority of the work confined to semester breaks we really had no choice. We reassured library staff with regular communication and contingency plans to cope with the most likely delays.

For example, we allowed 7 weeks for consultation with lecturers, as this was our most likely scenario based on past projects of a similar nature. However, we also planned for our worst case scenario of 14 weeks and the effect that this would have on the schedule.

A dream with deadlines doesn’t need to be complicated. But having and following a plan alleviates stress, optimises productivity and reduces misunderstanding, confusion and conflict.

4. In Teams We Trust 

As I mentioned earlier, Paula and I couldn’t have done this on our own – we didn’t have the expertise or resources. We negotiated staff time and used their knowledge to guide our planning.

For example, based on our deselection criteria we selected a sample of 25 items to predict the percentage of items to be kept or withdrawn. The two most experienced subject librarians thought this was would provide a biased result and suggested we use another sample of 50 items. Based on this advice and despite the small sample size this method provided a reasonably accurate prediction [the sample test indicated we would withdraw 58% of all items we reviewed. In practice, we withdrew 62%, just a 4% difference.]

Trusting people to do the job they said they would do, and trusting their expertise are absolutely vital to a project’s success. Trust makes it easier to collaborate, solve problems, and produce backup solutions quickly.

5. Eyes On The Prize
When the end of a project is too far away to imagine it is easy to become distracted, unmotivated and disheartened. But in order to reach the end we need keep our eyes on the prize. We need to focus on the progress we make each day so we don’t become overwhelmed, just like Lisa Carrington, New Zealand Olympic Canoe hopeful does.

In Project Shift there were many instances where we were either spending too much time perfecting the details or becoming disheartened because tasks were taking much longer than anticipated.

As we checked progress against the schedule on a daily basis we were able to determine whether we had done enough, or needed to persevere and adjust timelines.

For example, in order to shift the collection without requiring additional shelving, we needed to remove 316 shelves or just over  10500 items. Our deselection criteria identified nearly 13000 items for removal.

Rather than attempt to evaluate and remove all 13000 items we focused on the prize of 10500 items and 316 shelves. As a result not all potential items were evaluated or processed. But our project did achieve the desired outcome.

“It is better to take many small steps in the right direction than to make a great leap forward only to stumble backward.” Chinese Proverb

6. Toast Tiny Triumphs
Nothing gets you further in a project than recognition and appreciation, especially a project running on the smell of an oily rag as most library projects do.

And we all know that librarians + food = win. Paula and I made sure to celebrate whatever wins we had, as often as possible.

Aside from chocolate fish and shared lunches we also held ‘ripping parties’ to recycle books, recorded daily progress on the staff whiteboard, thanked people at team meetings, and shared the project triumphs with a wider campus audience. As one library staff member said “Rewards and feedback from the Project Team were great, makes one feel appreciated”.

How well, and how often do you show your appreciation? What harm could it do to include it in your project’s daily to-do list?

7. Keep Calm and Collected
It is not easy to keep your head about you when those around you are losing theirs. Projects are stressful enough without adding a panic attack, or emotional outburst. The world isn’t perfect, people aren’t perfect, and project plans aren’t perfect. Something is likely to go wrong or an unanticipated event will occur.

The stress point for Project Shift was the shifting of the collection. Because not only were we shifting the collection, but we were also creating a new shelving layout and attempting to standardise the shelving at the same time. With a mix of imperial and metric shelving, end-posts of different heights and aligning logical breaks in Dewey with shelving bays you know how stressful this can be.

Our shelving plan hadn’t allowed for these (or many other important details such as room for more boxes at the end of serial runs) but it was enough to keep us from confusion and misunderstanding. It was enough to move over 40,000 books, 3000 serials, 3000 videos and dvds, dismantle and rebuild shelves within two weeks.

And that’s all we needed to do.

I don’t think librarians need to change what we do at all. Librarians will continue to work towards improving society through facilitating knowledge creation in our communities for many years to come. The difference will be in how we approach that work.

It won’t be easy, but as you no doubt know, nothing worth doing ever is. It will take time to consider new approaches to work when you’re so used to doing what you usually do. It will be daunting to step outside your comfort zone, at least the first time. But if you want to fondly remember your current project two or five years from now, you must do memorable work. And if you want others to know about the valuable work of librarians, you must be excited, enthralled and enthusiastic enough to share your work.

And now is the perfect time to start.

I encourage you to share your work with others. I ask that you think about how you can ‘sell the sizzle’ on your current project. And I implore you to find one other person, just one, who will encourage you, assist you, and support you in your work. They don’t need to work in the same team or in the same organisation but if you share the same dream of raising the profile of libraries and librarians outside the profession through your current project, it becomes so much easier to achieve it. And as a result it can only be as David Tua once famously said ‘O for Awesome’.


Career suicide: Let’s be frank

Read this article and more in Weve

Have you ever felt restricted from engaging in frank and open discussions about the library profession?

Have you ever felt if you publicly voice your opinion on professional matters you are at risk of compromising your job or future prospects?

We have and we know we are not alone.

