Management of a Dissertation Project
If you have to write a dissertation, then you need a dissertation writing plan. Sometimes a dissertation student is also required to compile a reflective report on the management of a dissertation project. This is not always required so you should check with your institution. Here are the suggested steps:
- Check the requirements from your institution
- Download and read (and re-read) the project marking system
- Consider the personal benefits of writing a reflective essay
- Talk to your project supervisor about including the reflection in an appendix
Here is the detail required by one university where I supervise:
Critical evaluation of project conduct, appropriateness of methods employed with lessons learnt and effectiveness of the experience, PM and quality assurance of conduct of project. Utilisation of appropriate project management practices including Risk Analysis, Work Breakdown and Gantt Charts.
Part of this will be attendance at supervision meetings, and demonstrating steady progress with quality work.
Dissertation Writing Plan
The following planning elements are also clear requirements:
- A WBS
- A Gantt Chart
- A Risk Log
- A Reflective Report
Each of these items are now discussed in turn.
The Work Breakdown Structure (WBS)
The requirement is to break the project down into manageable steps. For this individual project, it shows the full scope of work to be completed, and helps avoid a last minute rushed panic. It also allows the student to work on different areas of their dissertation to add variety into their study week.
The WBS should include the administration tasks such as proposal submission, ethical work, and final submission as well as the researching and writing tasks.
One benefit of a WBS is that it helps to create a chapter listing, and a structure for the dissertation that can be put into WORD as headings and generate an automatic table of contents.
I have written about the benefits of a WBS many times before:
- WBS for Dissertations
- Using MS Project to create a WBS
- Tips for Work Package Headings in MS Project
- Online WBS Tools
- Methods for Creating a WBS
Take a look, but make sure that your WBS is readable, and covers just 1 page – you may have to force a ‘Landscape’ orientation in WORD.
The Gantt Chart
This can be very simple, perhaps just 10 tasks, but should be done in the first few weeks. Taking the major items (chapters?) from the WBS, and putting them against a schedule.
Add the key submission dates and check points as milestones. This leads to a dissertation writing plan, and better time management.
EXCEL is a good tool here. Only 10-12 tasks are required, and MS Project plans can quickly become too detailed, and a distraction from the main tasks of researching and writing.
The Gantt chart also helps with the review on completion, as it can be used to compare actual events with planned events.
The Risk Log
Dissertations can go wrong and lead to failure for some very simple and common reasons:
- Loss of data
- Inability to collect primary data
- No schedule or poor time management (read my recent blog here!)
- Inability to travel to collect data
- Inability or reluctance to talk to the project supervisor
I have written about risk management in three blogs starting here. These should help you develop a good risk log. Risks identified should be specific to the project rather than the generic examples that I have used. It is vital to show how these risks will be managed.
Considering risks can only lead to the better management of a dissertation project.
As a project manager I can only look on this as a Project Review. So take a look at the process for a project review and apply it to your dissertation project. What are the ‘Lessons learnt’? What would you ‘Do differently next time’?
Project Reviews should look back at the Project objectives.
Another method (or an additional method) is to use a model such as Gibbs Reflective Cycle. This will provide a structure for this part of the report, and includes all of the required steps.
The steps outlined above will help create a dissertation writing plan and also help you stay motivated writing the dissertation. All of this will lead to good dissertation time management.
Some students will be just pleased to compete their dissertation. Other students may want to progress to an MBA or PhD. This progression may not happen immediately. Writing a reflective report will remind the student of their personal learning in writing their first dissertation, and improve their future studying and writing.