Coaching Reflection

December 9, 2010 § 2 Comments

During the second half of this semester I acted as the project management coach for first year MFA students working through the Simplex creative problem solving process to address an issue concerning Herron. Team KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid) was given the difficult task of tackling an issue related to smoking in or around the building.

I met with team KISS about once a week to offer feedback, insight or simply to participate in their meetings. As the team was nearing its last week on the project we met to discuss project management. Using three questions — What’s helping our process?, What’s hindering our process?, What are we learning from the process? — I tried to get KISS members to reflect on managing their project up to that point and how they would handle the last steps.

In the last meeting we had a good conversation and the team was able to articulate their learning the project management realm during the course of the project. As the project began they were eager to define a schedule with tight deadlines so that they could be done with the project on time. Working through the project they came to the realization that rather than following a strict timeline, the path they followed was more of a natural, organic route. They stated that there was a need for “soft” deadlines so that they could complete their work in the end and that it could be a hinderance and not in the project’s best interest to make a decision or move forward simply because their schedule dictated that they do so. (Certainly it is vital that the project met it’s final deadline.) The team felt that they spent an appropriate amount of time in each step, not too long or too short, and that being flexible and intuitive on decision making was necessary. I found it interesting that they also identified the possibility of having an official project manager for their next project.

I believe that I worked with the team well over the project term because I was able to build trust and a positive rapport with them. I often asked them how they were doing, inserted myself into the process and took time to encourage and offer positive comments whenever I saw an opportunity. This confidence with each other helped when it was time to talk about serious issues and to give honest comments; I was critical of aspects of their project at times but because we had a respect for one another I was able to share and they were receptive to my thoughts. I tried to keep my comments specific and to the point, in effort to not overwhelm or confuse them with unfocused or too much information. When it came time for our final meeting on project management I used the three process questions, with a focus on their schedule and project management, to frame our conversation and it worked very well and they were able to articulate their thoughts and learning as described above. These questions are invaluable and could be used at any point during a project to gain an understanding of team strengths, weaknesses, and learning. The tips for providing positive feedback are also highly valuable for communicating with others, and have application across many relationships.

Finally, I learned that I really enjoyed acting as an advisor to a project team. It was usually a highlight of my day in the studio when I sat with them to learn about their project and to talk about elements of it. Sometimes I could offer insight and other times I was able to learn something new from them.

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Thesis Research Proposal

December 8, 2010 § Leave a comment

The culmination of our thesis class this semester was our thesis proposal, which consisted of a research question and sub-questions, justification, limitations, and literature review. Our next semester will consist of conducting research to answer our question and coming to some conclusion, either a new theory, process, product, or something else. Oh, and writing about it all in at least 5 million words or so (maybe less).

It’s been an interesting process, from being set out into the wilderness and told to come back with some game in 16 weeks. We could at least return to camp to ask what this game might look like, how we might spot its tracks, sneak up on it and then slay it. We also had brothers in arms to confer with about the process, share insights, weapons and hunting techniques. I think we’ve all returned to camp, some worse for wear than the others, but bearing our game in nice shiny packages none the less.

Click here to read my thesis proposal. (PDF document)

Thesis Proposal Posterized

December 8, 2010 § Leave a comment

image from posterTo cap off our thesis proposals we hosted a poster day so that we could share our work to date, get feedback and talk about our plans for the project. As always seems to be the case, making visuals and additional content helps with the main task at hand — in this case writing a thesis proposal. To create an engaging poster that tells the story I had to know my project and develop a story to tell. I decided that my objective was to create a poster that anyone who attended could understand and engage with me in my project after viewing it for 2-3 minutes. The story that I wanted to tell was that pairing visualizations with written text will improve cognition by a larger audience; that citizens often don’t but do need to participate in complex issues within their local government; and that my hypothesis and future research would attempt to see if the addition of visualizations to government communication on complex issues could increase citizen participation on those issues.

Yesterday came poster day and we were delighted to host a crowd that I would estimate at about 40 attendees, consisting of friends and family, Herron students and faculty and other interested parties. I was able to talk with about 10 of them at length about my project and received some great feedback. Some had insightful comments regarding my future research and how visualizations help them learn in their lives. A number also commented that they liked my poster and that they thought it was the easiest to engage (communications objective achieved). Many people were excited about the potential of getting more people involved in government, which is my main goal.

I believe all of us graduate students left the day feeling relieved that we were done for the semester, but most importantly excited about moving into the next phase of their thesis project after talking to and connecting with others on our work. I’m also proud of the way that the class came together to stage such an event. The food, the promotion, the exhibition space and the posters were all impressive and as our teacher said, set a high bar for classes to come. I’ll post a few pics of the day when I get a chance.

Process tools

December 8, 2010 § Leave a comment

While framing my thesis research question I reviewed a lot of material; I’m guessing I consulted 20 books and can’t even guess at the number of PDF documents. To keep track of important notes and quotes I used a system of sticky flags and PDF highlighter to mark sections of interest and then reviewed them to select the most important items to transfer to index cards. This was an priceless system and can not imagine trying to write my proposal without these cards.

To organize the many PDFs I covered I saved them to my computer hard drive and then printed out the most valuable ones. After printing I organized them in a binder, each with its own pocket. This came in handy and allowed me to grab the binder and quickly page through the pockets to find what I needed.

I think it worked out well and would recommend to anyone trying to tackle such a large project that they figure out an organization system early on in the process as it will pay dividends in the end.

The Writing Center

December 3, 2010 § Leave a comment

Today I visited the IUPUI Writing Center and worked with one of their fine writing tutors to review and refine my thesis proposal.

At the beginning of the meeting Keva, the tutor, asked what I wanted to get out of the hour-long session. I’d fortunately thought about what would be nice to come out of the meeting with and was able to offer specifics to her —  I wanted to review and refine my justification and limitations and identify an appropriate citation method to apply in my final document as opposed to focusing on grammar or other matters. “Great!,” she said (or at least that’s what she said in my remembrance.)

After establishing what I was there for and briefing her on the components of my proposal and subject matter we got down to doing work. She began by reading word-by-word my proposal out loud. This is something that is always recomended to writers but not done enough. I rely on it when I get to a section that troubles me but rarely (if ever) read aloud the whole piece. This alone offered great value and I identified some issues simply because she stumbled or paused at times due to clarity. After reading a paragraph we commented on and discussed what we had read, noting what revisions were needed.

After reading through the two sections, justification and limitations, and marking the document up, she located and gave me a document outlining the Chicago Manual of Style and we reviewed the handout for the sections that applied to my document.

Besides providing a tremendously helpful second or third set of eyes to read my proposal, and highly-trained eyes at that, I came out of the meeting having realized that while my background in journalism gives me a strong writing base to build on, Associated Press (AP) style is different than the fine art of academic writing.

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