Have you ever been given a project to manage and the first thing that came to mind was, “Where do I start? I will never get this done.” With a basic understanding of project management, you can have the edge needed to manage any project successfully.
Most projects have a specific completion date, budget, and scope. The scope defines what will be accomplished and what will not be accomplished at the end of the project. This combination of time, money, and scope is often referred to as the “project triangle.” If any one of the parameters is changed, the other two are affected. Even though all three elements are important, typically one will have the most influence on your project.
Imagine planning an installation of new equipment in the GI lab. This includes new processors, light sources, carts, monitors, and computers. You have a budget, scope, and finish date for the project.
When you are planning a project, do not think linear and create a list of items in chronological order. If you start to think, “The first thing we need to do is order the equipment then unbox it, then remove the old equipment, etc,” this can limit your thinking. Get a block of Post-it Notes and write one idea per sheet. Think dynamic, and write anything and everything that comes to mind in any order. For example: in-service employees, install new equipment, order new equipment, get PO number, dispose of old equipment, etc. This allows you to think freely without the limitations of traditional lists.
After you have written everything you can think of, start to arrange the pieces of paper under the four phases of project management. The four phases consist of concept/definition, planning, execution, and closeout. Within each phase, the areas of focus will be scope, time, cost, quality, HR, communication, risk, and procurement.
Here you would set the scope of the project. Part of setting the scope entails determining what the project would accomplish and what the project would not accomplish. Other areas during this phase include setting general time lines, budgets, quality expectations, and staffing needs, and identifying risks. Also, the items that would need to be purchased for the project would be discussed. These areas will be modified as the project progresses, but a starting point needs to be determined.
During this phase of the installation project, you would determine when the installation would take place and the equipment and training required.
You would solidify the scope and establish a change control plan, which will define what needs to be done if the scope needs to be changed. This would include who can change the scope and how many people must approve the changes. You will also create a project plan for the time line set during the concept/definition phase. Also, establish a cost baseline during this phase. From a staffing area, approve teams, hire additional staff if necessary, and assign tasks to personnel. Create a communication plan and reporting process during this phase too.
A work breakdown structure is also created—a results-oriented family tree that captures all the work of a project in an organized way. Think of it as a high-level view of the project organized by tasks.
In the area of risk, a contingency plan should be created and risk analysis completed. You may want to select a milestone for the execution phase to mark the “point of no return.”
During this phase of the installation project, you would decide who will install the equipment, who will provide training, contact other team members as backups, create and discuss a contingency plan, decide when the equipment will be shipped, and notify all staff members that procedures must be completed by a certain time to allow the installation to take place. For an installation that includes a database conversion, the milestone may be the successful conversion of the database. If the database converts, the install continues; if it does not, the installation must be put on hold.
You would verify the plan is still within the original scope set during the first two phases. Tasks will be performed, the time line will be controlled, and the project plan will be followed. Also perform quality checks during this phase. Monitor risks, and communicate information and status to the stakeholders of the project.
During this phase of the installation project, the actual removal of the old equipment and installation of the new equipment would take place as well as training and testing. You would also perform quality checks during this phase and monitor risks.
Here you would ensure the scope met the customer’s expectations, determine future quality checks, notify all stakeholders that the project is complete, and finalize any reports.
During this phase of the installation project, paperwork must be completed and final communication with the stakeholder will take place.
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As you can see from the above phases, most of the time and effort is spent during the planning phase. If you use the installation scenario, most of the Post-it Notes will line up under the planning phase. Many people may feel the execution of a project is the most important phase, but that is not true. You can try the following exercise: Plan Thanksgiving dinner for a dozen people. Three of them are flying in from out of town and need hotel reservations. Use the Post-it Note method to plan the project. You will find most of the time and effort will be in the planning phase.
The accompanying chart includes most of the aspects for each phase and each area. Sometimes all the areas will not apply to your project, depending on its size and scope, but remember the old adage: If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.
Randell Orner, MS, MBA, is a 19-year veteran of the biomedical field. For more information, contact .