Advancing Practice In Academic Development: Chapter 14


Edited by David Baume and Celia Popovic
Routledge – The Staff and Educational Development Series
Publication January 2016

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Chapter summaries and extracts will on the SEDA Blog over the coming months. (There may be small differences between these and the published versions)

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Chapter 14 – Managing and leading projects and project teams

Nancy Turner and Peter Hartley


The project – a piece of work with defined goals, process, start and end points – has long been an essential item in the academic developer’s toolkit. Irrespective of changes to external funding for them, projects should remain a mainstay. However, we cannot rely on traditional project methodologies. In particular, we must ensure that the project is conceived and undertaken as a change process rather than as an isolated event, and that outcomes and outputs are integrated into learning environments. This means changing the ways we conceptualise, plan and then run projects. We use examples of recent and current projects from two national contexts, Canada and the UK.

Some extracts



We need to modify the project mindset, adopting techniques and strategies which ensure that the project is conceived of and enacted as a change process, that valuable processes and tools used effectively in project management are aligned to the objectives of our work, and that outcomes and outputs are more effectively embedded and integrated into the longer term life and work of the institution. Reframing the project in this way, as an essential component of our development activities and as an element in the change process, can help us support the many different needs and opportunities for academic development identified in Chapter 2. (Timmermans [2014] reports that developers’ most often identified threshold concept in academic development is facilitating a change process.)


Redefining ‘the project’

Regardless of scale or funding arrangements, projects have typically been identified with the following principal characteristics:

  • A finite and defined piece of work;
  • Particular pre-defined intended outcomes;
  • Start and finish dates; and
  • Employing defined resources.

A typical and oft-quoted definition comes from the UK Office of Government Commerce, which defines a project as:

[A] unique set of co-ordinated activities, with definite starting and finishing points, undertaken by an individual or team to meet specific objectives within defined time, cost and performance parameters. (Quoted in Project management, 2014)

One practical difficulty with this definition is that the project can be seen as a largely self-contained piece of work which is completed by the end date. But adopting this approach can minimise impact, as little attention is paid to the subsequent embedding and support which may be necessary for longer-term effect.

Often we think about projects producing the artefact (policy, new learning environment, etc.). We may forget about the practices that need to change across the institution in response to and in working with the artefact. In the extreme, the agents that will be enacting or interacting with the artefact are left out of the scope of what a project considers. The work to support change across the institution needs to be considered as a key aspect of, or accompaniment to, the project if it is to succeed. Only by paying sufficient attention to these issues will we realise the full advantages of the project approach,


Establishing effective roles and team structures

Academic developers can be positioned in varying roles within projects, often determined by where in the project life cycle they become involved. As initiators of projects, academic developers are well positioned to lead or strategically invite leadership from another part of the institution. As project managers, academic developers can navigate the course of a project, influence its strategic positioning, build relationships across an institution and generate conversations that will begin the change process in advance of implementation. As project team members, academic developers can be active in contributing and drawing out the ideas of others, facilitating collaboration, and having input into the direction the project takes. In all of these positions within a project, the academic developer will need to be welcoming of and open to the opinions of others, keep the improvement of student learning at the fore of any programme outcomes, and keep project outcomes flexible and responsive to changing environments and local contexts. In addition, academic developers need to ensure that the role and team structures employed within a project are the most appropriate to achieve the objectives and enable change management. To meet this enlarged range of needs, we need to consider moving beyond conventional or traditional project team structures.


Appropriate management and methodology

Case study 6: Minimising project paperwork and bureaucracy: The ‘two-sides-of-the page’ approach from the Bradford project on Inclusivity

This project was one of ten in the HEA’s inclusion change programme ‘Developing and Embedding Inclusive Policy and Practice in Higher Education’, launched in April 2007 (May and Bridger, 2010). The University of Bradford project aimed to develop an inclusive campus.

For the purposes of this chapter, we focus on the simplified approach to project administration which was highlighted by the programme consultants as a particular strength. Rather than use the initially suggested approach to project management, which seemed to the Bradford team to be heavily based on Prince2 methodology, the team decided that a simpler approach was necessary to focus attention on the overall aims of the project and assist collaborative communication. The team settled on a two-sides-of-the-page approach. Two documents provided the main agenda for each team meeting – a one-page concept map which summarised the main objectives and required activities of the project, and an action tracker which recorded progress on each of the agreed actions. The action tracker obviously expanded to significantly more than one page as the project developed, but the team felt that this very simple set of documents maintained a constant focus on the very ambitious overall objectives.

A concept map has advantages over a traditional project description. It can provide an overview of the key components and the relationships between them, which can be difficult to demonstrate in a written text. This reflects the considerable literature on concept mapping as an important tool for the ‘improvement of education and the creation and use of knowledge’ (Novak, 2010, p. xiv). The development of accessible software across a range of platforms (PC, Mac and now iPad) means that users can create maps of the sort used in this chapter after only a few minutes of learning.

About the Editors

David Baume is an independent international higher education researcher, evaluator, consultant, staff and educational developer and writer.

Celia Popovic is Director of Teaching Commons at York University, Toronto, Canada.

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