Case Study - Project Management Professor

Project Management Professor Stays on Course
with KIDASA's Milestones software
Three hours may seem like plenty of time for an evening graduate course but extensive content, students’ questions, and professorial insight can knock even the most organized teacher off schedule. R. John Meyer knows this from experience. As a long-time instructor and self-described storyteller, Meyer has seen many of his classes end before he’d covered all his material. That began to change in the Spring 1998 semester, when Meyer created a Master Schedule of his course using KIDASA's Milestones software. Although he has over 30 years experience in project management, Meyer says he’s never seen an easier way to manage multiple schedules.

Meyer’s pioneering venture into project management software is for a graduate-level certificate course in project management offered at the University of California, Irvine. Meyer, who lives near Los Angeles, has an extensive background in project management including over 20 years in the military and 12 years in the aerospace industry. Today he is an instructor, consultant, and advisor to businesses, government entities, and educational institutions in the U.S. and overseas. However, until 1998 he’d avoided using project management software. "I’m from the old school of project management, where we completed projects under budget, and on or ahead of schedule without software," explains Meyer. "However, it has become clear that software is an important part of today’s workplace."

After researching several popular project management programs, Meyer found Milestones a good investment and easy to use, while still powerful enough for any requirement. "After learning Milestones' basics, I found it easy to put a schedule together," he says. In addition to being impressed with the program’s powerful capabilities and ease-of-use, Meyer says the program also fit his project management philosophy. "Software has to support teamwork, communications, and trust ­ the heart of successful project management. Milestones does this very well."

Designing the Master Schedule

Meyer had three goals when he created his first Milestones schedule: 1) to be better organized, 2) to inform his students what to expect during each class, and 3)to ensure minimum lecture and maximum facilitation during the three hours.

"I was pleased to find the process of creating the schedules helped me brainstorm classes. As a result, I could better determine how much students could reasonably accomplish in a three-hour period," says Meyer. "This process helps organize and focus my classes." Meyer used his course syllabus as the foundation to create his Master Schedule. This schedule shows the date and central topic of each for his 12 classes. On this schedule, each class is illustrated with a milestone symbol, which hyperlinks to a daily class schedule. With a single click Meyer can jump from the Master Schedule to any one of the daily class schedules, which outlines the three hours in down-to-the-minute detail including slack time. "One of the objectives of project management is anticipating precisely when one task will end and the next begins," he explains. "But since tasks don’t always end precisely as scheduled, one needs to add slack time between projects. Although it’s just a few minutes, I’ve done this with the tasks on each of our daily class schedule so as to demonstrate this key time management resource consideration."

To get started, Meyer selected one of Milestones schedule templates and a simple symbol methodology. Because he was laying out the activities included in a three-hour class, he used a time format with minute increments in the time scale headings, instead of dates. The schedule’s left- hand column lists and briefly describes class activities. Using Milestones’s click-and-drag capabilities, Meyer placed symbols at the start and end times of each task. He placed simple horizontal connector shapes to show each tasks’ time span. He then used the freeform text feature to write short notes above each task line.

Each class schedule shows as many as eight task lines including discussion, exercises, question and answer sessions, and breaks. "In creating the schedule, I treated each class as a unique project from beginning to end," notes Meyer. "I wanted to make this schedule reflect the actual lapse of time in the class."

While Meyer’s first attempts at making schedules with Milestones were relatively simple, he has added more elements as he has learned more about Milestones’ capabilities. For example, he recently added vertical links between each task line, which logically show the connectivity between events. Meyer also started to explore the Export Graphics as JPEG feature to save each schedule in a common Internet graphics format, and enable the class to view the schedule over the Internet. "My goal is to make class information readily available to every student," he says. "Being able to access the class schedules should give students an additional resource to work on projects anytime, anywhere."

Staying on Track

The last document Meyer’s students see in each Project Management class is the schedule for their next class. "Next week's class schedule gives students a visual tool of what to expect," he says. "This provides a powerful, easy way to communicate goals and objectives. It also helps students mentally gear up for the next week’s class, and it greatly diminishes the potential for confusion." This is an important benefit, explains Meyer, his class structure requires students to form into teams and conduct one or more exercises during the three-hour period. "With the Milestones schedule in hand, all team members can see the topics, the sequencing, and the amount of time they have for each exercise."

What’s more, Meyer finds the Milestones class schedule an intuitive teaching tool. "It provides an opportunity for students to see a practical application of a software-produced project management schedule." One of the important aspect of the Milestones schedule for Meyer has been to provide a clear, uncluttered path for him to stay on time. "The document serves a useful self-disciplinary function, helping me stick to the subject and minimizing the temptation to digress."

"We all confront this self-discipline dilemma at some time in our work," notes Meyer. "Every day we ask ourselves ‘what will I do first, how long will I spend, and how will my needs impact others?’ By adopting team-oriented schedules, perhaps project leaders could become more time management conscious, focused, and productive." Meyer adds that Milestones’ easy-to-use features would make it an ideal choice for a variety of professionals. "KIDASA's Milestones software provides a simple method for creating meaningful project management schedules and structuring the most critical resource ­ time."