ah, what to say about project management and grant writing? that they are necessary evils? sorting through the links and info pages in this week’s reading had that same queasy, fluorescent light feel of trying to survive eight hours of screen staring during the data entry desk job. if only money appeared out of nowhere and projects unfurled by the magical force of their sheer worth.
my relationship to that which we are referring to as project management is one of reluctant hope. people, it seems, forever and ever, have been looking for ways to best organize their time, thoughts, activities, resources, collaborations, etc. the 18th century puritanical preacher jonathan edwards used to pin his notes to clothes so as not to forget. emerson kept an intricate and extensive journal system that allowed him to cross reference one book to another. the 17th-century scholar Vincent Placcius turned his notebook into a hulking piece of furniture (see above). and who can forget memento, whose protagonist inundates himself with tattoos, stickies, & polaroids to combat an amnesia that seems, metaphorically, to parallel the inevitable forgetfulness of the information-overloaded subject of today’s world.
sure some of this may sound more like notetaking rather than official project management, but who’s to say where one ends and another begins. despite my attempts to enforce a logic on my many different types of lists of thinking and doing, my projects/tasks/notes-to-self currently exist in so many different forms that i begin to wonder if i would not do better with none of them at all. i know i’m not alone. after the research management workshop last week, students asked whether there might be workshops on just calendars and organization. i can’t imagine a less sexy topic. yet it seems, if we could just sort out these two little things, the world would be ours! and so, i can see why an entire institute (PMI) has arisen over this otherwise banal topic even if i’d almost rather read ten pages of source code.
there is of course project management of one’s life and all its many cubbies, and group project management. they are not so wildly different. one of the problems is not so much writing tasks down or keeping up with tasks that are laid out before one — the problem is keeping up with all the different places one orchestrates their project management. personally, i have a paper day planner, a phone calendar with alerts, a list making app and a note taking app on my phone, multiple groups on the cuny academic commons, stickies on my desktop, evernote to-do-lists, a membership with the project management tool asana for my fellowship duties, a membership with the digital tool trello as of five minutes ago for experimental purposes, and of course, for those few not-to-be-forgottens-!, the back of my hand which currently reads “blog post.” (the latter is reserved for only the most pressing (read late) as it is a practice i detest!) it seems it would take me an entire day just to go through all these different places and so i don’t and the result is that on top of all this technology, at the end of the day, the main task master is exactly what i’ve been trying to supplement — my memory. though the idea of one universal “project manager” is wildly appealing (and one that many of the tools we’re looking at this week promise), it seems flat out impossible. my day planner doesn’t come with alerts and can be misplaced, my phone calendar isn’t as accessible and flexible as my day planner, only the online platforms enable discussion functionality with collaborators through email, etc etc. furthermore, i’ve become increasingly wary of trying new tools and systems for there is always the certain risk (or near promise) that despite the time one puts into the new tool, they will only further fracture and confuse one’s already too-complex ecosystem of project management methods. and when one already has so much to do, who has time to adopt to a new system!
this is not to say that i think improvements are impossible, only that they will take a lot of research, time and experimentation to find out, and that one must make peace with the fact as soon as possible, that a) neither will the tools be the final solution nor b) will there ever be a utopian solution. while i think it’s great that terry smith’s fourth grade class had a positive experience with project management, i think that has more to do with terry smith than with the tools employed. i can easily see the same project-management inspired classroom becoming a total bureaucratic nightmare. for while writing about project management, and acknowledging its worth and necessity (in our social/economic context), i’m also wondering what this increasing cultural obsession with project management and its tools reflects. it parses individual and social activity into something that can always be boiled down into a mission statement, time frame and dollar sign. great for getting projects done, meeting deadlines, satisfying the bottom line, etc, but not so great, at least personally, for feeling enthused about a project. is this a sign of something else in decline? am i just being whiney? is there room to interrogate this a little?
i have little to say at the moment on grant writing. the literature here will be much more compelling, i imagine, when using it to apply to the actual writing of a grant which it seems we will all have ample opportunity to consider as we formulate our itp projects. for someone who finds the construction of even the most minute forms of professional correspondence to be a rather mind-paralyzing activity, these examples look particularly helpful in breaking down the immense task of grant writing into a sort of manageable paint-by-number activity. at any rate, here are a few more questions:
what project management tools/systems do you use, whether for personal projects or group projects?
has anyone had experience writing grants? how do you approach it? are there ways to make the task less daunting, more personal?