In a profession that claims to value freedom of expression we don’t always feel safe raising issues for fear of committing career suicide.

It can be difficult to have honest conversations about how we, as library and information professionals, should address privacy, surveillance, the changing nature of technology, education and so many other issues faced by our communities and ourselves when the pervasive culture of the profession seems to be one of sticking our head in the sand expecting someone else to propose an alternative and then either responding with silence or publicly tearing their suggestion to shreds. Both of which ensure they and many observers, never say anything again.

However we don’t think it is intentional.

Most people have very little opportunity to have discussions or raise issues, so when someone asks or gives them an opportunity, they let it all out whether it’s relevant or not. This, in our view, is why most meetings tend to run over time and include so many unexpected discussions. We’ve been saving ourselves for that meeting.

Our traditional forms of professional communication don’t really help either. List-servs do not allow for anonymity (as far as we know) and as a result tend towards announcements rather than discussions.

If you are not a member of a professional association such as SLANZALIANZA or Te Rōpū Whakahau, you do not have the opportunity to raise issues in a regional, perhaps more collegial and supportive environment.

Yet the majority of people working in the industry do not belong to any professional association.

Who speaks for them?

Who asks them to contribute to the discussion?

How can their voice be heard?  
Heroes Mingle wants to make it easier for everyone in libraries to have their say in a safe anonymous environment. But we don’t know how best to go about it.

Ideally we’d love the library list-servs to allow for anonymous contributions so that we don’t need to sign-up or visit yet another page. But we don’t know if this is possible. We also think it would be cool to have a type of discussion forum so conversations are captured as threads and can be referred back to and commented on, rather than via clumsy email threads. But once again our experience is limited.

Perhaps you’re also interested in reducing the risk of career suicide and improving the profession at the same time.

If you are, get in touch with either Megan or Sally via heroesmingle@gmail.com.

Together we can work towards a solution.

The virgin smokes a cigar: The afterglow from 100 days of creativity

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Last year Paul showed me an article in the local suburban paper. It was an interview with Emma Rogan talking about the 100 days project – a small creative exercise, once a day for 100 days. I wanted to give it a try so I decided to write a short story (about 100 words) each day incorporating a randomly selected word from Afterliff: A new dictionary of things there should be words for. To seal the deal and to make sure I didn’t chicken out part-way through, I published my stories on my blog for all to see.

I’m the kinda gal who enjoys challenges. I’ve bungy-jumped in Queenstown, eaten haggis and presented in front of 500+ people.

Bungy-jumping is the scariest thing ever. Standing on a teeny tiny platform high above a rapidly flowing river, watching a teeny tiny inflatable boat waiting to haul you in, listening to an instructor telling you he’ll count you down but won’t push you, and at least 100 people watching stupid dicks like me pay to jump off a bridge. THAT is absolutely terrifying.

So terrifying that the instructor counted me down twice and I still didn’t jump. I took sadistic pleasure in knowing he couldn’t push me. Hah! I hyperventilated, I visualised myself celebrating at the end like they tell you to do when you try something for the first time, and still I didn’t jump.

And then after I’d got all that out of my system (not because the instructor told me if I didn’t jump soon he was going to untie my legs and I’d have to walk back across the bridge where everyone could see me), I jumped. I screamed. I survived (I’ve got it on video if you don’t believe me).

I’m not afraid of challenges; but stepping over that point of no return, feeling the fear, imagining all the things that could go so horribly wrong, trying not to cry? THAT is bloody scary.

Stepping over the point of no return with this project was no exception. I fretted about putting it on my blog in such a public space. I fretted about writing stories that other people would think were lame. I fretted about whether I could stick it out for 100 days. Do you know how long that is? Do you? I fretted about everything. But in the end my enthusiasm triumphed over my fear. I started. I continued to fret for 100 days. I was anxious about every story. I had an adrenaline rush with every story.

I hated each word and I loved every word. I am in awe of novelists. If I had known just how hard it is to tell an engaging story that captures the reader’s interest I would never have started.

Knowing the basic mechanics helped. Sort of. A beginning, middle and end provided a structure to help the story flow; while I desperately tried to convey atmosphere, use witty repartee and build intricate worlds. It may have been possible under different conditions but I couldn’t do it. in a way that satisfied me, within a 24 hour turnaround. Alas, I settled for capturing a brief moment in a character’s life.

The word for Day 1 was mastrils (pl.n alarming or unconventional pets such as ferrets or anacondas). It took, oh about, 23 hours to get this story written and thanks to Entertainment Tonight and the eccentricities of Hollywood celebrities it came together in a piece inspired by Paris Hilton.

Just another manic monkey
“That stupid *bleeep* monkey just bit me!” Clarice screamed. 

“Clarice’s cute collection of mastrils has accompanied her on the red carpet many times. But just how dangerous are Clarice’s exotic pets? Our reporter Juan Rodriguez is at the hospital now. Juan what can you tell us?”

