Project Management Systems: Our project Journey

One of my first tasks as project administrator was to identify a Project Management System for the Connected Histories team to use. As an information professional, with a background in libraries management, and a techie at heart, this is the sort of challenge I relish.

Over the years, I have selected and implemented a wide range of organisational tools for various projects, and I am very comfortable with new systems. I considered what we would want from a project management system for this particular project, and came up with a list of criteria against which to evaluate prospective tools:

  • Task Management facility which included subtasks, reminders, task delegation and notifications or reminders of deadlines
  • Communication features which allowed for face time, email, online chat
  • Secure document storage and management, which offered version control and document sharing for collaborative working.
  • Reporting tools such as graphs, Gantt charts and flexible reporting facilities, allowing for the monitoring of progress.
  • Budget management features
  • Project calendar and calendar sharing
  • CRM facilities (Customer Relationship management) for storing contact information of people connected with the project.
  • Accessibility – mobile apps; desktop app and online services

I investigated a range of different options before selecting Bitrix. There is both a free and paid version, and while it is not designed for research project administration, it is the one free tool that ticks all the boxes above. It has an impressive range of functions. It’s easy to create and assign tasks, adding deadlines and tags, documents and comments. It includes email accounts, if wanted, but works with existing email addresses. The system includes customer relationship management, budgeting tools, and a range of reports that are customizable, although this requires an understanding of database structures. There is a desktop app, allowing for live chat, and face-time calls.  Of all the tools I tried, this has the best functionality, although it is not as simple in appearance as others, contributing to its lack of success for this project.

Some of the data with which we are working in the project is confidential, and data security is paramount, particularly for the data received from the BBC. This had to be stored securely, and after a period of time, we were able to arrange a separate, secure server. This meant that there would always be elements of the project that would be housed separately, creating an additional level of complexity. 

However, it was the human factor that I did not consider sufficiently, particularly the varying levels of engagement with the digital world and technology within the team. While I loved Bitrix, the team found that having to learn a new system was cumbersome, and complicated. There is a tension in academic circles between the way administrators work, and the way academics work, and sometimes what works for an administrator is not suitable for an academic. Ultimately we decided to stop using Bitrix.

Through a process of trial and error, looking at what everyone was using, and the programmes they found accessible and easy to use, we have settled on a ‘system’ that works for us, using a variety of programmes, rather than a single umbrella tool:

  • Data storage for working documentation is on the University’s Box system, and although we regularly discuss where in particular things should be stored, it allows everyone access to all of the documentation.
  • We have a secure server for the BBC data
  • We use email, (mainly Outlook, provided by the University) and I tend to attach documents, or include links to the document in Box.
  • I send out a weekly roundup of Project information (our Friday Update) and this is extremely effective.
  • In the update, I include a list of outstanding actions. I keep these listed in my Outlook tasks so I can monitor what needs to be done.
  • I manage the budget in spreadsheets, and all of the reports from the Finance System come as spreadsheets.
  • We have a separate project email account that includes a project calendar, which is shared with the team.
  • Reporting systems are not ideal, but reports can be collated if necessary

On reflection, for similar projects in the future I would:

  • Take more time to see what is currently being used by team members, and whether it is suitable. People can be reluctant to embrace yet more systems, and sometimes the best answer is to work with something that integrates with what they are already using. 
  • Keep my own system for managing the project, probably spreadsheets, but distil these into a more engaging format for the team.

Ultimately, I think there is a gap in the market for a project management tool which is free, and suitable for research projects – providing the level of complexity needed for the administrators, and an engaging, easy to use front end for academics. Are there any developers out there who would like to collaborate on developing one?

Denice Penrose, August 2019

Website Launched- 100 Voices that made the BBC: People, Nation, Empire

The BBC has opened up its archives, to explore how TV and radio have understood and covered race, immigration, British identity, and nation across the twentieth century.

As part of the AHRC-Connected Histories of the BBC, the fourth in a series of BBC websites, 100 Voices that Made the BBC, has been released. It’s called People, Nation, Empire. Published to coincide with the 70th anniversary of the arrival of the Empire Windrush and the King’s formal renunciation of the title of Emperor of India, it explores how the BBC has tried to re-imagine itself in the multicultural and postimperial age – how it’s grappled over the years with the wider issue of who exactly gets to speak on air and who exactly gets to appear on screen. You can see it here

The website includes a large number of clips from programmes not seen since first broadcast several decades ago, as well as lots of interview recordings, photographs and written documents that are being made publicly available for the very first time through this website.

Subjects covered include:

  • the history of programmes addressing race and immigration
  • pioneering access television in the 1970s
  • broadcasting’s role in fostering Caribbean literature
  • the BBC in India
  • the World Service as a cultural melting-pot
  • portrayals of ‘the North’
  • religious broadcasting in a multi-faith world
  • the history of programming about LGBTQ+ issues.

