Recently in Better know a unit Category

The Office of Classroom Management (OCM) was recently presented an Access Achievement Award by the Disability Resource center. Here's what the Disability Resource Center had to say about OCM's efforts to ensure that the University's classrooms serve all students:

"We want to recognize the Office of Classroom Management for their attitude toward and pursuit of access. On numerous occasions I've had reason to interact with Classroom Management staff and they have always been ready and willing to help. Even more than being willing, they recognize the importance of access and it shows in their sense of urgency when an accessibility need is raised. I've seen OCM staff drop what they're doing to run and fix a piece of technology in a classroom, and separately, despite the unimaginably complex domino effect, OCM staff have happily and efficiently, rearranged classroom assignments to accommodate accessibility needs. OCM's recognition of the importance and urgency of access are worthy reasons for them to receive this Access Achievement Award."

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Better Know a Unit: Graduate and Professional Unit

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The Graduate and Professional unit in the Office of Student Finance (OSF) is involved with the financial aid packaging and record adjustments of most graduate and professional students, and even some undergraduate students.

"We work on a yearly cycle since graduate and professional programs admit students year round. But there is always a new challenge," said Liz Holm, manager of the unit. "There are only four of us and we are all involved with different programs."

The unit of four works with all professional and graduate careers, except the Medical School. They also work with undergraduate students in the nursing, dental hygiene, dental therapy, and Evans Scholar programs. They have divided this large workload among the four staff members.

Liz works primarily with students in the health professions programs, including dentistry, dental therapy, pharmacy, occupational therapy, and nursing. Mark Larson works with veterinary medicine and Carlson (MBA) students. Jim Parker works with law students and joint degree programs. And Brian Olson works with all students in the master of education programs.

Their busiest time is between April and October, especially when new tuition and fee budgets come out in June for the upcoming aid year. The next process the team is working on is the May/summer aid packaging, which starts in April.

"We work start to finish with the financial aid process every aid year," Mark said. "We make sure the budgets are set up with the correct program and that the students are packaged with their correct aid."

Although most of their work is done automatically through PeopleSoft, they also complete some of their work manually. An example is the several reports and queries processed daily by Brian to be sure the student's financial aid record is in compliance with federal regulations. Brian also reviews the Cost of Attendance appeals from students who may have allowable expenses that are higher than what is in the standard budget.

Jim and Mark also run numerous queries to catch other issues requiring human intervention, such as one term or joint degree students who need manual packaging, or students who were assigned to an incorrect budget.

"You sometimes have to be a detective to figure out what the issue is with these students' financial aid package," Jim said. "Joint degree students are active in two different graduate programs. The system is not capable of determining which budget to assign or which program the student is pursuing during a particular semester or year, so it's my job to figure that out."

The borrower-based programs - dental, pharmacy, and veterinary medicine students - are packaged just once a year in batch. Students who submit a FAFSA after the initial round of packaging in July are identified by query and are then packaged manually. The general graduate populations are packaged automatically twice weekly in batch.

In addition to all this, the team responds to emails and phone calls from departments, colleges, and students. They answer about 800 emails a year.

"We receive a lot of phone calls, especially from prospective students and new admits," Jim said. "They have a lot of questions and concerns about finances for their program and have questions about loan repayment. We do a lot of individual counseling."

The unit also provides new student orientations during late summer for about ten different programs. Some programs can be complicated, such as the health professional and education programs, and the orientation is helpful for students to understand their financial aid options.

The team agrees that the most challenging aspects of their job is managing the volume and keeping up with changes to federal regulations or policies. But all of this can be overlooked with the satisfaction that comes from helping students.

"It's amazing the number of students who thank us for our help," Mark said. "The students we work with are great."

Graduate and Professional Unit
Liz Holm, manager
Jim Parker, financial aid counselor
Mark Larson, financial aid counselor
Brian Olson, financial aid counselor

When PeopleSoft is giving you trouble, who you gonna call? Why, the Student Records Training and Support Team, of course.

A fount of knowledge, Gary Andersen, Nancy Killian, and Heather Micek make up the Training Team. They provide comprehensive training, production support, and documentation for PeopleSoft Student Records and related web applications for all University of Minnesota campuses.

