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Plan Timelines and Team Roles

Plan Timelines and Team Roles

Consider developing a few organizational framing documents to help your project team clarify and refine plans and ensure that everyone is on the same page. By proactively reviewing your process and structure for collaborating, you can minimize potential disappointments and conflicts down the road.

Although you may have a successfully funded proposal to guide your work, there likely are more details to work through with your team and intended users as you get started. Collaborative projects need someone to tend to all the logistics, facilitate meetings, and ensure that communication is sustained and that engagement occurs as intended and in an efficient manner. They need compelling tasks and worthwhile meetings so that people stay engaged. The process needs to be managed in a way that keeps people focused, on-task, and contributing in useful and efficient ways to the project's progress.


  Tip: Clarify and confirm your project's plans and timeline

Many project teams develop a few project framing documents just before or after a new project begins. These documents — including an overview, timeline, and charter — can be used throughout your project to review goals, track progress, and identify needed adaptations. They should be referred to and reviewed on a number of occasions throughout the course of the project to help remind team members about where they are in the process and who is doing what. It is not uncommon for them to require updates and revisions to reflect the evolution of the project.


“...the research team did a good job of establishing what the objectives were and then establishing their process by which they were going to be undertaking research and seeking input…”

Hear more from a dam safety practice leader »

Project overview
  • Develop and share a basic summary of your objectives, approach, overall timeline, and planned products so that everyone is on the same page.
  • If the management context has changed since you wrote the proposal, you may want to adjust plans. A project summary document or slide deck can help identify areas of misunderstanding or needed adjustments early in your process, collect input to address them, and start promoting group ownership of the work.
  • You can also use a draft project overview to invite feedback on how to best explain and message the project to a broader audience.
Project timeline
  • Many project leads find it helpful to develop a more detailed version of their proposal's timeline that includes more specific tasks, interim deliverables, and leadership roles for specific activities.
  • Recognize that delays and surprises are inevitable. Try to build in some extra time, particularly around important meetings with intended users, to give your team adequate time to prepare.
  • Encourage your team to identify potential risks to project progress. They should also note critical junctures where an activity is contingent upon completion of earlier tasks. Everyone should understand the importance of staying on track and communicating early about any anticipated delays.

It is easy to assume that collaboration means all team members will participate at all levels of decision making, but that’s unnecessary – in fact, it can bog down a project and lead to early burnout. 


“ of the really key things is to very clearly, upfront, define the roles of each of the participating entities and the limits of the collaboration...”

Hear more from a state agency environmental scientist »

Consider developing a simple charter and directory for your team and any advisory groups, to define roles and responsibilities. A team charter or similar document can provide an opportunity for all individuals to review expectations and confirm their role in the project. It can then serve as a reference throughout the project. It is possible that some team members or advisory group members, particularly those receiving little or no grant funding, may need to dial down their involvement — or they may want to get more involved, if their current professional responsibilities allow.

Charters are also valuable for establishing processes for gathering and acting on various forms of input to the project. A sample charter rule might be that advisory committee members will offer input to the project but core team members will reserve the right to make final decisions about how to apply the input.

In most cases, the project lead and collaborative lead will work together to ensure that the overall process is well planned, that the team is coordinated, and that technical and collaborative elements are being integrated. However, many project management-related tasks can be very time consuming and could be delegated to other team members. Make sure someone on your team has the preparation and time to support project management, including tasks such as drafting email updates; scheduling, planning, and facilitating meetings; managing shared folders and any collaboration platforms used; note taking during key meetings; and developing summary documents after key meetings.

Use the templates and concepts within this guide's subsection "Building a Team for Collaborative Science" to make sure you have thought through all the key tasks and roles.


Tool: Developing a Project Charter

This resource outlines key questions to consider as you define roles and procedures for a project team or advisory group. It can help you develop a project charter, or it can be used to confirm expectations with collaborators early in a project.

