My exploratory journey into the world of project management

I have over five years of white-collar office experience, and my cubical is a stone’s throw away from half a dozen project managers, yet I am a neophyte when it comes to project management.

What’s passed as my project management is a mess of coffee-stained notepaper mixed with the odd, slightly ripped sticky note; all smeared with hastily scribbled, semi-legible notes and lists. Yes, my desk often resembles the aftermath of a particularly devastating tornado.

That admission aside, I do have something to work with. The files on my computer are appropriately named and well organized. I also have the rare tendency to save iterations of my work.

As you might have guessed, tasks and projects do fall through the cracks or, in the case of my desk, the craters. Bottom-line? I need help.

What is Project Management Really?

 Project management always sounded like business jargon for list building and task assignment to me.

According to, “Project management focuses on planning and organizing a project and its resources. This includes identifying and managing the lifecycle to be used, applying it to the user-centered design process, formulating the project team, and efficiently guiding the team through all phases until project completion.”

Ultimately, project management is keeping track of a goal and making sure the necessary tasks/steps are completed. It’s about organization and efficiency so, for example, you don’t have to check the same sticky note for the umpteenth time to ensure you haven’t missed anything like I’m prone to do.

There’s an App for that!

 Like anything else in the 21st century, there are many options for project management applications. I settled on Trello, primarily because it has a free version and because I have experience with other Atlassian products (Jira and Hipchat). Like most of its competitors, Trello has a phone app.

Now that I settled on the app, I need a project to be my guinea pig. Since this is a learning exercise, what better choice than my graduate school coursework?

With my coursework chosen, the next step is to isolate my objectives—not the grade I hope to earn—but the items I need to complete or produce to achieve my desired outcome, to earn that high mark and ultimately my master’s degree.

My Test Subject

ICM501 Foundations Graduate Studies, my test subject, is broken into seven learning modules each including readings, research, assignments, and writing.

Trello works with boards, think virtual bulletin board. You attach lists to the board, and each list is made up of cards. Cards are tasks, which can include checklists, due dates and relevant attachments. Card functionality also includes labels, comments, assigned team members, and an activity section that shows all the edits and comments to a given card.


For my test subject, I created a new board and named it ICM501. On the board, I included each learning module as a list and every task that needs to be completed as a card. In cards, depending on the task, I included checklists, links and course documents. I established labels for the cards to designate my progress level for tasks: Completed, Working On, Haven’t Started and Upcoming. For example, the Readings card for Module #1 includes links to all the pdfs and a checklist for every piece of reading I needed to complete.

To illustrate the process, I’ll break down the Module #1 list. It is comprised of seven cards:

  1. View Class Lectures. There were two short videos to watch. This card contains links to both videos and a checklist.
  2. Deep Work. Cal Newport’s Deep Work is the primary text for this course. This card consists of a checklist that contains the two book sections required for this week.
  3. Readings. This card includes attachments of three additional required readings and an attached reading of my choice. It also houses a checklist for the four readings.
  4. Zoom Meeting. Each week, we are required to attend one of three Zoom meetings. This card has the due date of the meeting I attended.
  5. Annotate Bibliography. This card houses a checklist for all of the readings that need to be annotated and added to a course long bibliography.
  6. Skills Assessment. This card includes a due date and attached skill assessments that need to be completed and uploaded. It has a checklist for when each assessment is completed and when the file is uploaded.
  7. Blog. This card contains a checklist for the steps for producing the blog, an attached image to use on the blog, and the published URL for the blog post.

As I completed work, I checked off the corresponding checklist item and updated the card label.


What I discovered

 Using Trello provides a clear overview of my coursework, so I don’t have to go diving into my notebook to track my progress. It’s portable, meaning at work or at a café, as long as I have my phone, I know where I stand with my coursework.

Is project management going to make my desk more like a workstation and less like a natural disaster? Perhaps. It will allow me to banish some of those scraps of loose coffee-stained notes and stickies to the waste bin. With my newfound project management abilities, my planning and management can finally resemble my beloved clean and organized computer filing convention.

Project management is not just for people with MBAs; it’s a skill that will help anyone stay on schedule and work efficiently regardless of the type of project or industry.


Project management basics. Retrieved from