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Project Management

One of the most difficult things for a team to do during the Odyssey season is to transition from brainstorming, to actually creating. The brainstorming is fun and easy, and it does not have any accountability to get things done. Teams tend to really like the brainstorming phase – but you may have a hard time getting them to transition into taking on tasks to turn their ideas into a physical reality. Part of the problem is that the team members know that the tournament is months away, so this tends to foster procrastination.

You can use some basic project management skills to create a sense of urgency to start getting tasks done.


Have them look at the calendar, “When is the Regional tournament?” Then ask, “How many rehearsals do you want before the tournament.” They may reply that they want three meetings for rehearsals. Look at the calendar, start at the first tournament date, then work backwards three team meetings (which you will use for rehearsals).

Then ask, “OK, how many team meetings do we have to get all this stuff done?” 

That’s when the panic sets in. (But better now than a week before the tournament.)

The team will then erupt with “How are we going to get all of this done in time?”.

It’s good to have a bit of a panic a few months in advance. It helps shift the team into a mode of getting things done and helps break them out of the “let’s sit on the sofa and brainstorm for another meeting” mode.

Once you’ve created a sense of urgency to start making progress to complete project tasks, you can apply another project management skill of breaking big tasks down into smaller pieces and assigning roles.

The team comes to an agreement on how each part of the long-term problem will be solved, and then they can divide up into a few small groups of two or three team members to focus on completing each of the tasks.


It’s good to ask them, “What are the first things you need to do to create this?”

Help the team create a plan (usually a drawing or outline) and a materials list that they need to complete their plan. It isn’t Outside Assistance to teach project management skills that prevent the team from wasting their (and more important, YOUR) time. You are not influencing or contributing to their solution idea. You are just teaching them how to get project tasks done more efficiently.


Before they start building the team needs to present a plan, create a specific materials list, and shopped for the materials (which a parent or you can do for them, if needed). Creating a plan for what they want to build can be a new and difficult task. What works really well is to use prototyping.


Prototyping approaches take many forms. These span from very basic ways of presenting ideas through more advanced methods to validate proof of concept designs and solutions.

  • Sketches can provide a great way to explain concepts and facilitate team discussion.

  • Computer drawings and models provide an easy way to present ideas for review and adjustment.

  • Paper and cardboard cutouts can help quickly and inexpensively visualize team ideas and designs.

  • Miniature and small-scale models can provide insights into materials and building approaches.

  • Partially-developed items can be used to validate physical and mechanical properties of team designs.

  • Electronic and programming approaches can be prototyped to test desired functions.


There is one other critical factor that relates to creating a materials list: the budget.

By having the team members create a plan and create a materials list, they can price out the parts on the internet and see if they are under budget. Often, they are way over budget. This allows the team to modify their ideas and plans before they start building and realizing they have a problem with their Cost Form a week before the tournament.


Other “first step” tasks may involve field trips to learning more about available materials. Sometimes the team can go to a local building materials junk-yard , recycling center or a hardware store to get ideas on how to build things that will stay in budget. Sometimes looking at materials first can help the team get “over the hump” on making a plan to build something.

Once you have completed the “first few steps” and have a plan and the right materials, then the meetings will have much less frustration and a much higher sense of satisfaction, productivity and accomplishment.

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