Since 2002 I have developed my own programme and project management methodology based on existing templates and tools that I have tailored to the management and administration of scientific research projects.
The following books and practitioners have been inspirational:
Trevor L. Young
Young is an expert project management practitioner and his book provides everything needed to manage a project from start to finish in a clear, concise and to the point style. Many of the templates I use are based on his work.
Berkun’s books are an everyday reminder that tools are as good as those who use them and that however good they may be, they are no magic bullet for successful project management. Berkun also debunk a number of myths about project management and challenges many management clichés (such as “thinking outside of the box”).
A number of tools and techniques I use are based on my study of Development Management and Systems Thinking at the Open University. Two Systems approaches play a key role in how I frame research management and handle difficult situations.
- Soft System Methodology (SSM) developed by Peter Checkland is an approach for tackling problematical, messy situations of all kinds. It is an action-oriented process of inquiry into problematic situations in which users learn their way from finding out about the situation, to taking action to improve it. The learning emerges via an organised process in which the situation is explored using a set of models of purposeful action (each built to encapsulate a single worldview) as intellectual devices, or tools, to inform and structure discussion about a situation and how it might be improved (source: Systems Approaches to Managing Change: A Practical Guide)
- Viable System Model (VSM) by Stafford Beer is a conceptual model concerned with the dynamic structure that determines the adaptive connectivity of the parts of the organisation or organism; what it is that enables it to adapt and survive in a changing environment. At the foundation of the model is the concept of variety, the number of possible activities of the parts and the necessity to limit these to those required for survival. The breakthrough in developing the model was the understanding that this could only be achieved with a fractal (recursive) layered structure (adapted from source ibid.).
Finally, management does not occur in a vacuum but in a complex, ever changing human and physical environment with its conflicts, friends and foes and power relationships.
- Critical System Heuristics (CSH) provides both the philosophical foundation and a practical framework for critical systems thinking. Developed by Werner Ulrich, CSH guides my understanding and actions for managing human relationships in contested situations, first to build on everybody’s skills and knowledge but also to identify and limit the potential damages that dysfunctional relationships may cause (read An introduction to CSH).
There is no one-size-fits-all way to manage research and people but flexibility, openness, patience and the desire to learn from situations and from people are key to successful management.