I am a great fan of the TV show ‘Come Dine with me’. For those of you who actually have stuff to do on a Sunday afternoon, the basic premise involves a group of strangers rating one another on three course dinners cooked and hosted by each member of the group over a five-day period. The person with the highest overall score at the end of the week wins a £1000 cash prize. I’d quite like to be on the show but am put off by the fact that:
1) being filmed involves being on the wrong side of the camera all the time
2) my cooking isn’t that great, and
3) I tend not to like strangers wandering around my home, snooping in my cupboards and trying on my clothes
All this aside, if I was to appear on the show, I’d definitely do some early planning to minimise the social ridicule that would ensue if I came last. I’d decide what to cook and write a shopping list (including substitute items in case what I wanted wasn’t in stock). I’d practise the meals well in advance to iron out any problems early on. I’d write a timeline of jobs that needed to be done and would refer to this on the day to make sure I wasn’t late getting food onto plates. In effect, I’d be managing my ‘Come Dine with me’ experience as a project.
Last week, members of RHS Estates, RHS Science and RHS/ University of Reading KTP teams met to discuss how Science could standardise its approach to all its project-relevant activities. This was one of a series of KTP workshops that have helped discuss, implement and embed best practice from academic institutions so that we continue to raise the profile of RHS Science and be seen more clearly as an important scientific research partner. The workshop discussion will help direct some of the content of the KTP toolkit: a document highlighting best practice in all aspects of research project management that will help ensure the KTP delivers long-term benefits.
The workshop involved us defining ‘projects’, and contrasting this with day-to-day ‘business as usual’ activities (projects being time-limited, one –off events with specific aims, objectives, milestones and outputs). RHS Estates provided us with a fascinating insight into how they manage multi-million pound projects using a variety of tools (many being equally applicable to science projects) to ensure budgets and deadlines are met. Coffee and cake kept the ideas flowing and us from going hungry and after two hours of discussion, we’d summarised some of the key practices and tools that we could adopt for all our project-relevant activities. These included the use of Gantt charts and clearly defined aims, objectives, milestones and outputs. We agreed regular communication and continual monitoring of the project against the original plan were key activities vital to ensure our projects remain on track and deliver to time and budget.
Project management is relevant in any setting. Many of us, often without realising it, follow a structured project management approach when faced with overseeing big events like cooking the family Christmas dinner or organising the annual holiday. At its simplest, project management involves a common-sense approach to managing activities to help make sure the final product is fit for purpose.
We should just be grateful our projects don’t rely on a TV show’s director to decide which ones make the final cut!