Tracy's DMP 2013 Weekly Tasks and Reflections

A week of research…

This week has been all about research. The team is working on strategies for gathering information about our users and the market context.

I realised a little too late that we had launched into choosing strategies for user research before we had really nailed the goals and areas for inquiry. We had touched on it at the Thursday meeting, but it was clear the team wasn’t on the same page and there were a lot of unanswered questions that needed to be discussed. As a result, the team was (not surprisingly) struggling to design the methods successfully. It was a really useful exercise to spend some significant time isolating the problem…

How can we make online learning a more engaging, motivating and effective space for higher education students?

…and identifying significant areas of inquiry:

Online behaviour, The learning experience (both offline and online) and enjoyment, efficacy and motivation

Focusing the group in this way has made me feel a lot more comfortable about the quality of data we are likely to get back from all of the strategies we are employing.

Thinking about reducing stress

Coming into this project, a number of the team members had indicated stress at the beginning of the semester. Asking about why they felt that way, the responses were around having so much work to do and not knowing what to do, adding and losing team members and not feeling like they are able to cope with the tasks because of skill gaps. I had found in my own experience that minimising confusion, breaking down tasks into manageable chunks and implementing strong processes were essential for me personally to reduce stress, regardless of the reasons why I was stressed. I find stress paralysing and I find the only way to rise above it is to fall back on techniques that  force me to move forward. With this in mind, I would like to help create a team environment that minimises the stress levels. I think it’s particularly important because we want to be a creative team and stress negatively impacts on creativity (Reily, 2012).

Nicholas (2004) cites common reasons for workplace stress:

  • Work overload, work underload: having too much work, as well as having work that exceeds a team member’s skills and abilities.
  • Role conflict: This happens when a team member receives contradictory or incompatibile expectations about their role, or they are required to do something that they don’t feel comfortable doing.
  • Role ambiguity: This results from inadequate or confusing information about what a team member needs to do to fulfil their role. It’s stressful because the team member knows neither where they stand or what to do next.
  • Social relations: Conflict, or team members who interact in ways that affect the team dynamics negatively can be damaging and stressful.

With these in mind, I’ve been trying each meeting to:

  • Check in on tools and processes, and find out if they are working. As an example, documents in our shared folder were getting out of control- information was hard to find, URL links were changing and the folders were confusing. This meant I found it hard to be across what everyone was doing, and the team couldn’t find the information they needed. This type of situation adds confusion, and thus stress to the project. The way the folders had been set up wasn’t working and I could anticipate the problems it would cause when it comes time to compile them into one cohesive document. A tool (Google Drive or Podio) isn’t enough to keep everyone on the same page. Ensuring processes are discussed, monitored and refined is more important than the tool that is used, according to Hamilton et. al. (2011).  While project management processes are not particularly interesting for the team, I am learning that they are important none the less.
  • Touch base with team members and find out how they are feeling, and why. One team member indicated stress because she was finding an aspect of her task difficult and she didn’t know how to tackle it. We were able to talk it out, find some resources together and I think it made it easier for her. Another team member said she was feeling a lot less stressed because she knew what she had to do. I felt this was a win!
Hamilton, G., Byatt, G., Hodgkinson, J., 2011. Understanding project management processes and tools to drive success [WWW Document]. CIO. URL http://www.cio.com.au/article/380395/understanding_project_management_processes_tools_drive_success/ (accessed 3.10.13).
Nicholas, J.M., 2004. Project Management for Business Engineering: Principles and Practice. Elsevier.
Riley, L., 2012. Effects Of Stress On Creativity [WWW Document]. Design Taxi. URL http://designtaxi.com/article/102008/Effects-Of-Stress-On-Creativity/ (accessed 3.10.13).