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The Training Team provides support for One Stop, ASR Business Analysts (BA), and OCM staff on a regular basis. But their work doesn't stop there.

"We provide training and support for all departments on system campuses," Gary said. "We're basically the public-facing service team to colleges and departments, just like One Stop is for students."

The Training Team also supports many different applications and processes, including PeopleSoft Student Records, PeopleSoft UM ECS, Grading, ECAS, PCAS, and Management/UM Reports.

University staff and faculty can receive help from the team by phone, email, or in-person. The team also offers training through workshops or staff meetings (by request).

"I think people would be surprised by the volume and variety of calls we get," Heather said. "We average over 400 phone calls and 200 ServiceNow tickets per month. We handle 95 percent of our tickets and phone calls on our own."

The team considers themselves the helpline for instructors so they are very busy at the start and end of semesters and during registration time. Because they are the helpline for the U, they say that it is often hard to hold their tongue when people call and are frustrated.

"People aren't calling to say PeopleSoft is working great," Heather said. "They are calling to report a system issue so they are frustrated and that makes it difficult to talk to them sometimes."

The team also strives to put a positive spin on the University systems. They say they are the PR arm for the system. Nancy has learned that the best way to deal with people who are frustrated is to get them laughing. "When someone calls and is frustrated with how the system is working (or not working), I'll say, 'Well the gremlins are having a good day in the system," Nancy said.

Despite this, everyone on the team loves providing customer support. "I like talking to someone and helping people learn things," Nancy said. "We'll hear from people a lot at first and then they call back just to say hi after they have figured everything out. We've worked really hard to make personal connections with our customers."

The team says one of their strengths is the connections they have to people in all departments and campuses. "We train people and talk to people on the phone. We help people by documenting training and production support," Heather said. "We're kind of popular."

In fact, the team has even been recognized outside of the University setting. "I've been on vacation and had people come up to me and say, 'Hey, you're the PeopleSoft guy.'" Gary said.

Other than phone and email support, a big part of their job is providing training to the system campuses. There are PeopleSoft and PCAS training sessions available to all campuses. Student Data Inquiry is the most popular class.

There are also various workshops that people can attend every month. The topics vary, but by far the most successful workshop was the Big Picture workshop, which helps people understand how all the systems work together. When it was held two years ago, the workshop had more than 100 attendees.

The team has recently finished up quite a few projects. They went live with the transition of maintaining training records in PeopleSoft enterprise learning management system to a new system called ULearn.

They also completed a project set to provide PCAS for graduate programs. Originally only available for undergraduate departments, the team provided training to different Graduate School units to ensure a smooth transition. They have also been training the same units on adding a Leave of Absence to a student record.

The one major project underway is the Enterprise System Upgrade Program (ESUP). Heather is the representative from the Training Team for ESUP. The team will potentially be providing training on the new PeopleSoft, depending on how different it is from the older version.

"We are not sure if everyone will have to be retrained, but there will be some sort of training system in place with the new system," Heather said.

The Student Records Training and Support Team
Heather Micek, trainer/analyst
Gary Andersen, trainer/analyst
Nancy Killian, trainer/analyst

Better Know a Unit--Scheduling Unit

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Under the umbrella of the Office of Classroom Management (OCM), lives the Scheduling Unit, resulting in a departmental structure that makes the unit unique amongst their peers.

"Other universities have their scheduling units nested under the registrar's office," said Nate Meath, reporting analyst. "We have a unique advantage being tied to OCM because we work closely with the people who design the space we schedule."

In fact, the Scheduling Unit is revered among higher education institutions. "We are well known for having a handle on scheduling and being cutting edge in scheduling technology," said Bob Quinney, scheduling system administrator. "People from other universities often ask us how we do things and how our office is set up."

But the unit didn't always operate this efficiently. Sandie Carlson, lead scheduler, will be in Scheduling for 20 years this December. "When I first started, we were scheduling rooms for classes on index cards and coordinating with people on the phone," she said.

Some of the Scheduling Unit's job duties include maintaining the integrity of the course data in PeopleSoft for the class schedule, course guide, and course catalog. They also manage the scheduling process and software for scheduling classes and finals each semester.

The Scheduling Unit is responsible for a multitude of processes and systems, serving staff, faculty, departments, and all campuses. The diversity of their work is challenging, but it's what makes it interesting as well.

