Project and Data Management

Thinking about the rest of the semester, along with the plethora of group project unknowns feels a bit like standing on a precipice being overwhelmed by the surrounding horizon. This week’s readings and technical activities were about minimizing the vastness of things that could go wrong by introducing tools to make project management easier and more organized, along with strategies for managing data and the importance of future curation and access. The articles, video, and technical exercises provided some foundational background about how larger projects are often successfully organized. Behind the scenes there could be a Venn diagram with circles for group logistics, roles, & communication strategies; data collection & management; and methodology/technological tools. 

Wanderer above the Sea of Fog
by Caspar David Friedrich, c. 1818

Regarding the collaborative aspect, a few major threads and concepts wove through all the readings, etc. reminding folks about the importance of consistent communication, setting expectations & scope, discussing team strengths (and weaknesses), power structures, budget, and deciding on a realistic timeline. All of these components need to be agreed on by the group and can be altered if something isn’t working through proactive communication, but the key is communication.

Data collection and management is also vital for the questions that are being answered and presented to the public. The Basecamp video emphasized how important is it to document where your data originated, what your columns and identifiers mean (you might forget in the future), file naming conventions, how and where is it saved (and backed up), who has access, & how data was interpreted, etc. All of these are important to discuss with your collaborators before starting the project. Also, your group should decide if and how you want to share your data once the project is completed and published.

Finally, your team needs to discuss what technology/medium is best for presenting your work to the public. Often digital humanities scholars immediately gravitate towards creating a traditional website, but that might not be the best option depending on the project. So, thinking about how you want your audience to interact with the material is an important part of the early project discussion. All of these concepts were intuitive, but important to consider.

Probably the most significant tool for organizing the collaborative aspect of the work will be Basecamp (or Trello for some). I’ve attempted to use Trello before for personal organization, but it didn’t stick as a good tool for my personal day-to-day task management. I need more of the interactive reminders for it to not be pushed to the background. With our first group meeting, my group decided to move forward with Basecamp as our collaborative/organizational tool. I like the options for list-making, scheduling, groups chats, etc. It seems like there’s a lot of component options and flexibility that will appeal to the way diverse brains work. We’re still in the process of picking a topic and methodology, but plan on making those decisions within the coming week.

Going back to the readings, in “A Hybrid Model for Managing DH Projects” by Erin Tabak argues that those working in the Digital Humanities are often not equipped with the resources needed to make a successful collaboration. Sometimes they get the basics before diving headfirst into a project without regard for how the project should be managed or conceptualized and that project management is often considered a “soft skill” despite its significance. Tabak notes the importance of thinking about the project “in a futurist sense as something that still does not exist, and in which project team members contribute complementary skills and interests in order to conceptualize research questions and to design possible ways to answer these questions.”[1] I liked that framing and how experimentation, along with complementary skills are important. Tabak also mentioned the Agile Project Management which values:

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  • Responding to change over following a plan

Developed in 2001, the Agile system argued in favor of moving away from the waterfall method of designing first, and then creating software in which each stage needed to be completed before moving on. Sometimes this would cause code to be written without being tested for usability until a project was nearly completed. The four values and twelve principles[2] developed on a retreat to Snowbird, Utah by seventeen white male software developers whose interest lay with corporations and capitalism have shaped digital project management for the past 20 years. Although the manifesto was derived from their personal observations, and has seemed to work well, I can’t help but wonder if their findings would have been different with the inclusion of perspectives from women, POC, and those outside the corporate realm.[3] An article for the Atlantic, interviewed 16 of the 17 authors and provided a narrative window into the process, while also uncovering conflicting comments about whether or not some women were invited and declined under the perception that the retreat would “just be a carousing and smoking weekend.”[4] Since the 20 year mark was reached this year, it will be interesting to see how historians view the manifesto’s legacy and if those in software development may want to create an updated version.

[1] Erin Tabak, ” A Hybrid Model for Managing DH Projects.” http://digitalhumanities.org:8081/dhq/vol/11/1/000284/000284.html

[2] http://agilemanifesto.org/principles.html Full list of the 12 principles and manifest language.

[3] Granted, I also found an opinion piece arguing that the Agile Manifesto is inherently feminist and has similarities to the Riot Grrrl Manifesto written by the legendary Kathleen Hanna of Bikini Kill. https://medium.com/@Hanna.Thomas/why-dont-we-just-call-agile-what-it-is-feminist-8bdd9193edba

[3] Caroline Mimbs Nyce, “The Winter Getaway That Turned the Software World Upside Down: How a group of programming rebels started a global movement” https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2017/12/agile-manifesto-a-history/547715/


  • Stephen Reiter

    You make a lot of good points about data management. It’s seemingly so simple, yet there so many little ways in which data management can be improved. As you said, little things like file naming conventions and even just what program you use to store your data are so important. You also make an interesting note about the Agile system. As with many other areas in life, it seems as though the realm of data management in digital history could be due for a more diverse reexamination. To me, this process as it’s currently structured seems very rigid, and I could see how it wouldn’t fit with the working style of everyone. It seems clear that other perspectives are needed.

  • Julie Goforth

    Hi Paula,

    I have to admit, not really ever looking at things from a business perpective, I didn’t realize what a big deal project management is. I used to know a guy who was a project management specialist and he had all these certifications on his signature like PMP, PMI, I don’t know what else, just lots of “P”s. I didn’t really know what it all was. Of course, I’ve always known about management positions, but ‘project’ management as a speciality was something I didn’t know was a thing. I can see how it would be considered a soft skill but knowing about all the certifications you can get and the huge projects people do leads me to believe that it is a special and necessary skill set.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *