March 22-25, 2006
Albuquerque, New Mexico

Papers: Every Project Needs a Plan

Caroline Cassells and Janet Strohl-Morgan, Princeton University Art Museum, Hetty Baiz and Janet Temos, Princeton University Office of Information Technology


This paper represents the mini-workshop entitled "Every Project Needs a Plan", presented by a collaboration of departments within Princeton University, including the Princeton University Art Museum, Educational Technologies Center, and the Princeton Project Office. The Princeton University Art Museum's (PUAM) primary mission is to "effectively support and enhance the University's goals of teaching, research, and service. The museum does this through the study, preservation, conservation, exhibition, and development of its collections." The museum houses a collection of over 60,000 works of art that includes African, Ancient, Asian, Later Western, and Pre-Columbian Art; photography; and prints and drawings. The Educational Technologies Center (ETC) "enables scholarship and learning in the Information Age". ETC helps Princeton faculty use technology in teaching, builds and maintains tools for teaching and research, and collaborates with faculty members to share their scholarship with the University community and beyond. The mission of the Princeton Project Office (PPO) is to "enable a project management culture so that projects are delivered on time, within budget, and with expected results." PPO provides project management consulting and mentoring, facilitates project planning and reviews, and offers training workshops in project management. These three departments have worked together on numerous art museum projects from conception through fruition. In this workshop, the processes, templates and tools of the Princeton Project Management methodology will be highlighted using actual examples from the joint projects. Participants will learn how to use the Project Management methodology and will immediately be able to deploy their knowledge in their own work environments.

Keywords: Project Management methodology, successful, management principles, best practices, on time, within budget, expected results


Princeton University's Office of Information Technology (OIT) has adopted the Project Management methodology to plan and implement its myriad of projects. Both ETC and PPO are departments within OIT. The Princeton University Art Museum through collaboration with ETC and PPO has also adopted the Project Management methodology to successfully manage the museums' technology-based projects including Web site and database projects. The museum uses this methodology for internal projects as well as for collaborative projects with other university departments and outside vendors.

The art museum has various projects, including designing and maintaining Web-based projects, digitizing the permanent collection, and implementing a collection management system which will eventually give on-line access to the museums vast collection. The art museum utilizes the Project Management methodology in order to simultaneously balance multiple projects, cross-coordinate the timelines and ensure that team members with the proper skills are available for the commencement of the project. PUAM's projects are benefiting from the Project Management methodology to ensure successful projects that are delivered on time, within budget, and with expected results.

The art museum holds roughly 20 exhibitions throughout the year, including two major exhibitions. In conjunction with at least one of these major exhibitions, the museum, ETC, and the Project Office design and develop a Web site using the methodology to ensure its success. These Web site projects are created as lasting resources that remain on-line after the exhibition has ended. The approximately 525,000 hits on the museum's Web site each month illustrate the importance of Web-based projects and their ability to reach outside audiences that might not otherwise have access to the permanent collection and special exhibitions. The Web site projects do not replace the gallery experience, but rather enhance the exhibition and provide site visitors the opportunity for study and examination of objects with detail that is limited in a static gallery setting.


Princeton University uses a straightforward approach for managing projects. The mini-workshop will give an overview of Princeton's Project Management methodology which has been used successfully for over eight years to manage IT-related projects at Princeton. The participants will learn how to apply the approach to manage both simple and complex initiatives at their respective institutions. The participants will get an overview of project management principles and best practices and four easy templates that can be used immediately.

The art museum has utilized the Project Management methodology for numerous projects. For the purpose of this mini-workshop, ETC, PPO, and PUAM will describe and teach the use of the Project Management methodology by demonstrating the practical use of the methodology and how the art museum utilizes it in Web-based projects. The museum's Web site is continually expanded upon to enhance exhibitions, education, special projects, and public knowledge of the art museum. Concrete and specific examples will be demonstrated in PUAM's application of this methodology to manage Web-based initiatives. PUAM is also adopting the methodology to expand it to multi-leveled projects which include exhibitions, publications, and educational programming. The attendees will share in the lessons learned and hear testimonials of what has worked as well as next steps for improvement to be used in future projects.