"We go through the same processes every semester, but it's always changing and challenging. The sheer volume of our work is impressive," said Sarah Kussow, course and scheduling manager. "In each semester, we schedule more than 3,000 final exams, manage roughly 16,000 course sections, and schedule more than 3,500 events for the Twin Cities campus."

One major project that the team just completed is the acquisition of the newest scheduling software, Astra Schedule. The implementation process is underway currently, and it will affect the work of the entire unit, as well as all University campuses.

"This new software will have a positive impact on our work," said Bob. "It is all web based, so delivering the necessary information to people will be much easier. There is more functionality available with this software as well, including the ability to customize calendars and automate final exam scheduling. Currently, this is done manually for more than 3,000 final exams each semester."

Other benefits to this new software include an efficiency in all of the Scheduling Unit's processes, a decrease in the current workarounds they utilize, and the ability to have one scheduling software licence for all University campuses.

The training for Astra Schedule will begin in February. The Scheduling Unit and people they have
identified as "major academic power users on campus" will be trained on how to use the new system. "We are taking a train the trainer approach and expect most users to be trained throughout the spring and summer," Sarah said.

Another major part of the Scheduling Unit's job is to collect space utilization data for all campus spaces. They monitor how efficiently they use space and provide data to ASR managers and University administration.

Nate also conducts scenario planning each semester to determine workaround solutions to problems that may arise. For example, if a building is suddenly unavailable for a period of time, the Scheduling Unit is responsible for figuring out where to reschedule and place those classes.

"It's hard getting people to understand what we do," Bob said. "People have a really simple view of scheduling, but don't realize how complex it truly is. We try to optimize by providing more services for the University while using fewer resources. We do more, with less."

Scheduling Unit:
Sarah Kussow, course and scheduling manager
Kurt Neiswanger, events scheduler
Bob Quinney, scheduling system administrator
Sandie Carlson, lead scheduler
Nate Meath, reporting analyst
Christine Mounts, reports coordinator
Robert Wilson, finals/ECAS specialist

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Better Know a Unit: Communications team

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If you're in need of a few word and design savvy folks to help get your message out, look no further than ASR's communications team. They're responsible for facilitating and supporting the communication needs of all ASR units. "We treat communications like its own product," Communications Manager, Ingrid Nuttall, said.

She's not kidding. The team of six adeptly adheres to a rigorous list of clients, which includes all ASR units.

While much of the work the team handles is ongoing, they've recently completed several big projects. Graphic Designer, Sarah Hollerich, finished a series of colorful magnets depicting imaginative "monsters" that illustrate different StrengthsQuest talents. She also collaborated with Communications Coordinator, Elyse Paxton, to design flyers and brochures for the 2012 Student Veterans Appreciation Day that took place on Nov. 15.

Writer/Editor, Mandee Kuglin, developed a new ASR intranet, in conjunction with the web team, and she worked with Elyse to edit and communicate the release of the University's new scheduling tool Schedule Builder. Mandee and Sarah also launched and manage the new Live Like a Student Facebook page, which provides money-saving tips for college students. Meanwhile, Communications Coordinator, Kate Sophia, established the ESUP student project work stream website.

Juggling each client can be a challenge. "It's difficult to keep all the plates spinning," Kate said. Adapting to other units' business processes and often working under tight time constraints is also demanding for the team, as each project requires an exemplary level of creativity and attention to detail. The intricate and often complex details of financial aid are also a continuous learning experience for the Communications staff.

One of the biggest misconceptions of the team is not what you may think. "It isn't just writing well," Ingrid said. The ability to work collaboratively--often with little direction--and produce a high quality product requires innovation, imagination, and resourcefulness. The writing and/or designing is the byproduct. "We're constantly learning new ways of doing things," Kate said.

The team's diversity is ample, both in terms of personalities and approaches to work. But somehow it all works out. "We're all very different, but we all gel," Ingrid said.

Communications/OE Coordinator, Matt Tveter, agrees. "There's a genuine desire to get along and a mutual feeling of respect. No one says that something is a bad idea."

For Sarah, this type of collaborative team environment is a first. "I've never had a job like this before," she said.