“Kelly, Clarice was rushed to hospital earlier today after her monkey, Princess, supposedly went crazy and bit her on the leg. Doctors are treating Clarice for suspected rabies but it’ll be at least ten days before we know for certain if Clarice is in the clear. Meanwhile, celebrity pet therapist, Fleur Thiel has spoken to Princess and says Princess is adamant she doesn’t have the rabies virus.”

Writing stories about Hollywood celebs was not something I could have predicted I would write about, but funnily enough none of the stories were. They all delightfully surprised me. The scenes I rehearsed in my head never quite worked out the same on paper. In my head I imagined sweeping cinematic movie trailers, while on paper they morphed into Secret Santa.

The most powerful artifact in all of accounting
I pull a piece of paper out of the hat and look at the name written on it. Curtis. I smile with relief.

This is my first Christmas at Grey Chapman Chartered Accountants and I was worried I’d get one of the partners who I don’t really know very well. Curtis is a big Lord of the Rings fan so it should be easy enough to find a Secret Santa gift for him.

At lunch time I pop out to the $2 shop to see what I can find and voilà, there it is. The One Ring, soon to be re-labeled as The Eakring* – the Greatest of all the Rings of Power and the most Powerful Artifact in all of Accounting. Perfect.

*A token of undying thrift.

Using random words from Afterliff: the new dictionary of things there should be words for, caused more than a few stunned mullet moments. I oscillated between using the word to set the plot or using the word in a small part of the storyline. I think some of my best stories were stories that just happened to contain the word of the day.

Invasion of the body snatchers
Troesel, Thelina and Turnich have been assigned a three week reconnaissance mission. After advising the three Alphabeasts of the importance of remaining undetected, the Dolphbot lets them choose their Earthling hosts.

Two weeks later: There have been several reports of unusual communications between John Key, Winston Peters and Kim Dotcom.  It is alleged that the three have been secretly meeting to discuss a new future together. When questioned, all three vehemently deny such allegations. David Cunliffe remains ab lench*, as usual.

Three weeks later: The Alphabeast Commander awards Turnich the highest honour for his successful invasion of David Cunliffe’s body.

*Not up for anything much, really: The opposite of ‘gung-ho’. 

Death by a thousand cuts
So many words have been taken from us. Removed from human consciousness and lost forever. The number of blank spaces in printed material is growing day by day and soon we will witness the slow death of our conversations.

I stand at the big hulking machine and wait for it to spit out the next word that I must erase. I am being punished for my insolence but I have not been broken, yet. Tomorrow I will give my daughter a birthday present she alone will remember. I will give her the word ‘wyre piddle*’ and she will keep it alive within her.

*A small child with its shoes on the wrong feet.

About two dozen people unsubscribed from my blog within the first week of 100 Days of Creativity. I fretted. Were my stories that bad? Should I only post ‘library stuff’? What if others left? And then about two dozen people subscribed to my blog within the second week of the project. They weren’t ‘library types’, they were ‘writer types’.

I fretted again. By Day 30, I was over it. Whatever you do, whatever happens people will judge you. Yes, it worried me.  But it didn’t stop me because there were others who silently supported my effort, or commented on stories that resonated with them, or like Steph and Sabine generously suggested plot ideas during a creative slump.

It’s moments like these
The inside was just as Bine imagined most high school reunions to look like. Awkward. ‘Bine, is that you? It’s so great to see you!’ Bine smiled and gave Tessa a hug. Steph gave Bine an odd look and unsuccessfully tried to catch her eye as the two began talking like they were the best of friends, not her and Steph. 

During a pause in the conversation, Bine had a rackwallace* moment. She turned to Steph with a look of horror. This wasn’t Tessa, this was Charlotte. The Charlotte who pushed her into the diving pool where she floundered before being rescued by the lifeguard. ‘Gotta go’ said Bine, dragging Steph with her. 

*The awful realisation that the person you’ve been talking to all this time is not who you thought they were.

Fact checking and background research for a story of just 100 words might seem like overkill but I did want to make sure I had the story straight, if at all possible. And the things you learn!

True love
Recoiling in disgust when you realise you’ve drunk from an eccup* could be rendered obsolete by scientists who are confident that people will soon be able to replace lost teeth by growing new ones,’ says the TV health reporter. 

Eeeeww! Sounds like a mad scientist

‘…Tests have shown the technique to work in mice, where new teeth took weeks to grow. “We’re confident it will work in humans,” said Professor Deekay…’

experiment gone wrong. Even though I’m looking forward to growing old with you Duncan, I’d rather have you gummy than watch you grow new teeth,’ said Rachael to her husband who didn’t hear a word she said.

*The mug that nobody uses because Grandad once kept his false teeth in it.

Despite all the angst, grumbling and frustration I am ecstatic with the stories I wrote. I didn’t think I could come up with a new story every single day for 100 days. I didn’t think I had 100 stories in me.

There were lots of stories that could have been better and one I didn’t like at all (but oddly enough others did). I don’t think I’m very good at creative writing but I know I’m better than I was. Plus, I’ve got a lot of raw material to work with now.

“Taking a new step,uttering a new word,is what people fear most.” Fyodor Dostoevsky