I’d Like to Speak with Your (Project) Manager

Before this week, I’m not sure that I ever thought that dedicatedly about the intricacies of managing a project. Admittedly, I haven’t exactly been at the forefront of running a project since high school, let alone one of any significant size or depth. The readings of this past week really made me think about planning and the structures and methods of conducting a digital history project.

Like most historians, I’m not too adept at working in a group or as part of a team. The kind of research I’ve done in the past has been very much solo in nature, so I have never had to rely much on anybody but myself. I am free to apply my own (probably debilitatingly) high standards to myself and myself alone. However, as we have previously established as a class, digital history is much more collaborative as a field, and as such one must become more acquainted with different strategies and approaches to project management. The readings this week focused on such strategies and approaches, emphasizing DH’s need for a core tenet of collaboration. After reading these pieces, the keystone of successful collaboration in DH to me is to not only recognize your own limits within research as well as with computers, but to be ready to delegate and trust your other team members to handle their own work and their own skills. In the article, “A Hybrid Model for Managing DH Projects,” author Edin Tabak breaks down DH into its key components: “digital” and “history.” Tabak recognizes that very, very few historians are experts as the digital side of their discipline, just as those with digital experience are not necessarily trained in historical methods. Both of these types of people have very different ways of thinking and approaching problems, and so working on a team together can get complicated very quickly. Tabak proposes that there both these people need another—someone who can combine skills in “digital” and “history”—in order to act as the bridge or link between the components. From there, a team can utilize the best of both methods in order to create a cohesive and worthwhile project.

Of course, reading this makes me slightly dread group work. I haven’t had to rely on anyone else for any aspect of a project in a hot minute. I’m used to working at my own (minorly chaotic) pace and with my own eclectic thought process, and just the idea of having to translate that into group work makes me want to run for the hills.

(I used to be a control freak, too. I’m 99% I’ve outgrown that, though. Hopefully.)

However, as our group met for the first time and started hashing out ideas, I found myself growing more and more at ease. We managed to narrow down our topic enough to hit the “distant dream” marker on the project spectrum, and we generated enough questions to carry us into the week. I’m now realizing that working dedicatedly as a group could be more rewarding than it has in the past, maybe because this is an atmosphere in which all of our members are enthusiastic and more than willing to pull their weight. The piece of me that loves logistics is now delighting in the technical and intellectual challenge of working with other people to accomplish a significant project. Needless to say I am quietly excited to see where our project will go throughout the semester.

8 comments / Add your comment below

  1. Hi Hayley,

    Love your post titles! I think you speak for a lot of us in our experience with group work. I agree that it is easier to work with people who share your interests and who have the same excitement about a project. I totally agree about the different ways of thinking between digital and traditional scholarship. Digital tools just work differently and some things that are necessary for traditional don’t make sense for digital. It would be ideal to have someone act as a bridge between the two so everyone is on the same page. Doing our final project as a group is a great way to get some practice since we will all have to work in a group at some point.

  2. Hey Hayley,
    In my academic career I have only experienced working in a group project once. Prior to that experience I had only done solo research. It was hard because I did not know about project management skills.

  3. I completely understand the “control freak” moments and wanting to work alone haha. To counteract this, I have learned to use the apps like Trello to delegate work among the team. This allows me to control my portion, with less overwhelm of the project as a whole. Plus when each team member has those planned tasks, we can all divide and be “alone” in the historian loner way we all want.

  4. Hi Hayley, I enjoyed reading your post and a little about your experience doing group projects. I think that those are valuable insights knowing your strengths and weaknesses and the importance of trust as a part of any team. As you said you have to approach these projects deferentially and relying of each others skill set is often a must with these group projects. Maybe those team bonding exercise are worthwhile.

  5. It is very true that our readings and discussions this week made me think differently about what it means to be a historian, specifically a digital historian. I never considered that working in collaborative projects would be so central to the work of digital historian. I feel similarly to you in that I have a set way that I like to go about my research and so working in a group could potentially present some challenges, but after learning about some best practices last week, I feel more comfortable with the prospect of a group project. I’m also very excited to see where our project goes!

  6. Hayley, you are so funny! Where’s the gif?

    I empathize with so much that you said! As a historian, I don’t think I have ever had a group project, and I set very high standards for myself. As a lawyer/manager in my prior life, I wasn’t good at delegating, could have been called a control freak! But I really look forward to working together with our group and I think we have made so much progress!

    I too like logistics, and like solving puzzles, so even though I’m digitally pretty backward, I have been enjoying figuring it out.

  7. Hi Hayley:

    I enjoyed your post very much. I really empathize with this slightly dreadly feeling of relying on somebody else’s work. It used to be like that to me, too. But, it might be the case that, as we live through a turning point (the massive arrival of digital methods), it is up to us to transform the isolation-oriented approach that was hegemonic on our discipline. If we do the leg-work now, maybe future historians will nurture from a discipline that naturally embraces collaboration. The first meeting with my group felt also different to me. I could sense a renewed enthusiasm that I had never felt before in a similar situation.

  8. Hi Hayley! I love your blog post title haha! I have to agree with you in that growing up, I have had my reservations about collaborative work, solely based on negative experiences I have faced in high school and undergrad. I think most of these negative experiences come from the lack of communication and understanding of project management and project management tools. I think that software programs such as BaseCamp can be super helpful and should be introduced at a younger age to aid with collaborative work and research.

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