Managing a Data Project: My Experience

by Liam Wood

I had my client project last week (my turn at project management) in the data school. Happily, I received some compliments/positive feedback about how I dealt with the week and approached the role.

It was suggested that I recount some of my experiences and share this for the benefit of others, so they might read about my approach, what worked for me and what challenges I faced. Hopefully others will find something helpful within this blog to inform their own project management.

What do I see as the role of a Project Manager?

A good place to start is with how I see the role of a Project Manager.

I think the role of a Project Manager is to be a facilitator, and this involves several elements:

  • Providing structure and guidance
  • Helping to remove obstacles for the team
  • Communicating important information and providing resources for the team
  • Setting clear expectations but encouraging initiative
  • Providing feedback to team members

What did I feel was important to make the team successful?

I was fortunate to have my client week late on in our training, so I was able to observe the things that previous PMs had done well and I had taken on board the feedback from previous weeks.

I've listed below what I think are key to success:

I felt it was important that the team knew the structure for the current day and what end product we were aiming to achieve. This meant that they could plan their time within that structure whilst giving them a direction and the context of the desired result.

Assigning clearly defined roles, so the team understands their individual responsibilities.

Spending time to understand the requirements of the project and the resources at our disposal.

  • Familiarise yourself with the data.
  • Learn about the industry and specific use case.
  • How complex is the task and how long will it take?
  • What have been the obstacles to achieving this previously?
  • Why does the client want this?

I felt it was important to track what tasks had been completed and which others were being held up by obstacles. As well as the expected durations of the tasks, to assess the scope of the project.

Being available to the team is something that I see as very valuable as this allows the team to access support and feedback. So, freeing up the time for others where you are not occupied by other tasks is important.

Having the resources in a centralized place that everyone could access, clearly divided into relevant folders/areas.

Allowing time to for the team to work independently.

What structure did I use?

Introduce the day:

  • What tasks do we need to do?
  • When are there breaks or meetings?
  • What is the goal for the day?
  • Are there any announcements for the whole group?
  • Are there issues which overlap across teams or individuals? Link them up, if so.
  • Updates for individuals (new resources, changes, notes, feedback)

Depending on our arrangements, this may be in the form of an announcement or a post for the group to view.

Documents to monitor:

  • Questions for the client
  • The scope and hours available each day across the week (for each person and the group)
  • Each team member
  • Tasks (completed and active)
  • Barriers
  • New Ideas

Resources:

A folder on the shared drive including:

  • Dashboard Template
  • Logos and Brand Colours
  • Data and Resources
  • Prep Workflows
  • Packaged Tableau Workbooks

What challenges were there?

I found it challenging to allocate members of the team to the right tasks. Across the week, several team members were not available on certain days or at certain times. It made sense to me to allocate a person who was only available at the start of the week to the data preparation work. However, it was fortunate that I paired them with someone who was there throughout, as it gave the team some continuity and a point of contact for data preparation later on in the week. Especially as we still had some challenges and changes on Thursday.

Collaborating and communicating on Zoom/Online. Although working over video calls and online has some benefits, I reflected on some challenges it presents as well. Individuals and small teams were able to work independently in breakout rooms, but this also meant that at times I felt it wasn’t as easy for them to reach out, if they had an issue. Obviously, the dynamic is different to if we had been working in-person and I think this limited my ability to recognise issues and communicate as effectively as possible.

What would I have liked to do better?

I struggled to be as available as I would have liked, and as a result I wasn’t able to check-in with everyone as much as I would have liked. I got involved in some hands-on tasks and while my attention was on that, I wasn’t able to get regular updates from other members of the team.

I hope reading this was useful, to see my approach and my thought process. Everyone has their own style, but this worked quite well for me, and may be useful for you!

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