Project Management for Research

Dr. Richard Huysmans
3 min readFeb 21, 2022

Project management in research is often talked about in the context of being a transferable skill. A skill you pick up in your PhD and research career that is useful outside research. However, do you actually manage your research projects? Or do they manage you? Do you employ a project management approach?

When I completed my PhD there were no classes or support training for project management. Although our PhDs had to be planned out, it was not undertaken with the same rigour as current.

My first experience of project management, as an approach, was a short course offered to staff where I worked (Monash University). Believing it would be useful to my work more broadly I undertook a Certificate IV in Project Management (the highest qualification for project management at the time). The approach taught in both cases (the short course and the Cert IV) was PMBOK — project management body of knowledge. Although there were undoubtably other approaches, this was considered the best and was the main approach in use. However, it stemmed from the construction industry, and thus was a gated or waterfall-based approach. Task 1 had to finish before task 2. All aspects of the project needed to be documented before you started. All resources (people and stuff) needed to be known before you started. And, although changes to the plan were permitted, they were generally to be avoided.

As you can imagine, such an approach to project management in research would not work well. Most research projects change within hours of the approach being documented, let alone work commencing.

Indeed, I’m yet to meet a researcher who likes a Gantt chart.

Thus, for the most part project management for research has not been well used. Certainly not in a formal sense.

However, outside construction there are project management approaches that are much better suited to research. The best example would be Agile. There are many features of Agile that are suited to project management in research:

· Minimal necessary documentation

· Short working cycles (4 weeks)

· Regular meetings about progress (daily or weekly)

· Meetings are short (10–30 minutes).

· Regular review of progress towards larger goal

· Adjustment of path towards goal

· Allocation of work across the team

· Visual representation of project progress

So, if you’re interested in better managing your research projects — perhaps take a closer look at Agile. And if you’re thinking you have project management as a transferable skill — and these concepts are news to you — perhaps do a bit of googling and reading about project management.

“Thank you again for all you have provided so far. You have been great to work with and your tips were really useful”
Dr Kostas Knoblich, Early Career Researcher

Dr Richard Huysmans is the author of Connect the Docs: A Guide to getting industry partners for academics. He has been supporting research portfolios, programs and projects for more than a decade. He knows the theoretical approach to project management as well as the practicalities of academic and research projects. He is a #pracademic. Richard’s strategic approach to collaboration and research translation has been making the impossible possible for more than a decade. His clients appreciate his cut-through approach. He knows the sector and how to turn ideas into reality.

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Dr. Richard Huysmans

I’m a careers coach. I help people with PhDs or getting their PhDs answer the question — What next? This is a research strategy question as much as a jobs one.