I’ve been spending a lot of time lately doing the final stages of project planning and management for the launch of the new San Jose Public Library website (launching soon, I promise!). This is the culmination of a 3 year project, from the earliest stages of planning and hoping to the final stages of a completely redesigned site (courtesy of Nate Hill), running on a new CMS (Drupal of course), with mostly new content and a lot of content removed, and we’ve turned over all content maintenance directly to the staff.
The coolest thing, in my humble opinion, is that we’re asking all of our staff to write content (in the form of blog posting) that shows up throughout the site. Why is that cool? First, I do mean all–pages, librarians, aids, managers, clerks, library assistants…from all branches and departments. We’re not choosing who gets to write based on classification or degree-status. To me, that’s only right, but for some reason it seems to surprise a lot of library people. Second, we’re a rather large library and have 300 staff already signed up to write for us. That is a lot of staff! Oh, did I mention we’re not pre-moderating either? When staff click ‘Save,’ it’s up live on the site. We trust them.
What I’ve discovered about myself as a project manager as I work through this gargantuan project is that I am rather informal in the way I tackle things. We’ve got an actual to-do list, which changes daily. People sign up for what they’re responsible for, do it, and I talk to everybody daily to see where we’re at. This too is informal, e.g. over coffee at Philz in the morning. But no project management software is being used, no fancy tracking spreadsheets (I started with one but gave it up).
We currently have an 8 page to-do list for our Digital Futures team right now, with the scary big issues listed at the top (also listed on my white board — see photo) and the more detail-oriented stuff listed below that. And you know what? It works. And what is the lesson I take away from all of this?
It doesn’t have to be fancy to work.
I think there is an inherent expectation that we’re supposed to use fancy tools to track projects, progress, and staff time expenditures. And granted, those tools are cool…and make for impressive show-and-tells to the management. But if doing something simpler works, don’t choose the complicated option just to look more impressive. Simple is always better.
The other thing I’m learning about myself as a project manager is the following:
Trust your staff.
I realized the other day that I do actually trust my staff to be doing what they’re supposed to be doing. I’m not asking them for a checked-off list every day of what they’ve accomplished, or riding them on arbitrary sub-deadlines. They know when we go live, they know the work that needs to be done, and they’re budgeting their own time, burning the candle at both ends to meet that deadline, and letting me know when it doesn’t seem possible. Our staff, all of them–not just Digital Futures, were hired because they had a skill set we wanted. They are professionals and we trust them to do their jobs. And that’s my job–to trust them to do their jobs, and to remove any and all barriers as they pop up along the way. And there have been a few.
It’s weird to me that my job no longer involves the direct creation of content. I’m not coding any more. I’m not writing for the web any more. I’m the way-maker, the barrier-smack-down-er, the black ops ninja style manager who gets things through that no one thought would get through. There must be something to this whole ‘trusting your staff’ phenomenon, yes? To keeping things easy, straight-forward, and efficient. So, to all the fancy management theory and software to make you more efficient and track your employees better, I say: Screw it. Do your job and let others do theirs. We all get more done.