by Ashley Reed, Associate Professor, Virginia Tech

Project planning and management are under-discussed but crucial keys to developing and running a successful digital humanities project. 

Below is a list of issues and questions to consider as you begin your project. Even if you are working alone, these questions can help you conceptualize your project, set goals, organize your time and tasks, and achieve success.

We recommend that you work through these questions in writing; your answers will become the basis of a project charter that can guide the project, keep collaborators on the same page (literally and figuratively), and inform funding applications. For sample project charters created by Princeton University’s center for Digital Humanities, see this site. And here is the Yale DH Lab’s Project Charter Template.

Define what “success” will mean for your project

Every digital humanities project is different and defines success differently. If your project is primarily pedagogical, then success may mean completing a semester of teaching or receiving approval for a course. If your project involves the digital editing and dissemination of a single document, then publication or peer review may be its successful endpoint. Projects intended to serve the public will define success differently than projects designed for the use of specialists and scholars. Consider the materials, goals, and audience for your project and ask yourself, How will I (and my team) know when the project has achieved success?

Plan your project in phases and determine goals for each phase

Beginning a new project of any kind can be overwhelming, but collaborative projects or those involving digital components can seem particularly daunting. Mitigate this feeling and organize future work by dividing the project into phases with clear endpoints. [Find or create sample work plans]. Phase planning is also useful when applying for grant funding, since many grant programs require a Work Plan as a condition of the application.

Define project roles

Consider what roles each contributor will play in the project. Remember to include contributors who do not work on the project directly but who nevertheless contribute to its success, such as server maintenance personnel or grant administrators. Once you have determined member roles, define each role’s responsibilities clearly, while keeping in mind that responsibilities may shift as the work proceeds. 

Roles may include Editor, Project Manager, Technical Editor, Transcriber, Programmer, Web Designer, Project Assistant, or a host of others. Consider how you will title each role. While titles may seem unnecessarily formal, they can often determine how legible a role is to people outside the project; this can be particularly crucial for graduate students, for whom a formal title may assist in their job search.

We suggest defining project roles clearly *even if you are the sole person working on your project*. It is helpful for you to know how many hats you are wearing, particularly when it’s time to apply for grants or account to your institution for your efforts. Taking note of how much time you spend on each role may signal to you when you need to bring on new team members and having roles already defined will make finding and onboarding new colleagues easier.

Consider how you will ensure that every member of the project team is treated ethically, receives credit for their work, and (where applicable) is compensated appropriately for their time and effort

Each member of your project team will contribute to your project’s success and should receive appropriate benefits in return. For tenured or independent scholars, the work may be its own reward, but junior scholars and student contributors often don’t have the luxury of donating time to a senior scholar’s project. When building your team, consider how each member will benefit. Course or undergraduate research credit can be offered to undergraduates; federal work study funds are also sometimes available for hiring hourly student workers. 

Professional development can be an appropriate form of compensation for graduate students and early career scholars, but many emerging scholars have been exploited with the promise of a “good c.v. line.” If you promise professional development and acquired skills to your collaborators, make sure those promises are fulfilled in concrete ways. Can you give individual authorship credit to early career collaborators that will be meaningful on their vitae? Can you pay for trainings or certifications? Can you co-author articles or book chapters with graduate students or junior scholars? Can you write funding for graduate student conference attendance into your grant applications?

And of course, for student collaborators cash is often the best reward. When applying for external and internal grants, add specific line items for paying student contributors. 

Decide how you will know when your project is “done.”

Closely related to the question of success is the question of completion. How will you know when your project is done? Unlike articles and monographs, digital projects aren’t necessarily done just because they’re published (and “publication” means something different for digital projects than for textual ones). In fact, publication may not even be your project’s goal. Think about how long you expect your project to take, what it entails, and when you will know it is done. Extensive projects (like author archives or large collections) may never be done, or may have endpoints so far in the future that they cannot currently be predicted. (The Women Writers Project, for instance, has been operating steadily since the late-1980s.) Most smaller projects will be finished at a foreseeable future date. 

Consider how the project will be preserved and maintained once it is done. Digital projects built on a platform or in a given programming language will become decrepit as the platform is updated or the language evolves. Even a static website that remains public will require yearly maintenance. Who will be responsible for that maintenance? If you plan to archive the project, what format will you use? Where will you deposit it? Librarians can be excellent resources when considering project preservation.

It may seem odd to think so much about the end of a project just as you are beginning it, but defining success and knowing when you will be done will help you and your team plan your project, stick to your plan, and avoid burnout.