Are You a Collaborative Project Manager?

minions-croppedThe current issue of Clinical Researcher includes an article that discusses how Project Managers influence parallel planning and collaboration between research sites and sponsors.

The article reveals the criticality of a well-run clinical trial, noting that trials that did not have a patient enrolled within the first two months were “significantly less likely to achieve” their their enrollment targets “despite the length of time the trial remained open“.

The authors make several common-sense observations on parallel planning and collaboration between managers who are co-managing a project, including:

  • Regardless the project management system used, project leadership is key to a successful outcome; leadership may be identified by title or delineated based on roles and responsibilities
  • Documented communication between the project managers helps ensure parallel planning and alignment of timelines within their respective entities
  • Taking a consultative approach and involving key stakeholders very early in the project generates “pride in ownership”

Any of us who have actually co-managed a project know how challenging the effort can be. Co-management challenges can be particularly thorny when the managers are employed by different entities with different cultures (e.g. a for-profit sponsor and a not-for-profit site).  Here are several additional thoughts on parallel planning and collaboration in co-managed projects based on my personal experiences.

Balance strong planning against light-weight plans.

Planning is important but the more detailed and “dense” plan documents become, the less likely those documents are to be read, understood or followed.

  • Refrain from using project management tools to track many elements in minute detail; the management of such tools can rob time from the actual doing of the tasks at hand
  • Write plans that are good-enough to help ensure that activities, roles, responsibilities and timeline are defined and documented; perfect/pretty plans can be unmanageable or impractical
  • Acknowledge that things will change during the project, especially when projects run over several months; simply-written plans can make useful updates easier

Talk is cheap – and effective.

When teams span time zones around the world, electronic communications are often the only way to deal with accessibility; for example, sending end-of-day email requests to associates in Europe and Australia and getting responses the following morning.

  • Web meetings add an important layer of real-time interaction with whiteboards and voice so a team can ask more detailed questions and explore answers
  • One-on-one telephone (or Skype) calls offer even more dynamic exchanges to help ensure that co-managers and stakeholders are on the same page and can avoid misunderstanding that can occur in email or static plan documents

Move from consensus to consent decision-making.

It’s common for project managers to seek consensus whereby all stakeholders agree on a specific perspective or set of actions.

  • Consensus may be a fool’s-errand because full agreement among diverse stakeholders simply isn’t reliable or particularly fast to achieve
  • Seeking objections to proposed actions and obtaining consent can be an effective alternative to consensus because consent permits stakeholders to agree-to-disagree while continuing to move forward in a common purpose

Put your passion aside for a while.

Passion in work is fine but may suggest that one can’t be actively effective unless they are possessed by a “powerful or compelling emotion“. But emotion can cloud critical-thinking and decision-making, especially when times get tough during a project.

  • As a project progresses and original assumptions and expectations change some associates can dig in their heels – not because they want to be difficult but because they don’t know how to deal with these unexpected changes
  • Consider leveraging the observations above
    • Call the associate and walk through the plan together to understand the concerns and what tweaks may need to be made.
    • Use consent decision-making with stakeholders to more quickly arrive at an agreement on how to proceed
    • Revise and distribute the plan with a brief cover to explain/document the plan changes, and start moving forward again
  • Try to “zoom out” on a regular basis and view the project and yourself dispassionately which may offer an opportunity to see with fresh eyes, better understand the perspectives of others, and to challenge the validity of your own assumptions


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