The Dreaded Group Project
I’ve observed that many people dislike class group projects. If you’re like me you usually resent working with the random people who happened to sit next to you the day the project was announced. Maybe you get lucky and have a consistent set of partners but regardless of how well you know your group members these organizational tools can help keep your project on track and finished on time (maybe even early)!!
The first thing I do when I’m put into a new group for a class project is collect everyone’s contact info and share it with the group. The best way to orchestrate this is to have a shared document that everyone can access and add their info to; a Google sheet works great for this purpose. I usually include name, school email, Google email or Microsoft email, and phone number fields.
Shared folders are essential. They’re a central location for all group members to dump what they’re working on. Everyone can easily see everyone’s progress. Google Drive and Microsoft OneDrive, work well for this purpose. If you have complex document editing needs OneDrive will work best for you. It has tighter integration with Microsoft Office which is much more full featured than Google Docs. However, real time collaboration in Microsoft Office is not quite as good as Google Drive. If you use OneDrive, collect Microsoft email addresses in your contact sheet and use those to share your folder with everyone.
If you have simple needs for documents, spreadsheets and presentations Google Drive is the better choice; I’m a fan of its simplicity. However, It can be quite frustrating when you need a feature it doesn’t support, such as rational table editing or a nice table of contents. If you do use Google Drive, collect Gmail addresses in your contact sheet and use those to share your folder with everyone.
Communication is important for any project. GroupMe is great for getting everyone into the same conversation because it is platform agnostic. Even your friends with “dumb” phones can still participate in the group conversation.GroupMe works via regular text message, a smartphone app and a beautiful web application – your choice! I almost always ending up creating a GroupMe for projects because it’s proven to be the most natural and easiest way to communicate.
Scheduling meetings is never easy. Finding mutual open space on everyone’s calendar gets exponentially difficult the more people you have in your group. In a professional setting, everyone will be using the same calendar platform. These platforms usually have methods built in to simplify scheduling. As a student, many people use their own platforms including iCloud, Microsoft Exchange and Google Calendar. In order to work between these platforms you can use doodle. You set up a “poll” and put down open times as potential times for your meeting. Then everyone else can reply and fill out their available times. Eventually you have a nice set of options where (hopefully) everyone can attend.
If your project is complex enough you might find Trello useful. It’s an awesome task management system that adapts to most workflows. You create “cards” that are tasks and put them in columns that represent their state. I usually work with “up next”, “doing”, “done” columns but you can adjust those as they fit your project. You can also assign people to individual tasks which makes division of labor clear. Group members can move cards assigned to them to the “doing” column when started and the “done” column when finished. This way everyone is up to date with the current status of each task.
If your project involves writing software, you should absolutely be using version control. My favorite is Git; it is tightly integrated with Github and all the benefits that come with it. I’m a big fan of GitHub Issues. You can easily create and assign tasks to individual group members and track bugs. It’s not the most full featured issue tracker out there but it’s an extremely good fit for school projects.
These tools have really simplified organization and increased the efficiency of group projects for me. I hope they can make your group projects a little more enjoyable, even if it’s just because you finish faster!