By Jayne McGarvey
Fancy Title – But what does it actually mean and more to the point what has it got to do with genealogy or family history?
Genealogical Project Management does not replace the requirements of the Genealogical Proof Standard, rather the opposite is true – a good Project Management System enhances GPS by assisting you to focus on all of the five elements of GPS at the correct time and place in each stage of the process.
Type in a name and see where it takes you! Oh, if it was only so simple, we would all have our family history research finished and written up long ago.
Whether you are a seasoned genealogist or family historian (with a list of client expectations to be met) or a hobbyist just starting on your journey of discovery, incorporating a Project Management System into your research routine will, without doubt, be one of the most advantageous steps you can take.
Family History Project Management can be extensive or minimal; rigorous or lightweight; complex or simple. There is no one, single project management methodology that should be applied to all research or writing projects all of the time. A good project management methodology will reflect the size, duration and complexity of your individual project. It can be as small as one sheet of paper or a virtual book if a team of researchers are involved in a large complex project.
Generally there are six stages within Project Management:
This sets the goals, objectives, benefits, deliverables, exclusions, assumptions, responsibilities, estimated costs, and timescale. For a large research project this may be a complex document or a simple one line statement.
If you are dealing with a client this will set the terms of reference within which the research will be run. If this is not done well, the research will have a high probability of failure and or a possible tendency to deviate from what the client expects to receive at the end of the research. The initiation stage is where the business case is declared (if appropriate), scope of the research decided and customer expectations set.
Creating a research plan is the first task you should do when undertaking any research. Often research planning is ignored in favour of getting on with the work. However, many people fail to realize the value of a research plan in saving time, money and for avoiding many other problems.
This translates your aspirations into achievable goals (outputs). It will set out the resources you need (this may be as simple as a notebook and pencil or membership of an on-line genealogy database). It defines the amount of time you will need, and defines expected costs – a dollar for a notebook – several hundred dollars for a membership – bus tickets to the archives, photocopying costs, lunch with your mate. Be realistic, a simple trip to the archives to review a microfiche does not need detailed micro-planning but a large research project for either yourself or a client may need detailed plans which include financial tolerances set for potential additional costs such as photocopying or travel.
Still in use, one hundred-years from their creation, Gantt charts ((created by Henry Gantt (1861-1919)) are one of the project managers’ most valuable tools for ensuring that a project runs on time, in focus, and within budget.
This is where you undertake the work. For a research project this will be the first three steps of GPS:
1. A reasonably exhaustive research.
2. Each statement of fact has a complete and accurate source citation.
3. The evidence is reliable, and has been skillfully correlated and interpreted.
5. Monitoring & Control
What was it you or your client wanted to find? By referring back to your original plan you continually concentrate your focus on what exactly is required. The monitoring and controlling process involves managing and tracking your work, and incorporates an evaluation of the first three steps of the GPS so potential problems can be identified quickly and corrective action taken.
It identifies and addresses step 4 of GPS – Is there any contradictory evidence? Has this been resolved?
This is a very important on-going process in larger, more complex searches, especially those that have identified a range of required outputs.
Once the review(s) have been completed, and any issues addressed it is time to move forward to step 5 of GPS, your Conclusions. In more complex searches one final review after you have written your conclusions is advisable.
Often neglected, it is important to make sure the project or search is closed properly. Many projects do not have a clear end-point because there is no formal sign-off. If you are working on behalf of a client it is important to get the customers’ agreement that the project has ended, and no more work will be carried out. Once closed, the researcher should review the project and record the good and bad points, so that in the future, successes can be repeated, and failures avoided. In a simple self-search this may be no more than ensuring your research is saved, backed-up and your log is ticked off.