Download the guidance: PDF | Word

En Español: Construyendo una Carta del Proyecto

Science Collaborative teams have implemented charters at various project stages – in the beginning to set expectations, in the middle to address conflict over roles and responsibilities, and at the end to motivate the final push of the project. View examples: 

Early in your project, you will need to decide on the best methods, tools, and rhythm for communicating with your project team. Consider questions such as these:

  • How often does the full team and/or different subgroups need to meet? Does a standing meeting make sense?
  • Who will be responsible for developing an agenda, taking notes, and communicating before and after meetings?
  • What conferencing platforms and other tools will you use for virtual meetings? Take time to make sure a specific platform, such as Zoom or Microsoft Teams, will work well enough for your team.
Collaboration tools
  • Would the team prefer to use a tool like Slack or Basecamp rather than email for the many messages that are often required for more intense collaborations?
  • Invite your team to share tips they have learned from other projects to make communication and collaboration as efficient and effective as possible.
  • Be sensitive to your collaborators' potential accessibility needs and make accommodations for those who may need them.
Sharing project documents
  • How will you share and archive project documents, including the project proposal, meeting minutes and slides, project summary documents, research decisions, and datasets?
  • A well-organized document repository can help track progress and adjustments during the project. It also can expedite bringing on new team members or advisors.
  • Many teams find it helpful to create a shared Google folder system early in the project to organize and archive all their documents. Take time early in the project to discuss and select a collaboration software platform that will work for your team, and then develop a folder and file structure that everyone can access and help sustain.

Along with confirming a way to save and share project documents, consider how and when you will use and archive project datasets. Many project leads find it helpful to assign a single person the task of reviewing the data management expectations of your funder and establishing data management protocols early in the project.

Data management steps can be surprisingly time consuming. Clarify who will need datasets to conduct analyses and develop research products, when the datasets will be needed, and in what format. Make sure to build in enough time for processing data, generating metadata information, and developing different versions of research products that integrate user feedback. It may be helpful to work through and include these kinds of details in your team charter to ensure all group members are clear about expectations of who is delivering what and when.


Tool: Final Data Sharing and Archiving Requirements

The Science Collaborative document Final Data Sharing and Archiving Requirements explains the collaborative's policies and process for completing a project’s data management activities and ensuring compliance with federal data sharing and archiving standards. It includes a template for the final Data Sharing Report, along with several examples of completed projects with accessible data. These steps are required only for projects that collected or generated new data.

En Español: Requisitos Finales para Compartir y Archivar los Datos

Early in a project, start talking about how your project will end, to help refine expectations about end products and the transition. Some team members will likely need to wind down their involvement when funding ends; some participants will likely stay involved because doing so is a core part of their job. If you hope the project will catalyze additional projects or an ongoing initiative, make that clear from the beginning so that your participants can start envisioning and taking steps to enact that possibility.

Throughout the project, document ideas you hear that are outside of scope for the current project, and let participants know that you are doing this. These ideas can spark future projects or form the basis of an action plan to further address your management need.

Save time for a project-retrospective discussion at a final project meeting. A final discussion, or another mechanism such as a survey, can provide a chance to reflect on lessons learned, identify what went well and what could be done differently in future projects, and explore next steps for research and management. Opportunities for reflection can foster new project ideas and help the team improve how they design and execute future collaborative science projects.


Project example: Begin planning early for next steps

The impacts of collaborative science projects often do not develop until after a grant ends. This case study shows how two project teams found ways to support the work of their partners after their grants ended.


Resource: Example Project Sustainability Plan

The Connect to Protect project team created this sustainability plan to help project team members evaluate science transfer activities that should continue, prioritize next steps, and consider ways the work could continue with and without additional funding. Though the plan is specific to the context of this project team, the document provides a clear example of how a structured process can help teams clarify their accomplishments, lessons learned, and next steps for various elements of a project. See the sample plan.


Resource: Developing an action plan for buffers

The Buffer Options for the Bay project engaged a range of stakeholders while analyzing options for better protecting buffers along waterways. Ideas generated that were outside of scope for the current project were gathered into an action plan that continues to guide and fuel new projects. See their action plan or visit their project page.