For the purpose of the mini-workshop, several current art museum projects in various stages will be used to demonstrate examples of the how the process is beneficial to the project. The completed projects are accessible via the museum's main Web site at

The first example is a Web site that will be a component of a future project. PUAM is developing an interactive Web site to enhance, expand, and enrich the exhibition Gifts from the Ancestors: Ancient Ivories from the Bering Strait, scheduled to open at the museum in September 2009. The exhibition will be object-driven and reflect three overarching themes of environment, subsistence, and culture; spirituality and art; and the social history of the objects. The Web site will provide a broader context for the exhibition; enable exposure of the subject material to a wider audience; repatriate knowledge to source communities; provide links to additional existing resources; and promote all participating venues. The Web site will be topical-driven and focus on the social context of these objects and contemporary life; landscape and climate (wind, temperature, and light); animals; hunting; spiritual relationships including the connection between animals, people, and the spirit world; cultural and environmental issues in the Bering Strait region; profiles of indigenous people; and carving and technique. The Project Planning methodology is being used for the Web site's design, implementation, and testing.

The second example is a Web site that was designed and implemented as a complement to the exhibition, Music from the Land of the Jaguar, accessible directly via This exhibition united musical instruments with their depictions in different mediums, and explored the connections between musical and ritual iconography in ancient Mexican, Central, and South American art. The instruments date from 1000 B.C. to the beginning of the Spanish conquest in A.D. 1519 and are from the major cultures of the ancient Americas. The Web site features a map of the region with images of instruments from the museum's permanent collection. A site visitor can "select" a musical instrument to hear an audio recording of the instrument being played. Although we do not actually know what the music sounded like in ancient times, the Web site has been successful in catching the attention of young visitors as well as scholars.

The third example is the Asian art Web site and on-line educational resource center accessible directly through The art museum was awarded a significant three-year grant from the Freeman Foundation to produce an Asian art Web site and on-line educational resource center. Along with the Web site, the grant also provided for many other programs, including gallery talks, docent training, events for students, and an annual family day. The museum's collection of Asian art includes material from China, Japan, Korea, Southeast and Central Asia, and India dating from Neolithic to present times. The museum is particularly strong in Chinese and Japanese art ranging from Neolithic pottery and jade, ancient ritual bronze vessels, ceramics, lacquer ware, metal ware, and sculpture, to woodblock prints, painting, and calligraphy. In the arts of China, the museum's collection of calligraphy and painting rank among the finest outside Asia.

The Asian art Web site, along with the educational materials, is intended as a permanent resource for the museum's many regional, national, and international audiences. This resource should prove to be a wealth of information for scholars and university students. K to 12 teachers will benefit from the didactic materials and activities to help them introduce the subject matter to their students and assist them in making connections to their curricula.

The Asian site is an excellent example of a project with many facets that benefited greatly from the use of the Project Management methodology. The museum's departments of IT and Asian Art, along with the Curator of Education, collaborated with multiple university departments, in particular ETC and PPO; outside vendors including, Second Story Design Studios; and several external affiliates to produce this milestone project. Some of the features of this innovative Web site include

  • images and searchable data for a selection of objects in the museum's Asian collection
  • interactive maps to navigate the site geographically and to reach specific objects from particular regions
  • interactive timelines to navigate the site chronologically and to reach specific objects by their time period
  • hands-on activities based on objects in the museum's collection to depict specific artistic processes such as the creation of a bronze vessel
  • images of a selection of objects with rollouts and rotation of the object
  • an interactive map of China that allows the site visitor to compare boundaries and time periods
  • explanations of the periods and cultures
  • educational resources such as pre- and post- visit materials to support class visits and interpretative materials for Schoolchildren, Families, and K-12 Teachers
  • movies of calligraphy being written in five different scripts

Throughout the workshop, there will be reference to these three Web-based projects, with actual examples that will be helpful in demonstrating the process of the methodology.

Communication is one of the most important elements in the Project Management methodology and is a major component of each stage of the project. It is crucial that good communication among team members be established at the outset of a project.

Project Initiation

The purpose of project initiation is to ensure that projects are correctly aligned with organization goals and objectives, they are owned by a particular organizational unit (which also means accountabilities for ownership are explicitly stated and endorsed), and they will be appropriately funded and supported.

Key stakeholders of the project, individuals who if they were to withdraw their support could cause a project to fail, are invited to participate in a project planning session which is facilitated by the Project Office. These are round-table work sessions in which the project goals, objectives, deliverables, scope, roles and responsibilities, risks, and timeline are discussed and captured. The outcome is a Project Initiation Plan which, once drafted, is circulated for stakeholders' review and buy-in. This Project Initiation Plan provides a high-level view of the project.


