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Chapter 3—Project Management for an LDS Implementation

Project management is a finite process, in which an organization launches, oversees, and concludes a project. As the management and enhancement of an established LDS is an ongoing endeavor that will support the education agency and external stakeholders, these ongoing stages should not be viewed as long-term projects. However, approaching the initial planning and development phases of the effort is appropriate. In these phases, the system is planned along a timeline, roles and deliverables are identified, resources are allotted and managed, communication is coordinated, and progress is overseen. Project management is especially important in LDS development because the effort touches numerous program areas within the organization, and perhaps many outside contractors as well. Therefore, it is vital to define the roles and responsibilities of the various stakeholders, their relationships, and timelines for each task. Effective project management will help the agency maintain a clear scope, manage expectations, and deliver components and functionalities successfully and on time. A clear, organized process is critical in such a complex project and will enhance the resulting LDS in terms of operations and ultimate utility. (Tennessee Department of Education)

The Team

Early on, a project management team should be established: a core group of education agency staff (and perhaps external participants) who will plan and manage the LDS effort. Though the makeup of this team will vary by agency and project, ideally its structure should be kept simple and include key leaders selected for their expertise and authority.

  • Executive sponsor
    A high-level authority within the organization (e.g., commissioner, assistant commissioner, or deputy commissioner) gives the project traction and deals with political issues that may impede or even doom the project. Specific responsibilities may include approving overall project scope and budget, securing funding for project costs, and overseeing project phases.

  • Project manager
    The project manager (PM) drives the project management process. This leader should develop the project scope statement; define project deliverables, milestones, budget, and detailed work schedule; and assign project roles and responsibilities. In addition, the PM should establish the project management team, work with the sponsor to review the project plans, drive and lead team meetings, ensure that team members understand and are fulfilling their roles and responsibilities, and ensure that the project is ultimately completed in accordance with agency and external stakeholder expectations. While the agency's chief information officer often fills this role, another agency leader may be selected as PM instead. (Tennessee Department of Education)

  • Data governance coordinator
    The leader of the data governance process works with the team to ensure the project is driven by education and programmatic needs rather than by IT. The coordinator's primary responsibility should be to ensure the appropriate data managers are involved in the development and implementation phases as they are needed, for example, when the data they manage are rolled into the data warehouse or made available to users.

  • Program area data manager
    This standing seat on the team should be filled by different data managers as needed. As various data are incorporated into the system or involved in project activities, the appropriate manager should be engaged to ensure, for instance, that programmatic needs are reflected in the data model, definitions, and reports created from the LDS.

  • Core information technology staff
    In-house IT leaders either implement the system or, perhaps, work with vendors and sustain the system once outside developers have finished their work.

  • Vendor project manager
    If the agency is buying an LDS (in part or whole), the vendor project manager should keep the project on track and the agency up to speed on progress.

  • Database administrator or key technology lead
    If the LDS will be populated from existing data sources within the agency, a lead database administrator (DBA) or key technology lead should participate on the project management team as needed. The DBA understands how the source systems work, including their limitations and problems, and can help ensure effective incorporation of disparate data into the LDS.

The Process

The project management team should meet frequently, perhaps on a weekly basis, for planning, status updates, and discussion of problems and concerns. The following outlines some of the team's key activities.

  • Planning the project scope
    In this first phase of project management, education goals should drive design—define your enterprise's questions and requirements before developers build solutions. Engage stakeholders to define your current system as well as your desired system in terms of architecture, content, access, and use. Consider the work that will be necessary to ensure the quality of the data contained in the system, as well as the steps necessary to ensure data security and the privacy and confidentiality of sensitive student and staff records. Devise a plan for evaluating the system's success throughout the process, including the metrics that will be used to measure this success. Additionally the team should, based on broad stakeholder input, clarify how the system will ultimately be used, the training and professional development that will be needed, and the types of reports and technology solutions that will most help end users.

  • Identifying and prioritizing specific goals and deliverables
    Determine what needs to be done, and in what order, for each phase and portion of the development process.

  • Assigning work and roles
    Assign roles and responsibilities early on. This includes both in-house staff and external vendors, who should be assigned very clear roles and deliverables.

  • Monitoring work and deliverables
    Supervise the project work closely to ensure that activities are on track and to clear unexpected hurdles along the way.

  • Identifying critical issues
    Team members should communicate major problems that might affect implementation, and work together to find solutions as appropriate. Project management meetings should have a standing agenda item to identify these issues, determine a plan of action to address them, and update the team on progress towards the resolution of previously identified concerns.

  • Managing communication
    Keep stakeholders informed and involved in the LDS development and implementation effort in order to build and maintain interest. This will also help the team collect adequate input to create a system that meets user needs. Communication should not be limited to the project management team; rather, it should include coordinating updates about the project to the entire agency and all relevant stakeholders (legislators, state board, school districts, etc.).