Many professors apply group-based projects in their curriculum. The belief is that this mimics the real-world work environment and teaches students how to navigate the interpersonal dynamics of a group. Sometimes you are allowed to choose your own group, and at other times you have a group assigned. In both cases, the collection of individuals must form into a group. Outside of the academic world, the proper vernacular is team project; however, “team” regarding academics aligns itself more closely with extracurricular activities such as clubs or sports. For the purposes of this book, know that group projects will transition into team projects when you leave academia behind.
The first step is to determine or facilitate the end goal. What product will be produced. Next, the group determines what requirements must be adhered to, which is typically found in the syllabus or a provided rubric. This is followed by determining what the group needs to accomplish and mimicking the road map exercises mentioned earlier in the book. Lastly, the group will want to assess the skills of everyone in the group regarding who can do what well or what specific actions people would like to work on, as well as what constraints individual members have. This outlines your action plan of what actions need to take place, when they need to be completed, and who will do them.
I then prefer to have the group go through the charter process. The key item here is to develop a group operating agreement. This is simply a guideline for how the group wants to work together. It includes how to interact, how to manage the project, and how to give feedback to one another.
The agreement sets the stage to go through the routine project planning steps of finalizing the scope, identifying risks, and understanding constraints. Let’s take a statistics project as an example. The professor has assigned you a dataset and a four-person group to develop inferences on what the dataset means. As your group comes together, you can determine what hypothesis you want to test and what requirements it must adhere to. As a group, you identify everybody’s skill level and what each member can do, as some may understand the statistical principles, whereas others may be more adept at database programming.
At this point, you will be able to facilitate your newly established group through the planning process, helping them develop a WBS and identify key milestones. This inevitably leads to outlining what actions to take and the development of the project schedule. Using our statistics example, we identify three milestones: designing the experiments, completing the analysis, and synthesizing the findings. As a group, you will all decide to complete the project within the next three weeks, giving a week to complete each milestone.
The schedule has been produced; therefore, the resources are assigned next. Incorporating your previous skill assessment, you will want to enlist people with the proper skills to complete their assigned work. Additionally, you will want to ensure that you have a balanced workload. In which everyone is contributing their fair share of the work efforts and eliminating the potential of social loafing.
Next, you will want to have the group decide on the best way to manage the project. Should you use a technology platform to track action item completion? How will we keep everyone in the group aligned with the tasks at hand? What agreements can we commit to ensure that a group member doesn’t slip behind and derail the rest of the group?
You have facilitated with your group how to run the project. Also, enabling each group member to have a voice and be involved in the decision-making process. Most importantly, you negotiated how to fit the needs of the group members and where concessions needed to be made.
Next, the project begins. A key detail is how to maintain and understand the status of the project. There is a need to know what has been completed and what is being worked on. Many groups prefer to run live meetings to get direct feedback. Whereas many refined groups can run asynchronous sessions in which they provide updates on their work and status on their own.
The last obstacle to cover is project quality. A good plan will think through quality and embed it into the plan. A great project group will enhance this by investing their time in the quality review process. For our example of our statistics project, the group wants to ensure that it’s work is correct. So they incorporate a peer review into their project plan. They can then have another student attempt to replicate the analysis to validate whether their work was done correctly or not.
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