Communications staff:
Ingrid Nuttall, Communications Manager
Matt Tveter, Communications/OE Coordinator
Kate Sophia, Communications Coordinator
Elyse Paxton, Communications Coordinator
Mandee Kuglin, Writer/Editor
Sarah Hollerich, Graphic Designer

Get to know the Williamson Hall Cluster HR team

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The HR team that is part of the Williamson Hall Cluster may be small in number, but they do much to serve ASR. The unit's three staff members make up Cluster 5 of the 40+ clusters that provide finance/accounting and HR services across the University. They serve several different departments, which include Admissions, McNamara Academic Center, University Counseling and Consulting Services, University Honors Program, and ASR.

The HR team is a local partner to the central Office of Human Resources and provides services on a local level to the ASR staff and managers.

Team members Marit Gladem, HR specialist, and Olga Kavun-Wozniak, HR/Payroll cluster lead, are responsible for many tasks. "We post open positions, provide consultation during the search process, perform background checks, and meet with new employees to review policies and benefits," Marit said. They also appoint staff, maintain and update employees records in PeopleSoft, manage different types of leaves, and assist managers with performance management issues. Melissa DeWees, principal office & administrative specialist, is responsible for posting student job openings, student hiring, entering the biweekly payroll, and processing employee absence requests.

The Williamson Hall Cluster was created in 2007. Prior to that, Marit and Olga had different roles within ASR; Marit worked in the Office of Student Finance as the department's HR contact, and Olga worked in Continuity and Compliance. Melissa joined the cluster in 2008, shortly after the cluster was formed. "The purpose of the cluster was to support one or two large departments, as well as a few smaller ones, to help provide more adequate HR staffing." Olga said. In addition to HR, the Williamson Hall Cluster also provides finance/accounting services and has four accounting employees.

The team is most busy with recruiting efforts and the hiring of student workers in April for summer employment. The month before school starts in the fall is also hectic. Fortunately, their work is mostly steady rather than having the peaks and valleys that other positions may experience.

Keeping track of changing policies, procedures, and benefits is the biggest challenge the team faces. That, and helping employees understand that the HR staff are not the rule makers. "We're just the enforcers," Marit said.

And sometimes being the enforcer is a delicate matter. "It's hard because we act as employee advocates, but we also support management," Olga said. "We really have our feet in both worlds."

Each of the five departments that the unit serves has its own set of policies and procedures, which the team must continuously be aware of. For example, ASR places a strong emphasis on professional development. As such, after six months of employment, ASR employees are allowed four hours per week to use to attend a class on campus. This is harder for smaller departments to do, however, because of coverage loss.

But, at the end of the day, it's all about making life as easy as possible for employees. "The best part of my job," Marit said, "is knowing that you helped someone, and that person didn't have to go to five different places to find the answer."

HR staff:
Marit Gladem, HR Specialist
Olga Kavun-Wozniak, HR/Payroll Cluster Lead
Melissa DeWees, Principal Office & Administrative Specialist

Get to know Graduate Student Services & Progress

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In July, the Graduate Student Services and Progress (GSSP) staff joined ASR's Office of the Registrar, and they've been as busy as ever. A team of three, their main responsibility is upholding the integrity of graduate and professional students' records. This is done by processing forms that mark student degree progress, such as filing masters theses and keeping track of doctoral oral and written exams.

Unlike undergraduate studies, graduate programs are not completely coursework-based, but rather self-designed with the guidance of an advisor to meet individual research needs. In addition to verifying that graduate students have completed the necessary steps for their degree, the GSSP staff also collaborates with the graduate education transition team to ensure a smoother flow of policies and processes, as responsibilities once housed in the Graduate School continue to shift to the colleges and ASR.

The team currently serves 10,000 students and over 150 graduate programs. Each year, they process 3,000 graduate degree plans. Stacia Madsen, coordinator of doctoral degree services, reviews roughly 700 doctoral dissertations for formatting consistency per year; Amber Cellotti, coordinator of master's and certificate degree services, handles the paperwork for 1,700 master's degree students that graduate each year; and Renae Faunce, coordinator, Graduate Student Services, reviews Graduate Degree Plans, manages committee workflows, and answers graduate education policy and procedure questions.