As well as viewing clips and interviews, you can download and keep selected transcripts of interviews recorded with BBC pioneers and kept in the Corporation’s oral history archive.

You can also download important and previously unavailable documents from the BBC’s Written Archive Centre, which help reveal the inside story of the BBC.

Highlights include:

  • BBC news bulletins from the day the Empire Windrush arrived in 1948
  • Rare clips and images of African-American and Black British performers on pre-war and post-war BBC television.
  • Documents revealing the behind-the-scenes story of how and why the BBC launched programmes for ‘Asian immigrants’ in 1965.
  • Clips of, among others, Paul Robeson, Langston Hughes, James Baldwin, Derek Walcott, George Lamming, Louise Bennett, and John Figueroa speaking on the BBC.
  • Clips from pioneering dramas and documentaries dealing with immigration and cultural identity: A Man from the Sun (1956), Special Enquiry (1955), Morning in the Streets (1960), Fable (1965), Black Christmas (1977), Empire Road (1978)
  • The very first episode of Make Yourself at Home, the BBC’s TV programme for Asian immigrants launched in 1965.
  • Specially recorded location-interviews with the veteran Indian correspondents Satish Jacob and Mark Tully, discussing the role of the BBC in India and its reporting of key events such as the storming of the Golden Temple at Amritsar and the premiership of Indira Gandhi.
  • A specially recorded interview with the novelist and broadcaster Mike Phillips, discussing the challenges of being a black reporter at the BBC in the 1970s.
  • Documents and interviews asking why The Black and White Minstrel Show was still being broadcast in 1978.
  • Extended clips from two early episodes of Open Door, the BBC’s radical 1970s experiment in ‘access TV’ – one by a group of Black London teachers, the other by the ‘Transex Liberation Group’ – alongside interviews and documents revealing the origins of the series.
  • Documents from Mass Observation revealing British attitudes about race and immigration since 1939.
  • The story of Una Marson, the BBC’s first black producer, who developed broadcasting to the Caribbean during the Second World War – including the earliest known recording of her, and newly-available documentary evidence of why she left the BBC in 1946.
  • Programme scripts from the pioneering series Caribbean Voices, including the first appearance of a poem by Samuel Selvon.
  • Vivid portraits of the life and culture of the BBC’s ‘North Region’ before and after the war, through freshly-released interviews with Olive Shapley, Yvonne Adamson, Alfred Bradley, and John Snagge.
  • Intimate descriptions of life among international broadcasters working at Bush
    House during and after the Second World War.
  • A frank account from the former head of religious broadcasting, Colin Morris, about disagreements between the BBC and the established churches over the direction of multi-faith programming in the 1960s and 1970s.
  • Clips of early episodes from pioneering children’s TV series such as The Flowerpot Men (1952), Playschool (1971), Grange Hill (1978), and recorded interviews telling the inside story of their creation.
  • A timeline of key events in the BBC’s attempts to represent sexual diversity since 1957, including clips from This Time of Day-Lesbianism (1965), Man Alive-Consenting Adults (1967), Open Door (1973), Gaytime TV (1995), and other key documentaries from the 1960s through to 2017.
  • A filmed recording of John Agard performing his poem Grey, from the Video Nation series – part of the BBC’s marking of the fiftieth anniversary in 1998 of the arrival of Windrush.
  • A specially recorded interview with the broadcaster Samira Ahmed, giving her
    personal response to the archive material being released on this website.

Full transcripts from the BBC’s Oral History archive being made available here for the first time include: Olive Shapley, Alfred Bradley, Ted Wilkinson, Yvonne Adamson, David Waine, Colin Morris, and Owen Reed.

There is also a section called ‘Share Your Memories’ where you can upload your own
thoughts and recollections as a viewer and listener to these BBC programmes.

Background

The text has been written by David Hendy and Alban Webb from the School of Media, Film and Music at the University of Sussex, with guest contributions from other media historians, including Aasiya Lodhi (Westminster), Jeannine Baker (Macquarie), James Procter (Newcastle), Jamie Medhurst (Aberystwyth), and John Escolme (BBC).

Previous websites in the 100 Voices that Made the BBC series can be found here. They include websites about the history of elections broadcasting, the birth of television, and the reinvention of radio in the 1960s. These websites also include a large number of programme clips, interviews, photographs, documents, and transcripts for download.

The 100 Voices that Made the BBC series is part of the AHRC-funded Connected Histories of the BBC project based at the University of Sussex and running from 2017 to 2021. For background, see here.

David Hendy,
University of Sussex
Wednesday 18 July 2018