Introduction to Multimedia in Museums

Section Two: Developing Multimedia Systems

7. Multimedia Project Management

This chapter consists of the following sections:


A project can be defined as a unique process requiring significant effort and resources to reach a definite outcome within time and cost restraints. Good project management reduces the risk of failure and of exceeding time and/or budget. A project requires a plan and consideration of the processes necessary to carry out the plan; this is the development cycle. Multimedia projects are by their nature interdisciplinary and usually involve a team of people. The management issues are therefore those of working in or with a team and working towards a particular goal, usually a system or product.

There are many theories on project management in general which are relevant to multimedia projects; there are also issues specific to multimedia projects. The basic principles common to theories of project management are:

1. Define objectives 2. Set up project team 3. Agree on a plan, timetable, deliverables 4. Monitor the execution of the project 5. Control the process and the outcome 6. Review outcome

Risks to Projects

Unfortunately, projects sometimes fail to achieve the desired result. Common reasons for projects failing include:

- lack of clearly defined objectives and benefits - lack of client/user commitment or project 'ownership' - failure to define success criteria in advance - lack of clearly defined project roles - failure to accurately estimate the resource required - lack of legal/contractual advice on relationships with suppliers

Adopting a formal project management/development methodology will help avert these failings.


Project objectives must be clearly defined and agreed to by all involved. Usually the main objective is a final multimedia product or system. Alternative options within this objective should be costed and evaluated, eg. for a public access system, a curatorial system, a CD-ROM.

It is necessary to define the audience for the product, the form it will take and its scope. Objectives may need to refer to the mission or strategic plan of organizations involved thus putting a specific project in a wider context.

The aim at the first stage may only be to produce costing estimates or a feasibility study rather than a finished product. Other objectives may be more tangible, such as peripheral products to accompany the system i.e. manuals, catalogues or other hard copy products; or less tangible, such as to familiarize those involved with the technology.

Each group of participants from its respective viewpoint may define a project's objectives. If these perspectives differ (or may appear to differ), the projects goals should be clarified. The management group, the project team, and the user group may place a different value on achieving certain objectives.

Decisions can be made as to whether to partner with a company that produces multimedia products or to create an in-house multimedia production team. Either option is viable depending on the commitment of the museum. Currently, many museums are finding it convenient to build content and design teams within the museum but have the actual production done outside the museum under a contractual agreement with a production company that may be involved with aspects of marketing and distribution as well.


A plan identifies the processes and stages needed to meet the desired objectives. It should include a timetable with a start and end date and milestones along the way. These will be linked to stages in the production path and should identify deliverables and payment milestones for each stage. Deliverables may be analysis documents, design documents, storyboards, manuals, prototypes, or any media elements such as graphics or video clips. The timetable is likely to have many concurrent strands in a multi-disciplinary multimedia project. It is important for the timetable to be realistic and achievable. Resources needed at each stage and any critical dependencies must be identified. Potential risks to the project should be identified and minimized. The plan should identify who needs to do what and when and ensure that the same people are not expected to be doing everything at once.

A project budget, with details of how it is broken down, can be a separate document but should be linked to the stages and separate elements of the project plan where possible.

The plan then provides the framework for managing a multimedia project identifying clear points at which reviews can take place to monitor progress and ensure control.

Planning is also necessary for implementation and for any on going activity such as training, maintenance and support of a product, or publicity and marketing. A review of the project may be a requirement at some point before and/or after completion. Full scale post implementation reviews may take place as long as a year after implementation particularly with a large or complex system or where a large user base is anticipated. However it is useful to have some form of final report or review stage soon after completion to ensure any loose ends are tied up before those involved move on or lose interest. A general evaluation of a project can be useful to all involved in learning for the future.

Project Plan Stages

- Preliminary Analysis

- Design Concept/Document Prototype/Outline Timetable

- Agreement/Commission Development

- Production Plan/Detailed Timetable/Deliverables Script/Storyboard/Data Collection & Editing/Graphic/Video/Audio Authoring Testing

- Modifications/User Manual Beta Version

- Final Product Training/Publicity

- Marketing/Support/Maintenance/Evaluation

- Project milestones/deliverables as agreed


The project should be monitored regularly, at appropriate stages identified in the plan, actual achievements and costs should be compared against the timetable and the budget. Checking procedures should be agreed with the reporting needs and consultation procedures identified. Documentation of the project should be separate from documentation of the product and should include detailed breakdowns of the plan with schedules, budgets and resources for each process or task and their relevant deliverables. Any decisions reached at meetings and any verbal agreements should be documented in writing. These may include revisions to the original plan. Inevitably, unforeseen factors arise or circumstances change during the actual course of a project.

Responsibility and Control

Areas of responsibility should be clearly established from the beginning of a project. Overall responsibility for a project should be assigned to a project manager. He or she may have a reporting role to whoever has commissioned and/or financed the project, often a project board with representation of all interested parties. The project manager must establish targets for phases of planning and production as well as ensure delivery of work from contracted consultants and outside production companies. Regular reports provide opportunities to ensure the project is on course and to take any necessary action if it is not. Changes to the timetable or costs will usually require approval from funders and senior museum management. Ownership of the project and the outcome must be accepted in order to establish responsibility. The responsibilities of the client, i.e., whoever has commissioned the project, must also be made clear in signing off at each stage or at the conclusion of the project.

Multimedia Projects

Multimedia projects are often a new area for at least some of those involved. Procedures for multimedia development or production have not been codified as is true in the field of book publishing for example.