Recently, the team worked with members of the graduation education transition team to complete the committee and adviser assignment workflows. These new workflows replaced processes for initiating and updating graduate and professional students' committee information and graduate students' adviser assignments. In addition to creating new workflows, the GSSP team also worked on the redesign of the Graduate School website.

Right now, the GSSP staff is meeting with different colleges on campus to review graduate education policies to clarify roles and responsibilities as they relate to policy and procedure. Based on feedback they receive, the team will determine how to best support colleges and programs as they transition into their new roles now and in the future.

In addition to their day-to-day responsibilities, settling into their new space in Williamson Hall has sometimes been a challenge. "We're getting used to the new office environment and how we allocate tasks," Amber said.

But they've taken the changes in stride. To accomplish so much, the team supports each other and is very collaborative, adopting an integrative approach to different tasks.

Having a passion for what they do also makes the job easier and more rewarding. "We're supporting students who are going to make a major impact on the world," Renae said. "They're doing groundbreaking work, and we make it easier for them to focus on that and not have to worry about administrative stuff."

GSSP staff:
Amber Cellotti, coordinator, Master's and Certificate Degree Services
Stacia Madsen, coordinator, Doctoral Degree Services
Renae Faunce, coordinator, Graduate Student Services

Get to know Third Party Billing

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The Third Party Billing unit of ASR has the important and weighty responsibility of billing and collecting millions in tuition and fees each year. In 2011, the team's three members managed $45 million on behalf of roughly 12,000 students. Their work is aptly described by the unit's name: they bill and collect student tuition that is paid by a third party. A third party at the University is considered an organization (not owned by the student or a family member) that makes a commitment to pay the student's educational expenses and requires direct billing. A single individual is rarely a third party sponsor. The unit also processes tuition payments for departments on campus that would like to charge one of their accounts.

The largest third party sponsor for the University is Target. Each term, the company pays up to $2 million in tuition for its employees. Most are students in the Carlson School of Management pursuing advanced business degrees. Other big sponsors are the Evans Scholars Foundation in Evanston, Illinois, and the Embassy of Malaysia.

One of the most difficult tasks the team handles is billing several locations of the Armed Forces. Students that are part of ROTC, active duty, the reserves, or the National Guard often have part or all of their tuition paid for, but it's not always easy for Third Party Billing. "It is very difficult to comply with University, Armed Forces, and Department of Defense policies," Accounts Supervisor Sheila Rhody said. "Billing is entered into several systems, and payment is always delinquent." In addition to slow payments, the Armed Forces prefers to pay with a credit card, which the University does not accept due to the additional fees assessed by the credit card companies.

To help document retention and organization, the team plans to join the University's imaging system soon. Right now, it's a huge task to keep track of everything. With so many sponsors and money at stake, the unit is anxious for a more efficient and easier way of managing their work.

The team has a wide range of experience. Sheila has been working for the Third Party Billing unit for 13 years; Doreen Knuston, Office Support Assistant, for 20 years; and Dawn Demaske, Principal Accounts Specialist, for three years. Sheila considers the variety a positive for the team. "It has given us fresh perspective on how to improve processes and assess how we're doing, in addition to experience," she said. They handle the workflow as it comes, working closely as a team and addressing each situation as it occurs. They also meet monthly with Associate director Tom Schmidt to discuss agenda items and any unit concerns.

It can be a demanding job, but the staff keeps it all in perspective. "The best part is helping a student obtain his or her third party funding and knowing you made it easier for them." Sheila said.

Third Party Billing staff:

Sheila Rhody, Accounts Supervisor
Doreen Knutson, Office Support Assistant
Dawn Demaske, Principal Accounts Specialist

Better know the Web Team

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The Academic Support Resources (ASR) Web Team juggles many different tasks and projects, but they do it so seamlessly that you would never guess the amount of work they actually do. They are responsible for supporting a wide variety of business processes across ASR, from helping students search for scholarships and approving graduate committees, to consulting with One Stop on how to expand their queue management.

webTeam1.jpg From left to right: Erik Eklund, Joe Goggins, Chris Dinger, Santiago Fernandez-Gimenez (now part of the Project Management & Coordination unit), Kim Doberstein. Matt Nuttall is the creepy guy on the monitor.

