Case Study 1: Background Information

SchoolsOnline is a national initiative spearheading the development of learning objects for primary learners (Ertmer & Quinn, 2007). The organizational structure is such that there are three separate teams responsible for different aspects of the project. The writing team is responsible for designing the content briefs. The design team is responsible for the design specifications of the learning objects. The development team is responsible for developing the learning objects according to the design specifications. All three teams answer to a Project Manager, who is overseen by a review panel of subject matter experts and school education experts and a project steering committee. The design team’s portion is expected to be completed within three months.

CRITICAL CONSTRAINTS AND/OR CONSIDERATIONS: Independence of the teams without preplanned collaboration, time allocation, and size of the learning objects, both in terms of number of objectives and file size are the primary issues.

WHAT ARE THE RISKS THAT MIGHT BE ASSOCIATED WITH THE PROJECT IN THE CASE STUDY?

According to our text, risk is “the possibility that a project might not achieve its product, schedule or resource targets because something unexpected occurs or something planned does not” (Portny, Mantel, Meredith, Shafer & Sutton, 2008, p. 377). In this case study there are a virtual plethora of possible risk factors. Please note, as this is a case study a great deal of information is intentionally left out forcing the reader to construct the scenario as best as possible, in addition to making plausible assumptions. However, in the case of the risk factors, rather than assuming problems that are not specifically identified, I will point out the risk factors that are present within the text, thereby hopefully eliminate too much scope creep as relates to this discussion post.

Risk factors were categorized in two different formats by our text. One listing possible risk factors associated with the project’s life cycle and the second listing possible risk factors that may occur as regards information addressed in the project plan (Portny, et al., 2008).

RISK FACTORS ASSOCIATED WITH THE PROJECT’S LIFE CYCLE:

ALL PHASES: There is a possibility that insufficient time will be invested in any one particular phase due the time constraints involved in the project, as well as extensive review and approval stages within each individual phase. There is no established documentation or procedure regarding timelines for reviews and approvals by the PM, SMEs, or the Steering Committee. It is easy to foresee a problem “losing” time waiting for approvals from all of the different stakeholders.

CONCEIVE PHASE: There is not enough information provided to clearly identify possible risk factors.

DEFINE PHASE: There is mention within the case study that the people who initiated the project and prepared the plan had purposely modified the process due to difficulties with previous project procedures and unsatisfactory outcomes. Although not directly stated, it can be inferred that this is the first time the company had utilized this new project management process/organization. This could pose a problem in that the process is new and untried.

START PHASE: This particular phase has at least two potential risk factors. First, “the people assigned to perform the project aren’t the ones who prepared the plan” (Portny, et al., 2008, p. 383). According to the case study there are three independent teams working on the project from a project plan developed by the overall initiative. There may be individual project plans relating to each particular team (also a potential issue), but the individual teams did not themselves participate in the development of the actual project plan. This indicates possible issues relating to vision and direction relating to the learning objects.

Second, “project team procedures for resolving conflicts, reaching decisions, or ongoing communication weren’t developed” (Portny, et al., 2008, p. 383). Referring back to the case study, there is no indication of the PM making any overtures or establishing any procedures for ongoing communications or collaborations regarding resolving conflicts. In fact, the design team themselves initiated the idea of having workshop meetings inclusive of the other teams in order to ensure the project runs more smoothly and everyone is on the same page throughout the project.

PERFORM PHASE & CLOSE PHASES: There are no overt indications that there are or will be issues in these areas. Again, there are three independent teams working consecutively. The first team hands off to the second and the second hands off to the third and once they have completed the hand off, that team is essentially finished with the project. The inference is that upper management believes that with all of the reviews and approvals at every step of the project once each team has handed their portion over to the next team there should not be any problems requiring input from the previous team. This is, of course, extremely short-sighted in that there is no provision for the teams to work collaboratively. There are representatives attending briefing meetings, but ensuring each representative from each team actually gets the “same message” is as we learned recently, far less likely than expected.

RISK FACTORS ASSOCIATED WITH INFORMATION ADDRESSED IN THE PROJECT PLAN:

PROJECT AUDIENCES: This is the first time this design team has worked with this client. There is no indication whether or not the project has a specific “champion” per se. It is possible the PM could be considered the champion as ultimately his butt is in the hot seat ensuring all the teams play well together and produce the outcomes required.

There is also no indication whether or not the design team has constructed a project audience list. If they have not and do not this would also become a risk factor. There is clearly a ton of stakeholders between three different teams, PM, SMEs, Steering Committee, etc. and these are just the obvious stakeholders.

PROJECT BACKGROUND: “The project requires other planned activities to be completed before work can be performed” (Portny, et al., 2008, p. 385). This is clearly a risk factor in this case study as has been mentioned previously, the teams are working in relay rather than in concert. The design team’s portion of the project is to be completed within three (3) months, but there is no indication of whether or not this time is exclusive of the writing team. The design team has to review and massage the content briefs and send them back for revisions to the writing team. The writing team has prepared 32 briefs and the design team is to whittle them down to 15 feasible concepts. It became quickly apparent that it is going to be very difficult for the design team to complete their portion of the project in a timely fashion. In about one week’s time they had two different meetings and other than identifying many issues of concern, and brainstorming about one particular brief, they did not make much progress. This does not bode well for wading through 32 content briefs!

