Musings on Digital History

Project Management and the Museum Professional

Without any formal project management training, my museum positions have always been focused essentially centered around being a project manager. When I worked at the Museum of Fine Arts, I served as the departmental coordinator for various projects that required the input and buy-in of multiple departments. For example, I managed a reinstallation of 200 object labels for the musical instrument gallery. I worked closely with the design and fabrication departments, submitting our label text and copyediting their proofs, coordinated photography of objects for the labels, worked with our preparator on determining what objects needed new mounts, and worked with conservation and collections care to clean and assess object conditions before installation. I worked with our facilities and front line staff to close the gallery, to communicate this closure to the public, and created clear signage to close the space. To me, project management relies on communication and coordination. Sometimes, I feel like a professional nudge, but to get a project done, it is imperative that someone takes the lead to drive all the players towards the goal.

In the digital space, many tools and apps exist for project management, but they require buy-in from all parties. I wanted to use these kinds of tools at the MFA, but I didn’t have the ability to recommend they be used by everyone. Two free apps worth exploring are Basecamp and Trello. Both apps give project managers the tools to assign tasks and follow-up on them, upload documents for one’s team, set and prioritize deadlines, track progress and budgets, and chat and post updates for the group. Having created my own systems for my whole career, learning about these apps is essential for doing PM in the 21st century. I think, the only challenge, is getting people to agree to using the app, which means that everyone checks in often, and complete’s their own tasks–not always the easiest thing to ensure on any platform.

In Dr. Otis’s webinar on Project and Data Management, she explores how historians have to be project managers when it comes to applying for and managing grants. Grant-giving organizations require you to submit detailed documentation related to a wide swath of things, including the project budget, data plan, and dated deliverables. I really liked her outline of what every project manager should consider:

  1. Requirements
    1. Scope
  2. Cost-schedule
    1. How much and when?
  3. Risk assessment
    1. What could go wrong with the project?
  4. Data management
  5. Communication
  6. Periodic reviews
    1. Are you on track?
  7. Exit criteria
    1. When are you done?
      1. When have you met requirements or when the money is gone
  8. Preservation

Things I was not as versed in, in this list, included issues related to data management and preservation. These are hugely important in the realm of DH. One must consider issues related to where project materials live, who can access them, and if they are secure. Furthermore, for digital projects, preservation is key. Similarly, one must consider how long this project will live and what the plan for making that happen are (annual costs post grant, platform updates and website maintenance, etc), making sure that the materials are saved in ever-green formats so that years down the line, they are still accessible, and so on.

Overall, I would very much like to continue to do Project Management in my career because I like to organize materials and my Type-A personality lends itself to taking control and getting things done, although I have learned to accept help and delegate tasks.

2 replies on “Project Management and the Museum Professional”

In addition to the pingback, it seemed good to comment directly here!

There’s definitely something very satisfying about managing and organizing project tasks, but you’re so right about buy-in being crucial. Email notifications and message pings are only so useful if others are paying attention/not ignoring the alerts. Like you described, I’ve been in situations where someone *needed* to be able to set an expectation (for using a tool, for committing to a timeline), but no one actually had the authority to do so.

In those work situations (like at the MFA), did you find that you were empowered by others in the organization to take the lead, or was it more about persistence and communication?

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