Is your project management style weighing you down?

June 15, 2016 Tracy Skochil

Amy GlynnBy Amy Glynn

Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results,” said Albert Einstein. Higher Education folks, does this quote strike a chord? Maybe even remind you of day-to-day life at work? The Higher Education system is in flux, to say the least. Schools that allow themselves to become irrelevant, or are incapable of adjusting to market, industry, and regulatory requirements can suffer a slow death.

What can cause an institution to become paralyzed? Many things, not limited to academic culture, complex regulatory environments, varied governing bodies, and a resistance to break something that seems to be working. Yet in the face of these same items, other schools remain relevant, forward-thinking, even innovative, all the while upholding high standards and navigating the complex hierarchy of higher education.

Waterfall: One Big Deliverable

When change is afoot, some people prefer to have everything needed to address the change planned, outlined, documented, color-coded (you get the picture) before implementation starts. And I do mean everything. In tech circles, this is referred to as following the Waterfall Development Methodology, credited to Winston W. Royce in the 1970s. The Waterfall Methodology stages are: requirements, design a solution, implementation, verification, and maintenance. The method has its merits: it’s logical, linear, structured, controlled. But it also has drawbacks:

  • Each phase needs to be completed before you can move on
  • There is little to no flexibility for changes in requirements
  • End-user feedback is not received until after a fully working product is delivered
  • A working solution is not available until the end of the process
Agile vs Waterfall

We’re loving this image, courtesy of

Agile: Multiple Deliverables Building On Each Other

Institutions across industries have adopted the tech industry’s Agile Methodology for project management. You can, too, FinAid administrators. In its simplest form, Agile is a more fluid change management process focused on applying/building, inspecting, and adapting. Agile is an incremental delivery model that allows for small releases, each one building on the previously released functionality.  Agile has a set of guiding principles:

  • Customer satisfaction through early and continuous development
  • Welcome changing requirements even late in the development cycle
  • As a team, regularly reflect on how to be more effective, and adjust accordingly.
  • Deliver working solutions frequently
  • People and interactions are emphasized rather than process and tools.
  • Face-to-face conversation is the best form of communication
  • Continuous attention to technical excellence and good design
  • Regular adaptation to changing circumstances

What This Can Mean for FinAid

Is your office trying to emphasize the student experience over process and tools? Do you often have to deal with changing requirements, late in the aid year? Schools that adopt an Agile methodology can be better equipped to be more responsive to changing industry demands, including:

  • Increased globalization of education
  • Competency based education
  • Increased regulatory/administrative burden
  • Diversified student populations
  • Changing technology
  • Increased sensitivity and awareness of campus safety and security

Learn how to Create an Agile FinAid Office in our June webinar >

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