School projects require teamwork. The teacher randomly assigns the group. Four or five students push their desks together and they are forced to become best friends.
Inevitably, one student will rise to the top and take control.
They will divide up the work and make sure everyone has their phone numbers in order to meet up outside of class. They know that they will be designing the Power Point and presenting to the class. They love the chance to manage group projects and command their prepubescent comrades.
These students become project managers.
What happens when five students are placed together in a room without supervision and given a page of instructions? It was our task to determine a way to measure the success rate and pervasiveness of content marketing across multiple industries.
It was called Project Albatross.
This summer, five interns were hired by the content team: Nicolette (Liam), Paddy (Paddy), and myself. A sheet of instructions was provided to help us gather industry-wide research about content marketing for future projects.
Why was Project Albatross a project about content management in the project management industry? I have to admit that I was a little confused when I joined the project.
It was named Albatross by Liam, Padraig and Nicolette because they first felt like, “This was a weight hanging around my neck.” This is a reference to the poem “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” written by Samuel Coleridge. The poem describes how a sailor shot an Albatross, which was supposed be a sign that the ship is in good fortune. To show his shame, his fellow sailors forced him to wear a dead bird.
Lighthearted stuff, if you ask me.
We had very little supervision, other than the review of our drafts while we were working on this project. We didn’t have a project manager. We were all responsible for acting like project managers in a dozen different ways.
Five interns were able to do the most difficult project of their summer without a manager. We all did some things right, but we also learned a lot about the stress that project managers must feel.
What went right
This story has a happy ending, but it is true. Even though we were floundering, our boss still loved us and encouraged us to pull together. It was messy. Definitely. We were able to make it work.
We tried it!
We were terrible. None of us had ever written a formal project overview or done a professional survey. We also hadn’t even used Java before. I knew that there would be many trials and errors when I read the instructions for this project.
Because we knew that failure would be the fastest way for us to learn, we all had to motivate one another and ourselves to fail. We wrote and rewrote our project proposal dozens of time, we remade the survey hundreds of times, and one of them, Nicolette spent literally weeks working on a web-scraper.
We made changes to everything we did. We learned, we criticized and we tried again.
Project managers need to be flexible. Projects can change rapidly and their manager must be able to adapt quickly. Managers should be able and willing to take on a challenge that they aren’t experts in, and work for the benefit of the project.
Managers who approach every project using the same strategy or methodology would lose everything. In the ever-changing industry of project management, it is vital to be open to changing.
Key Takeaway: Try, fail, learn, repeat. We communicated
Communication is key to project management: communication between team members