Managing digital projects at universities: our top 10 tips

Managing digital projects at universities: our top 10 tips

Successfully managing any major digital transformation project is difficult: doing so at a university brings with it a unique set of challenges.

When it comes to adopting the Enroly platform, we help universities every step of the way, from navigating the initial tech purchase process, to implementation and rigorous testing. We even provide you with a project manager to handle the nitty gritty of managing your project. 

And since we have experience helping over 30 UK universities execute game-changing digital transformation quickly and efficiently, we’ve put together our top 10 tips that can be applied to any major digital project you’re involved in at a university.

1. Something will probably go wrong (but don’t panic)

First, and before we get into the other tips, no project plan is infallible. Life happens. Covid happened. Something unforeseen is likely to occur that impacts your project. 

It’s fine: that’s exactly what contingency is for. The important thing to do is understand why something went wrong, learn from it, and mitigate the risk of it happening again during the project, or in the future. 

So keep calm, ensure there’s open communication about the issue and get the right heads together to overcome it.

2. People

It’s crucial to get key decision makers–especially anyone who might have the power to derail a project–to buy into it from the very start. 

Take a bit of extra time during the planning phase to ensure the right team members are involved and informed at the beginning of the project, it doesn’t take too long, but you’ll be glad you did it. 

Record who all the key stakeholders are, and what they’re expecting from the project. This won’t just make your life easier and mitigate risks, it’ll also help you measure success after delivery.

3. Communication (between decision makers and delivery)

One problem that comes up frequently during digital projects at universities, especially those involving software, is a breakdown in communication between senior management and the people delivering the project, or the end users of the solution. 

Taking the time to connect all parties, and engage everyone with the root problem you are trying to solve will massively increase your chance of success. This might mean mapping out an existing process to ensure decision makers fully grasp what the project is attempting to achieve, or could be as simple as ensuring that there are regular meetings involving all levels of the organisation. There needs to be open lines of communication where concerns can be heard and dealt with quickly.

4. Test, test, test

It’s that simple. You’d be amazed how often testing often gets left by the wayside, especially if deadlines are tight. But it’s probably the most important stage of any digital project: does this thing actually work the way we planned?

In all likelihood, your teams will be using the system that you’re adopting for many years, so taking the time to make the extra step of checking every scenario thoroughly is essential. The process will inevitably catch things right away before they cause you problems later down the line: and trust us, they will.

5. Remember, it’s about student experience

OK, so not every digital project at a university is about student experience, but most of them, including Enroly projects, definitely are.

If this is the same for your project, it’s important to keep this in mind at all times, especially when advocating for the importance of the work you’re doing. 

You might well come up against departments or individuals who are stretched and see your project as a lower priority than other important work they have on. But student experience is a priority for everyone at a university (or at least it should be!)

Ultimately, what you're doing is making students’ lives easier, and maintaining the focus on this, if you meet resistance at any stage, can help you push things forward.

6. Resource the project properly

Institutions are stretched, especially when it comes to IT resources. When you are managing a digital project which depends on development time from internal IT teams, make sure you bring IT along with you and that you have agreement on the resources you need.

At Enroly, our range of integration types means that the system has plug-and-play potential that can have a transformational effect starting from a simple CSV upload. But we always ensure key stakeholders in IT are involved in what we’re doing. Deep integrations via API and SITS Turnkey are also options when adopting CAS Shield, and these can require more IT input, which needs to be planned for.

The same goes for all departments, not just IT. If you’ll be depending on any business area, ensure they’re fully up to speed and understand what input you’ll need, and when.

7. You don’t need a specific software package for your project plan, but lists and milestones are a must

One area people struggle with when executing important digital projects is feeling like they need to have planned for every possible scenario. But you don’t necessarily need to write out a full project plan in a specific piece of project management software. Of course, it depends on how big your project is, and how many moving parts it has. But we guarantee that for an implementation like ours, most of the time all that’s required is one page of tasks that outlines people and timelines. 

Milestones help too, keeping things moving and managing whether you're on track. At Enroly, we help with all of this, so you can focus on the day-to-day work that keeps the project moving.

8. Holidays

It may sound basic, but you’d be amazed how much annual leave can slow down your project if you haven’t planned for it in advance. Staff at UK universities tend to have a lot of holiday, and when you’re working with stakeholders across multiple departments, there often aren’t tools giving visibility of upcoming leave, for all those involved, in one place.

Make sure you’re across holidays and know who can pick up tasks in people’s absence, and plan this into your workstreams. It’s imperative that everyone feels like progress can be made working around holiday schedules, and it can be done!

9. Contingency

Build at least a 10-20% contingency into your project. It’s not just something that might go wrong on your own project that can impact progress - it’s all the other projects the team is working on too.

Often you’ll find you’re working in one area but there’s a knock on effect from a delay on another project. Maybe you have one member of staff who can work on databases and an urgent priority takes them away from their work. This is exactly what contingency is for, and you’re bound to need it at some point. Unavoidable delays are not a sign of failure: they're an inevitability that need to be planned for.

10. Measure up

Congratulations, you’ve delivered an amazing system on budget and on time (nice contingency planning!) You’ve tested it and squashed a few bugs, and it’s all working. 

But the project isn’t finished yet. You need to measure it to know how successful it is. This shouldn't be an afterthought: make sure you set out clear aims right at the beginning so that you can understand the effectiveness of what you’ve delivered.

Do the work to map and measure the processes before the digital transformation takes place. How much time, money, or employee wellbeing have you saved with your implementation? Recording this will help you communicate the value of your work, and make it easier to deliver similar innovations in future.

At Enroly, we ensure this understanding is built into the work we do. 

Whether it’s reducing admin time by 80%, or saving a university millions of pounds in revenue, we want to know the impact we’re having. We’re happy when what we deliver makes staff and students less stressed, and helps university teams focus on the things that really matter. 

Ultimately, that’s what digital transformation is all about: helping people.

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