Tag: Academic

6 Tips For Getting The Most Out Of Team Members

Project managers are expected to do more than just see tasks to completion. To really succeed in the job, you’ll also need to support and enable each member of your team.

Developing strong team chemistry is a big achievement — it’s the sort of cohesion that has powered startups and sports teams to levels of success that everyone thought impossible. However, managing a team is about more than just getting everyone to work together.

The real goal needs to be getting the most out of team members. Whether you’re managing a remote team from around the world or connecting with people in an office, you have to remember that the most effective and efficient people are ones who are happy and feel supported by leadership.

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With that being said, here are 8 tips to help you get the most out of team members.

#1. Set The Standard

You can read this two different ways. On one hand, your team won’t know your expectations unless you share them. So clearly setting a standard of excellence lets everyone know what you expect from them — you’ll then have to help them achieve (or even surpass) those goals.

However, a better interpretation of this is that the project manager should be the one blazing the trail that everyone else follows. While it helps to know what a manager expects from you, it is much more helpful — or even inspiring — to see that manager put it into action.

Think back to all the amazing stories of human achievement you’ve heard. Whether it is the captain of a sports team, the officer of a sailing expedition or the manager of a startup, a leader who strives for excellence inspires everyone around them to be at their best.

#2. Maintain Organization

No team thrives without guidelines. Imagine if you removed all of the titles (and associated responsibilities) from your team members. Who would tackle which duties? And what happens when you bring in new employees?

Even the most free-spirited human needs some level of direction. That could be on a macro scale, like laws against theft. Or it could be on a micro-scale, like choosing to become vegan.

Modern research has proven that organizational rules are a part of our subconscious needs. And in some cases, rules come out of an unofficial decision to deal with some sort of obstacle.

Even if you tried to get rid of rules, your team members would create new ones on their own. And so it makes sense that you — as a project manager — should be the one who analyzes and maintains rules for your team. You can make sure tasks are assigned to people most suited to them, or find opportunities for people to learn new skills as needed.

#3. Recognize Success

Everyone likes to be told they did a good job. And celebrating a big win or personal achievement also reaffirms the standards of excellence you set (if you already followed Tip #1). It’s an easy way to build confidence and encourage similar behavior from others.

Of course, it’s worth noting that people appreciate recognition in different ways. Some team members might be happy to get a call-out in a department meeting, while others would prefer a quiet email or note thanking them for doing their job well.

Part of recognizing success means knowing your team members. Which leads us to…

#4. Communicate Frequently

Part of managing a project means managing people. And while your projects might be low maintenance (especially if your team is excelling), your team members need to know you’re invested.

The most celebrated leaders — both in the corporate world and throughout history — are the ones who “lead from the front,” who roll up their sleeves and jump into projects. By setting the standard, you are showing that you’re not too important to get stuff done, and that makes you more approachable.

But being approachable works both ways. You also have to go out of your way sometimes to engage your team members. Ask what you can do to make their job smoother. Look into workloads and make sure no one is overwhelmed.

Connect with everyone as a person (not just an employee) and build meaningful relationships. It’s an easy way to be hands-on without being controlling or nosey, and it’ll improve team chemistry while also supporting each individual on the team.

#5. Give Clear Feedback

The only way someone understands your expectations or opinions is if you express them. While we could technically cover that in a completely separate post, the bare minimum to talk about is encouraging a two-way conversation, focusing on the performance, and making sure you’re specific in the examples and topics you cover.

Good managers know that giving effective feedback is about more than giving advice. The goal is to analyze (and sometimes critique) the work of someone else but to deliver the information in a way that becomes a teaching experience rather than an uncomfortable one.

Approach the interaction with empathy. If you’ve been communicating frequently, it shouldn’t be too unusual to give feedback team members can actually learn from.

#6. Build For Diversity

A team of similar people with similar responsibilities might get the job done, but they’re not likely to thrive in that environment.

One study by ADP found that building a diverse team actually improves employee engagement. These particular teams had a 19% higher retention rate, and claimed to be 57% better at collaboration. And all of that leads to more effective work from those teams.

While a project manager may not have the same powers as an HR director, you should look for opportunities to bring diversity to your team. If the only path to do that is collaborating with different teams or sharing a workspace with others, then that’s the option you should take.

Because at the end of the day, all of these tips focus on one thing: Using established tactics (and your own inherent abilities as a manager) to set your team members up for success. And when we do our best as individuals, we will also elevate the work of everyone around us.

Drew Gula is the copywriter at Soundstripe, a stock music company that shows businesses how to add music to a video like upbeat music in order to boost their video marketing.

Using an Agile Waterfall hybrid to manage a major Collaborative Computational Project

Collaborative Computational Project Number 4 (CCP4) in Protein Crystallography was set up in 1979 to support collaboration between researchers working in structural biology, and to assemble a comprehensive collection of software to satisfy the computational requirements of relevant UK groups.