The Project Initiation Plan is the key deliverable from this process. In many cases there are few formal documents which describe the project before Initiation is undertaken. In fact, the Project Initiation Plan is critical because it may be the first formal definition of what the project is.

The Project Initiation Plan will be made up of:

  • Goal (what is the purpose for doing the project)
  • Objectives and deliverables
  • Stakeholder roles and responsibilities
  • Time Frames
  • Risk Plan
  • Resources
  • Interdependencies
  • Success Criteria

For larger, more complex and higher risk projects, the team typically performs a needs analysis to more clearly define project scope. Once this is completed, the Project Initiation Plan is revised and fine tuned. It is then circulated for sponsor and stakeholder approval.

Art Museum Example

PUAM received a planning grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to support the planning of the exhibition Gifts from the Ancestors: Ancient Ivories from the Bering Strait. This planning grant also allowed for the planning of a Web site to be developed in conjunction with the exhibition. An advisory council consisting of scholars from around the globe was put in place to be the overarching body of the project. Two two-day planning meetings were held to plan the project. The art museum was given the opportunity to begin using the methodology at the conception of the project. During the first planning session key stakeholders, project team members, and advisory council members participated in a project planning session. From this session, a Project Initiation Plan was developed and includes the overall goal of the project; objectives and deliverables; stakeholder's roles and responsibilities; a high-level timeline; risk plan; resources; interdependencies; and success criteria. Because of the success of the planning process, PUAM is able to include the Project Initiation Plan within grant applications to illustrate the careful planning that has taken place in order to implement the Web site.

Detailed Planning

A Detail plan is simply a list of the tasks and activities that need to get done in order to reach a milestone or produce a deliverable, who will do the work, and when is it due. It is an "action item" list. Where the overall Project Initiation Plan is at a more macro level, detailed plans are at the micro level and function as the "action item" list for each team member.

Planning is an iterative process which will occur more than once throughout the project. Detailed Plans should not be developed for more than one to two months of work at a time since "things change." However, these plans or tasks lists should be created every month or two until completion of the project. Again, the frequency for doing this will depend on the size, complexity and risk level of your project.


A Detail Plan showing the activities and tasks to be done, people assigned, and due dates for the next one to two months of project work is the key deliverable from this process.

Art Museum Example

Music from the Land of the Jaguar was an exhibition that highlighted instruments from the ancient Americas and began simply as an exhibition without a Web site. During one of the exhibition planning meetings, an idea arose when it was discovered that the developers of the exhibition, Gillett G. Griffin, faculty curator of pre-Columbian and Native American art, and John Burkhalter, musician and independent scholar, had audiotapes of the ancient instruments being played. From this idea, a Web site emerged. Since the time to produce the Web site was limited, ETC used the Detail Plan to assign tasks and deadlines to each piece of the design process. The art museum tracked its tasks in a similar fashion, communicating via email to ensure the project stayed on track. Within one month an innovative and creative Web site was produced, one that was accessed via a kiosk in the pre-Columbian gallery during the span of the exhibition. The Web site is currently accessible from the museum's main Web site. On-line statistics demonstrate that the expedited implementation of the Web site did not diminish its popularity.

Communication and Project Status Report

The Project Manager will track and control the Project on a weekly basis (or as required), ensuring the planned tasks are carried out, stakeholders are correctly involved in the Project, and communication channels managed - especially keeping senior management informed via the Status Report. The Status Review and Report is typically produced on a monthly basis. The intent is to enable the project manager and key players to step back from the work at hand and assess how the project is doing (Are there new risks? Has the schedule changed? Are there major issues? etc.). Keeping all stakeholders informed about the project through a monthly report ensures that all expectations are in sync. If there are major issues that need escalation to stakeholders, the Status Report facilitates and expedites the process in order to obtain a resolution. The Status Report also lets a project manager share the team's accomplishments with senior management.


The Status Report is the main deliverable from this process. The Project Manager will use a number of approaches to keep the Project under control:

  • Regular team meetings (weekly, bi-weekly)
  • Detail Plans to track action items and tasks
  • Project Status Reports to inform stakeholders about the project
  • Project status review sessions to get input for the report
  • Management briefings
  • Face-to-face meetings, communiqués, e-mails and presentations.

Art Museum Examples

Communication is a critical component of every project. Without communication, a project is likely to fail. All three of the example projects were successful in their use of communication.

Since the locations of advisory council members and key players in the Gifts from the Ancestors project include Alaska, Russia, Washington DC, and New Jersey, e-mail contact has proven to be vital. Regular Project Status Reports are crucial in keeping all members apprised of the current state of the project.