The Web Team focuses on tasks that are unique to ASR or that cannot be addressed as an enterprise solution by the Office of Information Technology (OIT). They look for ways to provide programming solutions that will help support access to important information. They've been working to decrease the time it takes to gather fresh data (e.g., student APAS information), which makes it easier and faster to share critical information with other departments such as Student Records, Classroom Management, and Student Finance.

To keep up with so many projects, the team started scheduling daily check-ins. Every morning around 9:00 a.m., the staff meets in the hallway to go over the day's agenda. Web Team Manager, Matt Nuttall, said they address the following three questions: "What have you accomplished since yesterday? What will you accomplish by this time tomorrow? And what barriers stand in your way?" These morning meetings help the team to assess where they're at among their different tasks and to prioritize the day ahead.

ASR has hundreds of processes, and the Web Team constantly searches for ways to help simplify and automate them. For example, right now the team is finishing their work on the Tuition and Fee Management System. As they work with the Office of Student Finance (OSF), they will re-engineer how the University proposes and approves class fees and tuition; by the time their work is complete, they will have made it easier and more efficient to manage the allocation and collection of hundreds of millions of dollars.

As web developers, it's easy to assume that coding is a major part of the their work. But, in fact, it's really a last resort. Since code is very expensive to re-write if security issues arise, the team only codes when absolutely necessary. "We focus on using resources that are already available," Matt said.

Though the workload can be demanding, the team is dedicated to providing the best service they can. "We're all passionate about what we do and the mission of ASR," Web Developer Chris Dinger said. Co-worker Joe Goggins agrees, saying that this is the first place he has worked at where he truly understands and stands behind the organization's mission.

At the end of the day, it's all about making the lives of students and staff easier. "There's nothing more satisfying," Joe said, "than someone saying, 'You changed how I do what I do.'"

On April 27, a new unit joined the ASR family--the Project Management and Coordination unit. The unit was created to aid ASR staff members in completing projects effectively and efficiently.

Right now, this unit consists of Santiago Fernandez-Gimenez, unit leader, and Christa Nicols, administrative assistant. Both report to Grant Clavelle, director of ASR-IT.


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Previously a member of the ASR Web Team, Santiago's years at the U and in ASR have prepared him to manage projects where it is often difficult to plan ahead. He has a master's degree in strategic communication, has been the chair of the Project and Change Management Collaborators network, and is a certified Scrum Master, a practice for managing software projects. This summer, Santiago is working on a certification from the Project Management Institute.

Christa has been in ASR since January 2011. She works partially in Imaging and ASR-IT as an administrative assistant. "Right now, I am managing my first project," Christa said. "I am working to redesign the way ASR tracks and monitors project progress."

In order to determine if the direction of this unit is going where staff want, Santiago and Christa have monthly round table discussions with current project managers (PM) to create a community of practice. The round tables are show, share, and learn sessions with staff tasked with PM duties.

"We have captured what we learned and will fold that into our coaching on future projects," Santiago said. "We are hoping to better match techniques, methods, and resources to the actual business needs of the individual projects."

When a project reaches a size and scope where it has an ASR manager as a sponsor, or will take over 2-3 months to complete, Santiago and Christa want to know about it. They can help facilitate and coach PMs to complete a project efficiently.

A standard tool kit will be provided for PMs to track, monitor, and communicate project progress. "Having the Communications Team involved early in projects is a predictor of success and keeps us user-focused," said Santiago. "The practice of regular communication of project status makes staff feel more informed and connected to ASR projects."

Christa is working to make the project tracking and monitoring process more efficient. "We want to help PMs have a standard way to report what is being worked on so there is increased visibility on project progress," said Christa. "The goal is to put better data in front of decision-makers, and increase transparency in ASR."

This standard tool kit will be done through Google Docs and will allow for PMs to fill out status reports that will update a main dashboard for ASR managers and other staff too look at. Ideally, this tool kit will automate the project tracking for PMs.

Overall, the goal is to aid staff in project management techniques. "Project management isn't rocket science, but we aren't getting things done as efficiently as we could," Santiago said. "By learning from each other, we want to facilitate excellent projects in ASR."

If you are currently acting as a PM and would like to participate in the round table, or want help facilitating and managing a project, you can email Santiago.

About this Archive

This page is an archive of recent entries in the Better know a unit category.

ASR quick wins is the previous category.

Computer matters is the next category.

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