Demand gave rise to the CCP4 program suite, now distributed to academic and commercial users worldwide.

Taking a lead role

Scientist Eugene Krissinel from the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) Scientific Computing Department has taken on the core lead of project managing the vast volumes of collaborative software development, and its distribution for CCP4. In leading the core team he says, “I am responsible for CCP4 infrastructure, software distribution, and everything which goes from CCP4 to users, including some program development.”

CCP4 is a well-known and respected open collaboration with a very good reputation and large numbers of users – upward of 25,000 worldwide.

The project now has a mature agile management style with an Executive Committee to drive targets, and two working groups to advise on software requirements and user needs.

Challenges of the project

 “The Software suite grew very fast and now the size and complexity is comparable to Linux distribution, and is managed by only a handful of people.”  Eugene Krissinel.

One of the first things that Eugene needed to address when he joined the CCP4 team in 2009 was the size issue, as the volume of software to be distributed was more than was manageable by the resources and technology of the time. The software suite had reached such a size that the ways of managing software were purely technical – from archiving, compilation, testing, to packaging and distribution – and this was taking all the effort from the core team. It was a considerable issue so his first goal was to suggest a more efficient way of handling the software.

The team adopted technologies used by Linux maintainers, which enabled them to develop automatic software management pipelines and introduce hot updates, so CCP4 updates just like an operating system.

This is something Eugene designed, and it took about 3 years to implement to a stage where it was an established modus operandi for the team.  ”It took quite a sizeable development of new graphical installers, updaters and new pipelines,” he said.  “Those pipelines are big because we have about 10 million lines of code.”

With such a huge infrastructure, there is a lot to manage, and a way forward was to automate certain processes. Eugene explains; “Regression testing of our software is an ongoing problem but now it’s completely automatic and happens every night.”

There is a great deal of communication and collaboration to achieve the mutual goal of the project. The CCP4 team links research community and developers, making sure that users’ feedback reaches program authors. It is a considerable size of code that needs distributing so this takes a lot of time and effort.

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Management style

Eugene uses an agile style of management to organise the project. He used a coarse-grained plan, and tracking progress of tasks within projects is achieved through regular group meetings. The usable outputs are discussed with stakeholders, allowing the team to have a continuous stream of deliverables.

Eugene highlights the importance of good working relationships and mutual respect. His management style is to give team members assignments that play to their strengths as well as matching the project’s needs. The team has a diverse set of skills and interests and together they successfully deal with a wide variety of tasks; from scientific problems to very technical problems or mundane jobs to very creative jobs.

Benefits in the project are identified by monitoring updates for the software. If liked by the research community they will use the software and this will be shown in download stats and start-up stats for the programs. This is collected only from academic users (not industrial users) and the information is completely anonymous.

The theory is that if academics are happy, then industry will listen. The more industry uses, the more sustainable the funding is for the project. The number of industrial licences is a crucial indicator for financial health. Currently CCP4 sells on average 140 industry licences per year, and that number is growing.

Feedback is key and the CCP4 team has always been very strong on communicating with the community directly. They support the CCP4 ‘bulletin board’, a mailing list of about 8000 subscribers who post between 20 – 100 messages each day. They also have a dedicated line for submitting bug reports, which are frequent and dealt with quickly. “If this line is completely silent I would personally worry because there are always bugs. If nobody is talking to us about them or thinks we can’t be reached, that becomes a big problem,” said Eugene.

The project is a great example of agile management because it’s focused on using regular direct discussion between the development team and the users, with 2 week continuous delivery slots. There is also a strong emphasis on stakeholder communication and reciprocal respect within the industry.

CCP4’s success can be attributed in part to generous industry support. Its roots are in drug research and its industrial customers are all big pharma companies. By purchasing software licences, these companies provide important funding to ensure the continuity of the project. Other funding comes from competitive grants, and STFC’s Scientific Computing Department provides the overall setup and home for the project.

Improvement going forward

Despite its success, the team is always trying to improve.  Going forward Eugene would like to see an easier process for supporting short-term activities.

A little bit more autonomy in financial terms would benefit the project processes, especially in terms of purchasing hardware. This can be slowed by the many channels necessary to make purchases.

This project, like so many others, has been impacted by COVID-19 as less spending has occurred and the funds don’t carry over to the following financial year automatically.

Rising to challenges is something Eugene and his colleagues take in their stride, though. CCP4 is hugely successful – something that is borne out by its longevity, its ever-evolving software, its growing community of users and high demand from industry. Importantly, CCP-4 software was used to solve the first COVID-19 virus structures. Taking the agile approach for managing the project has given it a further advantage of increasing the dialogue bandwidth between the development team and the users.