The rapid development of the Web site for Music from the Land of the Jaguars was made possible by the constant communication between the art museum, ETC, and the developers of the exhibition.

The Asian art Web site and on-line educational resource center was able to recover from staff changes and scope expansions due to the regular team meetings held on a weekly basis throughout the three years of the project.

All projects will benefit from regularly scheduled meetings; Project status review sessions; written communication in the form of status reports and email; management briefings to update stakeholders on the progress of the project; presentation to team members for feedback; and for major projects outside focus groups to assist with the direction of the project.

Completion and Project Review

Once the Project has concluded, the Project Manager schedules a meeting with the entire team and conducts a facilitated de-briefing of the project (what worked, what could have gone better, lessons learned). The meeting captures how the team can repeat successes and implement improvements on future projects. This session is facilitated by the Project Office.


The Post Project Review Report, the main deliverable from this process, is used as an internal working document that is written by the Project Manager at the conclusion of the meeting. The document reviews the accomplishments of the project as well as what could have gone better and lessons learned.

Art Museum Example

The Asian art Web site and on-line educational resource center was a massive undertaking with multiple components. This venture made it absolutely clear that implementing a project of this magnitude without the Project Management methodology in place would make it difficult to succeed with the three major goals of being on time, within budget, and with expected results. In this case, the methodology was not put into place at the inception of the project. Once the methodology was integrated into the project, it was agreed that the methodology would be adopted for all future PUAM projects. The project team met at the conclusion of the project to discuss the project successes, the lessons learned as well as potential enhancements for use in planning the next project.

What worked well?

The project was completed with more than expected results. The donors, staff, and site visitors have all given positive feedback. Focus groups were formed early in the process to provide input in the design and navigation of the site. Design review sessions and project team meetings were held on a regular basis. Task lists were created and team members were responsible to finish their assigned task by its due date.

An important part of the site is a set of interactives. Second Story Design Studios worked with the art museum to design three of these interactives for the Asian art Web site and one interactive for the educational resource center. Second Story's expertise in creating innovative on-line initiatives along with their professionalism and use of their own methodology made their implementation a success. The art museum was expected to deliver the content prior to the design of the interactive. With this practice in place the design process went smoothly and was delivered on time.

What could have gone better?

As with every project, there are things that when revisited would have been handled better. Planning must begin with the commencement of the project. All stages of the project must be included in the planning. Enough time needs to be devoted to developing the site. Copyediting needs to be a part of the planning process. The content was complete but could not be posted until after it was edited. Content management needs must be addressed in order for the creators of the content to be able to enter it directly into the site. The project's original timeframe needed to be adjusted to accommodate these issues.

Lessons learned

Through the design and implementation of the Asian art Web site, much was learned. The museum now begins each new project with a planning session that involves the key stakeholders and project team members. Content and design are separated. Content must be done prior to the beginning of design. The timeline is an important aspect that needs to be tracked and controlled. If tasks cannot be completed on time, the schedule must be adjusted to accommodate these tasks. If the overall project is affected, the project team must make a decision on the best way of handling the issue or the project manager must escalate the problem to the sponsors of the project for a high-level decision to be made. A content management system would facilitate data entry.


The museum did not adopt the Project Management methodology for its Web-based initiatives until the first major project was completed without it and the need for such a process was blatantly evident. With the ever expanding scope of the uncontained project, the museum quickly realized the foolishness of lack of planning. Once the museum fully integrated the Project Management methodology into its planning processes, its projects are completed on time, within budget, and with expected results.

Although it is not possible for every situation to be accounted for, the Project Management methodology allows a project to have a higher success rate than projects without a formalized plan. PUAM has greatly benefited from adopting the Project Management methodology and plans to continue to implement projects using the methodology. The museum currently has at least ten simultaneous projects, many in collaboration with ETC and PPO, in a variety of stages, all utilizing the Project Management methodology. The museum has been able to adapt the methodology to meet the needs of any size or type of project.

The Princeton University Art Museum, the Educational Technologies Center, and the Princeton Project Office highly recommend the use of the Project Planning methodology in all projects, whether large or small, straightforward or complicated, to ensure a successful outcome.

Cite as:

Strohl-Morgan J. and Cassells C., Every Project Needs a Plan, in J. Trant and D. Bearman (eds.). Museums and the Web 2006: Proceedings, Toronto: Archives & Museum Informatics, published March 1, 2006 at