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I’m delighted to be involved with the project board for the CILIP Future Skills project. It’s a really important project: to make sure that CILIP’s qualifications, Body of Professional Knowledge, and Accreditation and Seal of Recognition schemes are meeting and reflecting the needs of CILIP members from all sectors, and at all stages of their career.

The project board’s role is to advise on the project at high-level, while the project team at CILIP will be doing the really hard work – research, talking to members, implementing suggestions etc. That’s not to say the project board aren’t working hard, too! I’ve now been to two meetings, and found them both to be interesting and productive.

I knew that getting involved with this project would be great for my professional development, as well as a brilliant opportunity to help guide the future of CILIP: a chance to get to know the CILIP framework inside out; learn about areas and sectors I didn’t know much about; represent new professionals, people who’ve recently chartered, and those in non-traditional roles; meet and work with some lovely and fascinating people. What I didn’t realise was that it would also be a crash course in project management!

Most of the project work I’ve done so far has either been with no defined methodology (such as working with Voices for the Library), or projects at Mimas where I’ve been doing the work, but haven’t been involved in high-level strategy or planning. But I’ve just started managing a project for the Archives Hub, so I’m really keen to get some tips and see a great project in action.

And I’ve been really impressed by the way the project is being run. Project Manager Simon Edwards obviously has a lot of experience making things run smoothly, and other project board members seem to know their way around PRINCE 2, too! It’s odd to see things that I’d only ever read about in theory in action, such as the time: resources: quality triangle. When someone says ‘well, we can’t increase resources, and we’re not willing to compromise on quality, so we’ll need to extend the time axis if we can’ it suddenly all makes sense! (well, (in theory) it made sense in theory too, but it’s much more real when it’s, umm, real)

So, for project management noobs like me, here’s some of what I’ve learned so far:

1) Gantt charts don’t have to start on Mondays. This is one of those things that seem blindingly obvious once you’ve seen it, but that I’d just never have thought of for myself. The Gantt charts for this project have the week end date in the date columns, meaning the focus is on deadlines. I also find it useful this way – as the project board is meeting on Fridays, it means I can easily associate activities and deadlines with project board meetings. I’m sure you could use any interval or period you liked – meetings on a Weds? Start your weeks then! Meetings every 10 days? Make your date periods 10 days instead of 7. I don’t know to what extent these latter tweaks would be considered good practice, but I think it’s something I’d find useful.

2) The time you block out on a Gantt chart doesn’t have to be solid. The Gantt charts I’ve always seen/produced have had sections of time blocked out in solid lumps, like this:

Now, this is fine if each of those tasks really is going to take the whole week, but that’s often not the case! It might be that there’s just a single day’s work to be done, or nothing can be done until the second half of the week. How to indicate that? Here’s Simon’s method:

Simple and effective! And if you start using different colours, your Gantt chart could become a thing of beauty! What colours might you use?

3) RAG everything. No, that doesn’t mean wild and wacky fundraising activities – it stands for ‘Red, Amber, Green’, and is a way to visually represent progress and status of a project. Green means everything’s ok; amber is an activity at risk; and red means that something has gone wrong – a target not met, or a resource not available.

I’ve used similar colour-coding systems in the past, but I’ve never come across a project where basically everything has a RAG status. It means that it’s easy for us to see at a glance where the potential problems are – and (hopefully!) to deal with them before they become actual problems. And all of this is recorded in the…

4) Project Journal. Again, not an entirely new concept – various school/college/uni projects have involved keeping a diary of progress – but one I’ve never actually used before. (I used to make all of my project diaries up. I’m sure everyone did. And for those of us who were schooled before the ubiquity of word processing – remember writing some entries in different pens so it looked less like you’d written it all the night before it was due in? Fun times.)

