Archive for the 'Project Management' Category

Large Scale Collaborative Funding Bids

Today I attended a training workshop on large-scale funding for projects.  I have built my research career on such projects, but it is never too late to learn and gain from others’ experiences.

Anne Adams (IET):

Tensions – Turning Tension

  • Understand the drivers of the partners
  • Manage expectations
  • Managing cultural differences
    • differences can be enablers
  • Working at the OU is like working at a mini-EU (committee structures, scale, layers, etc.)
  • Learn by mistakes
  • Use processes and support : Trouble shooting
  • Funders can be a useful connection point – use them
  • Check understanding
  • Impact and dissemination from early on – impact and engagement
  • Balancing different objectives – your partners are doing the same

Small Projects

  • More focused objectives
  • Smaller budgets
  • Tighter timeframes
  • Researchers often have to do project management as well

Large Projects

  • Inverse of above but effectively made up of a series of small projects

Managing Time

  • Clear-out bid writing time
  • Co-ordinate multiple objectives
  • Larger projects may have tighter financial restrictions

Managing People

Stakeholders

  • Project partners
  • Outside the project who are they?
  • Involve in writing the bid
  • Involve users
  • Expectations
  • Highlight how stakeholders have been involved in bid writing
  • Shifting timescales
  • OU Catalyst Project – Research School
  • Breakdown what will be available when

Roles

  • Administrators
  • Project manager
  • Researchers
  • Academics as researchers / teachers / communicators

Lines of management

  • Issue of part-time staff
  • Commenting on objectives
  • People are overworked
  • Use e-mail sparingly

KPIs / Partners

  • Co PIs / Partners
    • Institutional differences
    • Cultural differences
    • Tensions from misunderstandings

Manage expectations

  • Competing expectations from a project
    • From partners
    • From funders
    • Your own objectives

Be Brave

  • Proactive in getting key players in the bid who may have a previous funding record with the funders
  • Summary of objectives and ideas early on
  • Leverage OU
    • Scale
    • Contacts
    • Systems and procedures e.g. ethics
    • Management systems
  • Don’t be afraid
    • Change adapt ideas, partners even near deadline
    • Bring in additional partners – mid-project if necessary
  • If lose trust in a partner – deal with it – don’t want a disaster during the project

Turning Tensions Around

  • transferable skills from teaching at the OU
  • Learn to take risks
    • Allow exploration
    • Keep it focus
  • Allow partners to shine

Using people available

  • Colleagues
  • Research school
  • Successful bids

Using Processes

  • Re-use processes
  • Other external projects
  • Get feedback from potential reviewers
  • Funders have resources to support

Share your ideas

  • Share ideas early on – get the project name out there!
    • Leaving it to the end means missing opportunities
  • Share your ideas with your partners
  • Different ways of sharing:
    • Posters
    • Speed dating events
    • Plan to create a video early on
    • Create eBooks
    • Websites / data sharing (in project and public)

John Domingue (KMi):

Why:

  • Funding for staff and the latest equipment and travel
  • Good for CV – funding necessary for promotion to Chair
  • Networking
  • It gives you autonomy

How:

  • Need a great idea for a project – the elevator test – can you sell it in 2 mins
  • The larger the funding the more political
  • In Europe saying the US has it is a seller
  • E.g. “turning the web from one of data into one of services”

Reviews

  • Writing for the reviews – able to give up a week of their time so tend to be good researchers but not the best.  They have to read a lot of bids – make yours stand out
  • Also have to write for the EC Section who select the funded bids
  • Make it something beyond the state-of-the-art
  • Clear, pertinent, transparent

Official Criteria

  • Excellence (threshold 3/5)
  • Impact (threshold 3/5)
  • Quality and Efficiency
    • Plan has to match the idea … if you are going to change the world in X do  the resources to do it?
  • The Consortium – probably counts 50%
    • Do you have the big players?  If not why not?
  • Use the relevant industrial associations if appropriate
  • EU projects is a game – play by the rules
  • Make sure the objective aims of the proposals are aligned with the big partners

Consortium

  • Make sure every partner is playing a specific role
  • Exploitation partners hardest to find – but most important
  • Academics will always come aboard
  • SMEs / Industrial players
  • Leading Research Institutions
  • Balance by Country, region, and type

Process

  • Year to 9 months ahead of deadline meeting of core partners – set forward the core idea
  • Pre-consortium beauty contest
    • Needs to be handled careful
  • E-mails, Skype, etc. to develop the bid
  • Set a small team of people who will write the bid
    • The consortium may well change during the bid writing
  • Talk to the funder

Commission Dialogue

  • Go to Brussels for a day, e.g. an info day
  • Get feedback from the Commission after the call is out
  • Be prepared to radically change the bid in response to feedback
  • Study the Workplan early – before the call is published

Proposal Document

  • Template
  • Stick within page limit
  • Coherent
    • Text
    • Workplan (spreadsheets/ Gantt charts etc.)
    • Risk Management
  • Note – unit heads will have their own goals – how does your project fit?
  • Take into account previous EU projects in State-of-the-Art
  • Use strategic reports from the Commission and others to give background information
  • Typically WPs: Management; 3 Technical WPs, Dissemination and Exploitation
  • Get balance of roles between the partners across the WPs right – balance the effort to match the objectives
  • Impact – who are the authoritative sources?  Quote from key reports e.g. Gartner

Writing the Proposal

  • Small team of good writers (native English speakers), separated away from other work, usually in a shared office – use study leave

Submission

  • The deadline is final!

Networking

  • The difference between a good academic and a good academic with project money is networking
  • Info days
    • Often include networking session to find partners/projects
    • ICT Events (different in different fields)
    • Keynotes invite Commission representative to conferences you organise

Easy way to start

  • Become a project or proposal reviewer
  • The OU is a world leader in Pedagogy – lead training workpackages

Sarah Gray (Research Office)

Research Support

E-mail: Research-Grants-Contracts@open.ac.uk

  • Work closely with faculty administrators
  • Review and approve all external bids (to Leverhulme and UKRCs)
  • Sarah is EU co-ordinator
  • Finding funding opportunities
    • Research.professional.com
    • Current oppertunies page
    • Visit UKRO and register e-mail address
    • National Contact Points in UK.Gov
  • Open calls on WWW page URL: search EU Horizon 2020 Participant Portal

 

— end —

Rolling Project Plans

I have long argued against a fix single baseline in project planning.  Plans need to be updated periodically to reflect changes in the project plan since a proposal and the onward progress measured against the latest version of the plan.  This allows for a more fine tuned management and provokes a healthy revisit to the project plan at strategic points.

Fortunately this was adopted in EU R&D projects a few years back so that in Framework 6 and now 7 projects are required to produce a whole project overview plan and a rolling detailed 18month plan every year.  I find this process very helpful.  We are currently producing the 3rd “Description of Work (DoW)” for the EU4ALL project (http://www.eu4all-project.eu/).  So at month 28 in project we are updating the detailed plan covering months 25-48 (I know this is not exactly a rolling 18month plan but that is how it was worked out with the project review timings and the fact that unusually the project has a 4 year duration).   As the management team in the project we are now adding detail to the plan that would have been impossible to know at the start of the project but that are important for us to measure against from this point forward.

I would compare this situation to iterative development in an R&D cycle.  Here we have: plan; measure against that plan; revise plan; measure against revised plan; repeat ad infinitum or until project end.

Academics often make poor project managers.  I consider myself a good project manager who makes a poor academic!


Martyn Cooper

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