When Annual doesn’t mean every year

Watching the BBC programme “Forces of Nature” made me think about why the challenges of “Annual”  Projects should not be under-estimated. The programme explained that as the Earth travels around the sun – it never, ever returns to the same place. Even the orbit of the earth isn’t “annual” in the way I thought it was. This video illustrates nicely

Annual projects are not crowd pleasers.

When my children were small I used to buy them the children’s newspaper: “First News”. Each week a small section featuring political events squeezed in amongst the stories about space and animals and pop stars. This had the woebegone title: “Boring but Important”.

Every organisation has projects like this and they never feature in annual reports or get people excited – unless they don’t deliver.

This post celebrates “boring but important” annual projects and the project teams who deliver them! Here’s one example.

Each year IS Applications and the Timetabling Unit work together on the Timetabling Annual Roll-Forward. We work on it all year, for the “roll-forward” is not one task but many. It takes place not in one fell swoop but in several stages throughout the year. Every year.

Almost as soon as the academic year begins, staff throughout the university start preparing for the next one.

In the autumn the database on which next year’s timetable will be built is prepared and made available to time-tablers.  By New Year, room-booking for the next academic year is opened up to staff.

In the spring, applicants for the forthcoming year are added to the new database. In the summer, continuing students who have passed their exams are loaded.

Finally at the end of summer, the new academic year officially starts and all remaining services (such as student room booking and the screens outside lecture theatres) are updated to reflect this.

Surely this work should be “business as usual”. Why does it need to be a project? After all, didn’t I just say it happens every year?

But  it’s never the same.

Firstly, we work hard to develop the services provided to our staff and students, and to provide new ones. This means the “annual” process is always changing as the services putting data into timetabling or taking feeds from timetabling grow in number and complexity.

Secondly, the drive for efficiency and our own professional pride dictates that we want to make the roll-forward processes cheaper, smoother, faster, more reliable and more repeatable.

This year the timetabling service was upgraded to a new version and the project team  used this opportunity to build in automation to parts of the roll-forward processes. This will ensure quicker, smoother delivery in the future.

Yes, the academic year has its seasons: students apply for places and enrol on courses, courses are added or dropped, teaching rooms are changed or repurposed, staff come and go, exams are held, graduations are celebrated.

planets moving through spaceBut although these events  may be fixed, the underlying processes which deliver them are not. It is the unglamorous job of businesses and project teams to ensure they are delivered, even as the earth spirals forwards in spacetime and a project team looks for some poetry in an annual  roll-forward project.

Morna Findlay

Leave a Reply