But when you’re working in a group, on a large-scale project, suddenly you realise that your teachers might actually have been right: there is a need to keep a record of what’s been done, when and by who. It’s a place where all project members can be kept up-to-date with what’s going on in various areas of the project, and everyone has a chance to learn from everything that’s been done.

Combined with the Lessons Learned Log (the space for reflective practice about the project) it will also help with the planning of future projects, recording not only the methodology but the reasons for that methodology and how successful it was. Simon describes the reasoning for the documentation: ‘using a combination of the Project Journal (the story), the Highlight report, (the latest headlines) and the Project Plan (the map) literally anyone should be able to come in and pick up from where I left off’

There’s still a long way to go on the project, and I’m sure I’ll be learning loads more as it goes along!

If you’d like to know more about the Future Skills project, or get involved, you can contact the project team.


Last Thursday (Jan 12th) I gave a webinar for the SLA Leadership & Management Division Professional Development Series, on Alternative Careers. The slides are on slideshare, and (if you have 50 minutes to spare), the recording is up on Vimeo.

This was the first time I’d ever given a webinar, and I was nervous! More so as the bookings mounted up. Anything to do with careers and employability is a hot-topic at the moment, and I was stunned as numbers mounted from 30 to 60 to 90 – finally finishing up at over 300. 300!!!

Fortunately, I didn’t have to actually present to that many people – the webinar limit was set at 100, so I’m doing a repeat on 2nd Feb, and some people agreed to just watch the recording. You may be wondering ‘Why should size matter? It’s not like you can see your audience!’. Well, that’s true – but it’s a number of people taking time out of their busy days to pay attention to you, and whether you can see them or not, that’s pretty daunting…

I expected to find the webinar more nerve-wracking than giving a live presentation. The audience is there, but you can’t feed off them. There’s no-one to make eye contact with, no way of telling if anyone’s laughing at your jokes. You can’t watch them and judge the pace and level, can’t tell if anyone is actually listening! It’s just your voice, ringing loud and strange in your ears, your reflection in the darkened window. It’s like being alone, but without the freedom to stop for 5 minutes and go make a cup of tea. Overall, a most peculiar experience – and I enjoyed it! I still got the buzz from presenting, I just didn’t have anyone to share it with…

So, in no particular order, here are some things I learned about doing webinars.

Hardware: I used a headphone/mic set, which I’ve used before for Skype calls etc, and found fine. On reflection, I’d have preferred just using a mic and my computer speakers. It’s speaking that’s important, not listening, and I found the headphones very restrictive. It was hard to forget that I had them on, and they made my voice sound very odd. For Feb 2nd I think I’ll try to source a standalone mic (it’s at 7pm UK time, so no-one to disturb in the office!)

Software: Hope from LMD was very organised in setting up a practice session so we could make sure that everything worked on my machine, and that they could hear me and see my slides. She made sure that I signed on a good half hour before the webinar was due to start, so we could deal with any last minute problems. Did something go wrong 5 minutes before the start? Of course it did! But Hope managed to sort it out, and we started just a couple of minutes late. Did I start panicking? Maybe just a little…

Presenting: as usual, I wrote and practised a script. Even though I knew I would be able to just read the script (no-one to make eye contact with!), I thought practice was still very important. As well as making sure that I’d got my timings right, it helped to make sure that everything made sense out load, and that the flow and word choice were ok.

I wanted to read the script off my kindle, but didn’t have my cable with me, and sending via email didn’t come through in time, so I went proper old-school, and printed it out. I’d originally thought I’d be able to read it on my second screen (audience view was limited to slides on main screen), but realised I’d have to use that for the webinar software.

Despite not having a physical audience, I found myself gesticulating while I spoke. In many ways this made me feel rather silly (and I really really hoped the cleaners wouldn’t come in half-way through), but it also made me more comfortable, and helped me to settle down and put more feeling into my voice. I think that the more I actually performed it on this end, the better it would be for the attendees. (No-one’s said I sounded mad, so I think it worked).