PROJECT SCOPE: Two possible risk factors are “the project will require a variety of skills and knowledge” and “the project will involve different organizational units” (Portny, et al., 2008, p. 385). These risk factors are in the same vein as those discussed hereinabove.

PROJECT STRATEGY: Strategy poses two probable risk factors: “there is no declared strategy at present” and “you plan to use a new, untested technology or approach” (Portny, et al., 2008, p. 385). The first issue applies directly to the design team. They are clearly in need of some definitive strategy to work through the multiple content briefs in a timely fashion. The second issue applies to the initiative utilizing a new organizational project approach due to issues with previous projects.

PROJECT OBJECTIVES: Portny identifies risk factors associated with objectives as “performance measures are unclear or missing, performance measures are difficult to quantify and performance targets or specifications are missing” (p. 385). According to the case study and the information provided in both appendices all three of these are significant risk factors (Ertmer & Quinn, 2007, p. 21-25).

CONSTRAINTS: “In general, all constraints lead to potential project risks” (Portny, et al., 2008, p. 385). Truer words were never spoken. Perhaps, as this is a case study for us to learn from, there are an extraordinary amount of risks involved.

ASSUMPTIONS: Not directly applicable.

WORK PACKAGES: “Some or all people who will be doing the work didn’t participate in developing the work package descriptions” (Portny, et al., 2008, p. 385). This is especially the situation in this particular study.

ROLES AND RESPONSIBILITIES: The main risk factors in this category are that “not all supporters were involved in developing the roles and responsibilities” and “You’re overly dependent on one or more people” (Portny, et al., 2008, p. 385). Although these are risk factors, the project has avoided the other three potential risks by having definitive designations of team responsibilities and having one overarching PM.

SCHEDULE: Again, “some activities will be performed by people who haven’t worked together before” (Portny, et al., 2008, p. 386). Although the design team has worked together previously, they have not worked with either the writing team or the development teams previously. In addition, “the organization has no historical database of how long it took to perform similar activities in the past” (Portny, et al., 2008, p. 386). This is a specific concern because this is the first time the team has created this type of “learning object.” Their previous experiences were primarily with online design and self-contained CDs.

PERSONNEL: “No estimates have been made of the actual work-effort required to perform individual activities, no formal consideration has been given to availability and efficiency, and no plans have been prepared for when people working less than full time on the project will invest their effort” (Portny, et al., 2008, p. 386) are three potential risk factors applicable to this case study.

OTHER RESOURCES: “No plans have been prepared to identify the type, amount, and timing of nonpersonnel resources needed” (Portny, et al., 2008, p. 386). There is no direct information provided in the case study regarding these risk factors.

FUNDS: “No project budget has been prepared” (Portny, et al., 2008, p. 386). There is no direct information provided in the case study regarding these risk factors.

SUMMARY:
Again, as this is a case study there is a great deal of information not provided making it easy to see risks everywhere you look. The text’s step-by-step guide for analyzing risk factors was extremely informative in that it allowed for analysis of the project parameters from various perspectives. In the end, however, my initial statements regarding CRITICAL CONSTRAINTS AND CONSIDERATIONS stand as the most pivotal and probable risk factor areas, which was borne out by the more in-depth analysis provided as outlined above.

WHAT IMPACT WOULD THOSE RISKS HAVE ON THE PROJECT IF THEY ACTUALLY OCCURRED?

The impact the risks would have on the project if they reached fruition are typical for any project depending on the risk involved, the severity of the risk and the possible resolutions for the occurrence of said risk. That said, it is likely that more than a few of the risk factors occurring would create at a minimum schedule delays, budget overruns, and potentially unsatisfactory outcomes in terms of the learning objects design.

WHAT COULD BE DONE TO MITIGATE THOSE RISKS?

Our resources provide a clear pathway towards mitigating potential risks through the development of a comprehensive risk management plan defined as “specific strategies to minimize the potential negative consequences that certain occurrences will have on a project” (Portny, et al., 2008, p. 393). Further, the authors indicate the risk management plan should include detailed information regarding “risk factors, associated risks, an assessment of the likelihood of occurrence and the associated consequences for each risk, plans to manage selected risks, and plans to keep people informed about the status of the selected risks throughout the project” (Portny, et al., 2008, p. 393).

In this case study, the design team is well aware of many of the risks associated with the project and from the beginning attempt to mitigate them by identifying the risks and attempting to develop plans to mitigate the risks (Portny, et al., 2008); however, the information provided in the case study did not indicate whether or not the design team either had or would formally assess potential impacts of risks on the project, monitor the status through the project or keep others informed as suggested by our resources. This could have been due to the inherent independence of the team operations, which could also be considered a potentially serious risk factor in and of itself.

References

Ertmer, P. A., & Quinn, J. (2007). The ID casebook: Case studies in instructional design (Third Ed.). Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson Prentice Hall.

Portny, S. E., Mantel, S. J., Meredith, J. R., Shafer, S. M., Sutton, M. M., & Kramer, B. E. (2008). Project management: Planning, scheduling, and controlling projects. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

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