The technology is used in multimedia project development is also changing rapidly. This situation tends to result in a considerable reliance on people who are familiar with the technology and aware of what is possible. When this expertise is not available on the project team, it may be necessary t seek the advice of a consultant. It should be ensured that advice sought is the best and most up to date possible. There may be a need to seek the advice of consultants. Recommendations should be evaluated in terms of technical flexibility and adaptability or pre-existing constraints. It is also essential that where established procedures for specification, selection and procurement of hardware and software exist these are followed and where, as is often the case, there is more than one technical solution that decisions are made in the light of proper cost- benefit analysis. Necessary design and technical specifications should be clearly spelt out at as early a stage as possible.

Multimedia projects are also characterized by the number of different media involved and by the high level of user participation. These both affect the design process and are important considerations in management of the project. User participation should be planned for at all stages of the project. The needs and expectations of the users initially form the basis of the project requirements. User input will also be needed in the design process and for product testing.

Project Teams

A project may involve different groups of people including a management team (advisory board), a project team and one or more user groups. Members should be carefully selected to provide the range of skills and experience needed. The management or advisory team could include representatives of the museum executive, curatorial and/or financial departments; some independent technical or quality assurance if this is not provided elsewhere; representatives of any other organizations involved, or sponsors or publishers; and a direct link to the project manager either in person or through regular reporting to the board.

User groups should have an input, usually via the project manager. The project manager may be a museum technical expert or a curator/manager, if someone with sufficient experience and/or expertise in multimedia projects is available, but is often an external consultant or multimedia specialist. It is important to ensure that client/user roles are not confused with technical roles.

Project Management Advisory board

Museum Executive Financial Advisor Technical Advisor Sponsor/Partner

Project Management Team

Project Manager Curatorial | User group | Museum Project Team Public Systems Analyst Programmer Art Director Script Writer Sound/Video Specialist Hardware Specialist Photographer

The project team should include skills in a number of areas. These may include art direction, sound and or video production, scriptwriting, program design, curatorial or academic knowledge and technical knowledge . There is no single configuration for a multimedia project team. The goals of the project and the kind of final product will influence the skills needed. For example, a hardware specialist may be needed to advise on issues specific to siting a public access system outside a museum gallery. A photographer may be needed for a project involving new photography of museum objects or scanning material into a system.

Those with skills established in areas other than multimedia may find their skills are not always satisfactorily transferable. Retraining or experience on multimedia projects may overcome this if such individuals are sufficiently open minded and flexible and this should be a consideration in the selection of the team.

Many issues arise from working with a project team. All members of the team must be made to feel a part of the team, with a shared purpose and a commitment to the project. Such a team will often cut across normal lines of command and departmental or organizational boundaries and can create new loyalties. These will aid team building and provide motivation to achieve results and should be encouraged by the project manager. The relatively short time span of a project both motivates and focuses it. Participation in group sessions, ideally with all involved being physically, not just virtually, present at least in the early stages, will help the team building process. Frequent team meetings ensure a unity of approach and avoiding misunderstandings of the requirements and objectives.

Openness to ideas, firm leadership and decision making are essential skills for the team leader or project manager. As the key link of the project, the manager must be able to listen to and communicate clearly with team members and the project board or commissioning body and users . This person may often be a consultant employed for the purpose so it should be possible to ensure they do have these skills.

Content Management Issues

A multimedia project requires many elements to be brought together and integrated. The stages of collecting and selecting multimedia content, coordinating its transfer or delivery, and its editing and verification are time consuming. The curatorial team members with appropriate subject expertise should have overall responsibility for issues of content.

Multimedia requires re-thinking the traditional presentation of data. Proposals for ways of organizing data within a multimedia product or system are an essential part of the design process. Multimedia projects may often need, or wish, to make use of data already existing in some form as well as, or as a part of, creating new data sets. The state of the existing data must be carefully considered. Even where existing data is available in a machine readable form, conversion or input to a new system requires some effort, usually requiring decisions by curatorial staff. Indexing requirements for multimedia may differ from traditional cataloging methods or have additional needs. Authoring, the process of linking information and providing pathways through a system, will often be necessary, particularly when data is reinterpreted in a thematic form. This is a specialist skill and a time consuming process especially when done, as it ideally should be, in collaboration with curatorial staff.

Even if a n off-the-shelf software package is used, a great deal of work will be needed to adapt it to the particular requirements of a project. Multimedia project costs are often mainly staff costs, and it is easy to underestimate the work involved.


Multimedia projects are often collaborative ventures involving several organizations as well as a number of individuals. This kind of collaboration greatly complicates the management of a project. Objectives and priorities are more likely to differ. Issues of control may become problematic and competitiveness may take over from cooperation. Costs will be higher for travel-time and communication. Face to face contact will probably be reduced and communication will certainly be more difficult. Communication problems are more likely to cause misunderstandings. International collaboration will exacerbate these problems by increasing physical distances and possibly adding language differences. It seems that even recent improvements in communication technology may not entirely eliminate such factors.

The benefits of collaborative projects include sharing work-loads and costs over a number of organizations; providing a wider range of specialist knowledge and expertise than is possible within one organization; testing ideas in a wider sphere and allowing a more critical review and better justification of decisions and providing a larger market for a product. Standards developed are more widely acceptable, increasing the possibility of data exchange and the reuse of data.

There may be political advantages for an organization in encouraging external or international collaboration. It may give a project a higher profile which may increase funding and sponsorship.

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6. Formats 8. Multimedia Design