Academic Project Management Strategies - Part Three

Part three of this blog series focuses on how I use Asana in my team to organize the sharing of information. This includes information that might be of interest to my group like research related news articles, job postings, mentoring resources, and lab meeting ideas. Everyone in our team (including myself) have a “project” within our Asana group. If you have not read the earlier posts about how we use Asana for academic project management you can go back to read about Projects here.

In a large research group there are lots of items that require communication between several (or all) members of my team. Before Asana, these tasks were all accomplished using group emails with multiple recipients. My email box was overflowing and it was hard to keep track of them all. We have moved almost all of these items to Asana which makes it easy to find the information, stay up to date on what is going on, and also to coordinate things with due dates without having long email chains. Interested in how we make this work? Read on!

This screenshot shows our “Team” project. For this project, all of my graduate students are “followers”.

This screenshot shows our “Team” project. For this project, all of my graduate students are “followers”.

Individuals can set their notifications according to their preferences but I personally get a notification when someone posts to a project that I am a follower on. Alternatively, I receive a notification if someone “tags” me on a post to specifically draw my attention to an item. My notifications go to my email.

This probably seems ridiculous since I just told you that this strategy cuts down on emails and it does. It works because I see the notification and then immediately delete it with no need to reply or file the information. I could have my computer send me a notification but I have those turned off so that my writing does not continually get interrupted. In our Team project we have a number of items that you can see along the top of the list. If someone thinks of a great idea for a lab meeting they post it here, if they come across an interesting news article or job posting, it goes here. No emails permitted!

Here you can see on the right hand side, the posts that fall under the Technical Resources item. There is a link to a website to obtain updated population denominators, and also a link to a new R package that applies to some of the projects we have underway. No need to save an email. Anyone can come here and find what they need. Everyone has immediate access regardless of when they joined the group. Also, it is fully searchable from the search bar.

Here you can see on the right hand side, the posts that fall under the Technical Resources item. There is a link to a website to obtain updated population denominators, and also a link to a new R package that applies to some of the projects we have underway. No need to save an email. Anyone can come here and find what they need. Everyone has immediate access regardless of when they joined the group. Also, it is fully searchable from the search bar.

Finally, we now use Asana to organize and plan all of our monthly lab meetings. I currently meet with my individual graduate students biweekly and we have a monthly lab meeting. When a new semester starts, we pick all of the lab meeting dates for the semester (using whenisgood), book the room, and enter the monthly meetings into Asana as tasks. Students can easily assign specific meetings to themselves based on their availability or requirements (I have a student going to an international conference in February and she has already scooped up that meeting to do a practice run of her presentation).

If you look at the screenshot above closely you will see that the September lab meeting is assigned to me. I am leading our first lab meeting this month and we have 2 new graduate students joining us. We always talk about mentoring and getting the most out of your graduate school experience in September. It’s great for everyone regardless of career stage. This time around I have assigned a reading to be completed in advance. I have also made a note that our VP Research will be joining us for lab meeting in October so we will also discuss that during our meeting.

Screen Shot 2019-09-21 at 3.58.15 PM.png

Every year in September we also go over our team mentoring document to discuss and update any items that need updating.

Do you have a mentoring statement for your team? Are you interested in hearing more about my mentoring document, what it says, and how we use it as a tool for collaboration? For me the goal is to make expectations clear and transparent both so my students know what they can expect from me, and what I expect of them. Should that be my next blog post?

Just a reminder that this is not a sponsored post and I have no conflict of interest to declare. I use the free version of Asana to manage my team.

Academic Project Management Strategies - Part TWO

I am back with Part two of my blog series related to academic project management. If you have not read Part one you might want to start here first.

Hopefully, after reading Part One you decided to take the leap and set up your research team in the project management tool of your choice. So now what? How is this going to simplifying your life and make it easier to keep track of all of the different tasks that you are working on? How does this help your students, team members, and collaborators feel like they know what you expect of them and what they can expect from you?

In today’s post I will give you a couple of examples of HOW (and WHY) we use Asana in my team and you might just decide to give some of these ideas (or all of them) a try. So here are my next THREE suggestions of how project management software might make your life easier and/or make it easier for everyone on the team to appreciate the work that they don’t see.


POINT ONE: Each “Project” has a main TASK list. I have my own “Project” within our group site. This mean that all of my students can at any point see what is on my list (although you can make tasks private so my students don’t need to see that I need to make my kids an appointment to get a Hep A shot before our trip). I actually think that most graduate students and postdocs have no idea what their PI does in their office all day. I think it is useful for my trainees to see what I have going on and my tasks are sorted according to Research, Teaching, and Service (the good old Tenure and Promotion staples). These are just the larger tasks that you see in the screenshot (Below). Within each of these are tonnes of smaller tasks like finish writing assignment 2, submit reference letter for student A, review slide deck for student presentation next week, finish budget for CIHR proposal etc. My students know what I am working on and what the timelines look like for almost everything I do on a daily basis. I actually think that this makes me seem more like a person and less like a mysterious research robot :)

Screen Shot 2019-01-18 at 3.45.32 PM.png

POINT TWO: Each student “Project” has a main TASK list. When I meet with my students weekly, it is the case that this list is almost always open. As we discuss different things that we need to do like email a specific person , or make an updated figure we enter the “action items” directly into the task list for the project and assign the tasks and deadlines while we talk. This means that when the meeting is over we have a clear understanding of what we each agreed to do and when we agree to complete it by. In the example below, you can see that our E coli project has two tasks listed right now. One is assigned to the student (RH) and the other to me. I can easily see with a glance that I can expect to get a draft of RH’s literature review on Tuesday and RH can clearly see that I have committed to sending her edits and revisions on her first research chapter by Feb 8, 2019 (at the latest). In our group that has helped to keep track of all of the agenda items from our individual meetings and improves transparency related to when we expect to complete specific tasks.

Screen Shot 2019-01-18 at 3.58.08 PM.png

POINT THREE: If you have not already realized the underlying HUGE benefit of moving your research and team based communication into a project management platform I am going to give away the secret right now. It means LESS EMAIL (cue the dramatic music). In the past, all of this stuff (drafts, tasks, discussions) would have been email strings with attachments. But now, it is all contained in the project management site. Each task in the list has a description and comments and you can also add attachments and tag individuals so that they know that you have posted something for them. In the screenshot below, you can see all of the attachments one place (both older versions and newer versions of a manuscript) as well as the conversation between myself and RH related to the task of revising the manuscript. Everyone knows what to expect and when to expect it by (and it didn't require 10 emails to make it happen).

Screen Shot 2019-01-18 at 4.02.41 PM.png

Next time, I will talk about how we have used our project management system to change the way we plan and organize our monthly lab-wide meeting. Do you have questions? Feel free to drop them in the comments below and I will start a new post to address your specific questions.