Let’s face it, projects are tricky. At any moment in time, there are a thousand ongoing tasks, and seemingly never enough time or focus to complete them. Not to mention the multitude of personalities in each project group; all with different values, ideas and beliefs about how the project should run.

I experienced this first hand a few weeks back.

I was leading a group of students in a recycling project. One student was off in the corner watching youtube videos; two were aimlessly cutting cardboard; and one was pulling at his hair in what seemed to be an oncoming panic attack. At first glance, you might assume he was the only one who cared.

The truth is, they were stuck. They needed direction, and nobody seemed to be providing it.

Not even me.

As the team’s mentor, I too was frustrated. I wanted this to be their project, but was at a loss for how to direct them back on task.

Here I was with 12 years experience in project- based learning and I felt like a novice.

It was a very humbling experience.

In desperation I reached out to a few colleagues who helped provide some answers. They shared strategies they use to help focus groups and ensure beautiful project work. I have distilled their wisdom down to five simple strategies below; divided into ‘problem’ and ‘solution.’

Problem: Tasks are not share equally in group
Solution: Project ’Scrum Board’

Create a ‘scrum board’ for each project group. Brainstorm a list of tasks necessary for project completion and direct the group to assign a member to each one. Keep track of progress by moving tasks to the right as things get done.

Problem: A group that can’t agree on a project idea.

Solution: ‘Impact’ Brainstorm

When a group can’t decide an idea, have them brainstorm project ideas on separate post- its and place them in their respective quadrants. ‘High Impact’/ ‘Low Difficulty’ projects are the winners.

Problem: Constant Team Member Conflict

Solution: Team Contract

Require each team write a contract of agreements and consequences for violating agreements. Have each group member sign.

Problem: The temptation to micro-manage as teacher

Solution: Coach a Team Leader

Managing 35 members spread across 7 different groups will give you a never- ending headache.

Instead, empower your students to self- manage. Appoint or have each group decide on a team leader. Before each project group meeting, coach the leader on effective techniques to move the project forward.

Problem: Student work is not of a professional caliber

Solution: Provide professional models of excellence

When students decide upon (or you decide depending on project) the project they would like to complete, make sure to provide models of what excellence looks like. This helps guide their work, providing them with a concrete objective to achieve. Along the way, make sure to provide plenty of feedback.

In Closing:

There’s no such thing as a magic recipe to ensure project success. They are messy, scattered, and involve lots of moving parts. But they don’t have to be as hard as we’ve made them. I’m hoping that by implementing a few of the strategies above, you find them just a bit easier to manage.

To your success!