I have to admit, there were moments when I forgot the audience was there!

Questions: as organiser, Hope had arranged that she’d keep an eye on questions, and would feed them through to me at the end. The trouble was, I hadn’t warned the audience! I should have told them at the start to ask questions as they thought of them, and I’d answer them at then end. As it was, I think people were taken by surprise, and didn’t have time to type anything out (attendees all muted). I’d put my contact details on the first and last slides, and invited people to contact me if they had any questions, which a couple did. I’m really pleased they did! Not only could I help them out, but it means (I think) that I came across as friendly and approachable.

I’d also asked for feedback and got some lovely responses, in chat, through twitter and email. I’d told the audience that it was my first webinar, and they were really supportive.

Content: because a lot of the content was based on what I do, I’d gone through one of those ‘but it’s all so obvious!’ crises. My lovely colleagues soothed me, and reassured me that it would be fine, and they were right! I tried to use as many real-world examples as possible, and had 3 fantastic volunteers (Jo, Soulla, and Wendy) who let me use them as case studies. I knew that my audience would be mainly US-based, so while my case studies were all from the UK, I tried to find examples of jobs from the US to show to the audience, too.

I also tried to use neutral language, without any UK slang or jargon. I realised afterwards that I’d used ‘CV’ instead of ‘resume’, but I think it’s a common enough term that it shouldn’t be an issue. I also (in a moment of unscripted excitement) started the phrase ‘honest-to-god’, realised I had no idea if that was offensive to anyone, and managed to change it to ‘honest-to-bob’. I *think* I got away with it… I have no idea if ‘honest-to-bob’ is offensive either (maybe to people called ‘Bob’?). but I rather like it.

One thing I’d meant to do was follow the Guardian’s style guide and not use relative times – eg say ‘Wednesday’ instead of ‘yesterday’. In practice, I totally forgot! I’ll try again for the 2nd, but I think it was more important in the recorded version, which could be seen by anybody, at any time. As I’m not reporting breaking world events it’s not really that important – just a minor bit of style I’d have liked to have got right.

Overall, it was a really good experience – made so, mainly, by the feedback from people who said that it would help them in their career search. It’s a really wonderful feeling to know that you’ve helped give someone that bit of confidence to expand their search and apply for jobs they might not have thought of before. I don’t think I said anything revolutionary, but sometimes all it takes is someone saying ‘You can do it!’! I’m proud that LMD gave me the chance to be that person.

What would I really like my librarian legacy to be? Well, pretty much this:

The antipodes of a Dryasdust, his human interest in books made him an ideal librarian, and his courtesy and helpfulness were outstanding features in a personality of singular charm. The whole bookish world looked on him as a friend.

This is from an article on Richard Garnett in the 11th ed Encyclopaedia Britannica (my current bed-time reading*). Garnett’s other achievements as a librarian at the British Museum are noted – reviving the publication of the catalogue and introducing the sliding press – but it’s his personality that shines though the article, and shows that good librarians have always been about more than books.

But as an interpreter, whether of biography or belles lettres, who brought an unusually wide range of book-learning, in its best sense, interestingly and comprehensibly before a large public, and at the same time acceptably to the canons of careful scholarship, Dr Garnett’s writing was always characterized by clearness, common sense and sympathetic appreciation.

A helpful, friendly scholar with a knack for making knowledge accessible? Sounds like my type of librarian.

*it’s actually jolly interesting!** Possibly made even more so by the slight sense of danger in reading a century-old work of reference. What can I trust? Does this reveal more about the society/culture than the subject? Are the Greek footnotes actually some sort of elaborate code?
I’ve been reading quite a few old referency-type books recently, and have a big pile of notes and highlights on my kindle for when I eventually get round to blogging about them properly.

**no, I didn’t start at A. Nor am I planning to slog my way through in order to ‘Zymotic Diseases’ (no zythum?). Where would be the fun in that?

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