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I am an Engineering undergrad and I am working towards establishing a 8-10 person team for a 6-8 month long academic research project.

Timeline

We will be starting the groundwork for the project in September and initially, due to time constraints, we will be working slowly. From January to April, will be when we will be able to do most of the work related to the project as the time constraint will get removed.

Uptil December, we will only be doing on-paper R&D. All practical work will start from January.

The project deadline is April end.

Project Description

The project is a cross-department engineering project. The project has a very steep learning curve for all of us involved and there will be lots and lots of mistakes and time overruns on our part.

Team Description

The team members are from four different engineering departments, only 4 of whom have previously participated in cross-department projects (but on a much smaller scale). None of us have any experience working on this scale or budget, or of the necessary project management required.

Also, we do not have a faculty adviser till January.

My Role

I will be working on the project in multiple roles. One, working in my domain area, and two, as the unofficial* project manager.

*At the moment.

So, my questions :

  • What project management methodology would be effective and have low overheads as well as be easy to understand by everybody involved?
  • What application or tool would be recommended for managing the project, keeping in mind that the team will be meeting infrequently till December, and hence the medium must allow for remote collaboration?
  • How important is it to have a person acting as a project manager on the team? Is there a need to make this role explicit?
  • Briefly, what will be the responsibilities of the project manager for a project of this scale and size?

Update

Based on certain discussions, we have decided to use either Spiral model or Agile. Spiral model is something that most members of the team are (conceptually) familiar with. Agile will be new for all of us, both conceptually and practically.

Out of these two, which one would be preferable?

  • Do you have a work breakdown structure? Are there defined milestones, in terms of technical achievement / test and validation criteria? – Mark Phillips Aug 15 '13 at 13:24
  • @MarkPhillips Still getting the team together. Not there^ yet. – asheeshr Aug 15 '13 at 13:34
  • How dependent are events/units of work? Is the scope of the project fixed? Are the team members working full or part time? What are your reporting requirements (if any)? – Andrew Clear Aug 16 '13 at 21:28
  • @aclear16 The units will be highly interdependent. Scope is fixed, yes. Its along with our regular coursework, if thats what you were asking. – asheeshr Aug 22 '13 at 8:09
  • This: "The project has a very steep learning curve for all of us involved and there will be lots and lots of mistakes and time overruns on our part." combine with "Scope is fixed" practically guarantees your project will fail. – Andrew Clear Aug 23 '13 at 14:38
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•What project management methodology would be effective and have low overheads as well as be easy to understand by everybody involved?

Conceptually Waterfall approaches are easier for most people to grasp compared to Agile. That being said, how you apply any approach chosen should be tailored to your needs. If you look at the guidance provided by PMBOK or PRINCE2 you could easily overwhelm yourselves with the suggested documentation. My advice is to engage your team and work with them to figure out what level of governance you need. Don't over-engineer this.

•What application or tool would be recommended for managing the project, keeping in mind that the team will be meeting infrequently till December, and hence the medium must allow for remote collaboration?

This depends on the level of oversight that you need. Given that this is an undergrad project it probably won't add value to use something other than a basic package for scheduling the project and communicating with the team. You could do a quick Google search for free project management software and evaluate what is out there based on your needs, or go with what you probably already have access to (Skype, Excel, etc) and work with them.

•How important is it to have a person acting as a project manager on the team? Is there a need to make this role explicit?

Generally speaking all roles/responsibilities on a project should be made explicit. The need for having a PM for the team depends on the criticality and complexity of your project.

In your case you also need to consider that this project is part of your education. If someone wants the PM role that is fine, just make sure that you have the opportunity on this or other projects to hone your Engineering skills.

•Briefly, what will be the responsibilities of the project manager for a project of this scale and size?

There really isn't a lot of information to go on to give you a solid answer, so take the following with a grain of salt.

Based on your description, it sounds like you will be in "Pre-Project" mode prior to 2014. At this stage of the game a PM does a lot of facilitation of discussion towards establishing a vision for the project, and using that vision to define the project products, and based on the definition of the project products determine schedule, roles/responsibilities, governance structure, requirements, etc. Unfortunately, pre-project effort can be very iterative/frustrating/untidy... so be prepared for that.

Once you have developed a plan and are ready to implement (2014) the PM's role becomes more of a monitor to ensure project execution is going to plan, that change is controlled and the plan is amended as necessary, that progress is communicated to stakeholders, etc.

You may also want to check out the discussion here for more about R&D projects.

  • Waterfall is about the worst idea for a project with massive amounts of variation. – Andrew Clear Aug 16 '13 at 21:23
  • @aclear16 - That may be the case, but given that the questioner is an undergrad there may not be the depth of knowledge to apply Agile effectively. – Doug B Aug 19 '13 at 18:24
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1) Properly Plan according to the budget, time and resources.

2) Use online project management tools such as Redmine, Jira etc.

3) Maintain and share online wikis and repositories like Git-hub, Google Docs.

4) The role of Project Manager is mandatory. He will be responsible to assign the tasks and will keep checking and monitoring the overall process keeping in mind the deadline and budget.

5) So, the overall project management cycle becomes very simple, i.e. Planning, Execution (constantly needs Monitoring and Control).

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