Museum Project Break Down—A Template

4 minute read
Posted by Rachael Cristine Woody on 7/25/2018
Museum Project Break Down—A Template

Whether you’re undertaking a grant-funded project or a project being done in-house, project management principles should be applied. Most museums and other historical organizations don’t have a project manager on staff, and the idea of project management can seem overwhelming.

This post will get you started with something basic and foundational to project management: How will you break down your project?

A typical project cycle is 12 months. Starting from the end (12 months) and working backward to the beginning (1 month) is typically easiest and more accurate. Use the exercise below to identify your project timeline, establish major project elements, reveal resources you need, and account for staff time. Having an example can assist with inspiration, so I’ve provided a digitization and cataloging project example for each section.

12 months

This is the conclusion of your project. While it can seem odd to start at the end, many of my clients find this is the easiest approach as they know what needs to be completed, versus how they should start. Here are examples of questions to answer in order to fill out this section:

  • What will the finished product be?
  • What will it look like?
  • What specific items will be achieved by the end of this project?

Example:

  • 1000 items will be digitized, cataloged, and published online
  • Fully implemented digitization workflow
  • Fully implemented catalog workflow
  • Trained staff and a finalized set of instructions
9 months

This is the penultimate portion of your project. Based on the answers you gave for 12 months, think about where you will need to be at 9 months in order to reach the objectives you stated above. Or, another way to think about this is: Where will you be when your project is 75% done and you have 3 months left to finish? Here are examples of questions to answer in order to fill out this section:

  • What does 75% finished look like?
  • What items will be achieved?
  • What items are in-progress?
  • What, if any, items need to begin at this stage?

Example:

  • 500 items will be digitized, cataloged, and published online
  • Finish troubleshooting workflow and software issues
  • Make any last improvements to workflow and instructions
6 months

You’re half-way there! In order to achieve what you set out at 12 and 9 months, what needs to happen or be in-progress at 6 months? Or, another way to think about this is: Where will you be when your project is 50% done and you have 6 months left to finish? Keep in mind any pieces that may need to be refined and any issues that may still need to be solved. Here are examples of questions to answer in order to fill out this section:

  • What does 50% finished look like?
  • What items will be achieved?
  • What items are in-progress?
  • What items need to begin at this stage?

Example:

  • Fully functioning digitization technology and software
  • Self-sufficient and fully operational staff
  • Published initial items online
  • Review work so far, identify and work to resolve any issues
  • Improve workflow and instructions as necessary
3 months

This period of time is typically when the rubber meets the road. Resources have been identified and acquired and now it’s time to implement technology, workflows, and other project pieces. This is where unanticipated issues will crop up. As a result, give yourself time to implement new equipment, software and workflows. Here are examples of questions to answer in order to fill out this section:

  • What does 25% finished look like?
  • What items will be achieved?
  • What items are in-progress?
  • What items need to begin at this stage?

Example:

  • Implement and test digitization and catalog software
  • Implement technology (servers and scanners)
  • Create a digitization workflow and test its efficiency
  • Craft instructions for project workers
  • Begin to train staff, volunteers, and interns
0-1 month

This is the beginning of your project, an area most struggle with because they’re not confident of where to begin. However, now that you know where you’re going (3-12 months), this part should be easier to fill out. What needs to be done at the very beginning in order to start your project? Often, it’s acquiring resources: equipment, people, and knowledge. Here are examples of questions to answer in order to fill out this section:

  • What resources need to be acquired?
  • What items must be initiated from the beginning?
  • What items will be started and in-progress?

Example:

  • Research and vet digitization technology
  • Research and vet catalog software
  • Make selection and purchase technology and software
  • Acquire staff, volunteers, and interns who will work on the project

Inevitably, there will be project pieces that don’t clearly fit within the project timeline. Feel free to create an odd marker if you know it has to happen at 7 months, for example. Or, if it’s an item that is independent and can happen at any time, that’s OK too. I recommend you create another section of your project break down so you can capture these independent project items and keep track of them as the project moves forward.

As a final note, project break downs aren’t set in stone and most projects will need to be flexible to adapt to changing circumstances. Try to anticipate these as best as you can (such as a software implementation issue) and build in project time to troubleshoot these issues. If you didn’t see it coming, don’t worry. The unanticipated is a normal part of project management. Plan, adapt, and be flexible, and you’re well on your way to a successful project implementation!

Topics: Museums, Strategy, Project Management

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