Sometimes, you can have all the right methodology in place, but still overlook some of the key elements required to run a successful project.
When it comes to projects, most specialists will be following a structured methodology which incorporates:
All of this is perfectly logical and provides a consistent and structure to work within. However, if these elements are not underpinned by enough time; if we do not have a clear understanding of the project and how much it costs; if our communications are not frequent – the project will fall short on what we’re trying to achieve. If good relationships are not built, there will be frustration, fatigue and distrust between colleagues and clients. Resources will be wasted. The project will fail.
So, what can we do to prevent this?
The best first step is to prioritise some projects over others. When you are about to kick off your project, you need to make sure you've got enough time to research, plan, prepare, to implement and reflect. Find the time to think, plan and read undisturbed. If, like me, you work in healthcare, finding this time can be difficult. We are all so busy, and there are always so many projects going on. To give your projects the best chance of success, allocate your time to maximum effectiveness and take stock wherever and whenever you can.
When it comes to having a clear understanding of the project and its vision, everyone around the table needs to be on the same page. But this can take time - and a good appreciation for organisational politics. It's important to be mindful of existing dynamics between colleagues. I’ve been part of projects where certain people say one thing but do something completely different. You can’t change it, but you need to be aware of the environment, and the context of the culture that you're working in. You also need a clear understanding of the data, where it's come from, what date it was originated, why the data is important, and how and when it's collected.
That builds into why you are doing this project, and what you hope to achieve. You need to understand the current situation and the desired situation. You also need to understand payment structures and what other developments are going on.
Make sure you have a clear understanding of the project, the vision and how much it costs. Write it down, if it helps. A good project needs a lot of scoping and this cannot be done on the fly.
To be successful, a project needs effective and frequent communication. You and your team don’t have time to wade through masses of information, more so if you don’t understand it fully.
Communication is key, especially in times of hardship and change. If something isn’t going well, or if something doesn’t make sense, it’s best to speak to that person or that group directly. Pick up the phone, explain the situation, then follow up with an email. This is a policy I operate by, and it works in most cases.
Regular newsletters, bulletins and keeping a list of frequently asked questions are all really helpful. At the end of the day, you don't know what you don't know. You don't always know how other people are going to perceive things. An FAQ document can help.
If that’s still not enough, don’t be afraid to over-communicate. Don’t just rely on email. Talk face-to-face, over the phone, and use newsletters, graphics and videos. If you are comfortable and familiar with a client or colleague, send voice notes or use FaceTime. Use this 1-2-1 time to reiterate the vision, discuss the progress made to date, lessons learned and the positive impacts the project is having. There's so much information that we can miss, so communicate as much as you can.
Remember to listen to any feedback given to you by clients. If they have a preferred method, change your approach. If they prefer a phone call, call them. If they are happy with an email, email them.
I’ve been part of many project teams where people did not want to be part of the project. They were roped in somehow or they didn’t believe in it. The team didn’t trust each other for a variety of reasons. Perhaps because they weren’t used to working together. Perhaps there were underlying personal histories. Whatever the issue, if there's no trust, your project is at risk of failure. It is near impossible to bring a group of people together if they don’t trust one another. The only way to combat this is to step up as the project lead and try to build bridges.
Spend time with your team. Get to know them as people. Keep them informed and involved. Motivate your team and spread positivity.
It’s important to me that my clients know me, both personally and professionally. For example, I recently sent a message to a client, apologising for being rather short with them, but there were no hard feelings. They understood, as they were learning the ways in which I work and it’s a comfort to have that dynamic and trust. If I make a mistake, I will hold my hands up. My clients appreciate that. It also shows a willingness to do so, especially if the relationship isn’t good.
Sometimes as a project lead you need to facilitate. There is going to be plenty of pushing and pulling and negotiating. You have to give to receive, and this will help build trust. And don’t be afraid to get involved and be a friend to clients, as well as just a project lead. A client recently commenting on the formality of my emails and advised me to be chatty more.
People are often so busy and so focused on the project, they forget this. They want to know the WHO, WHAT, WHY, WHEN and HOW. Softening communications with clients and colleagues will further build that trust.
So, there you go folks. Those are my key elements required to run a successful project, which are often overlooked. The structured methodology is important and it’s there for a reason. But don’t forget it must be underpinned by more. You need time. You need a clear understanding of the project, the vision and how much it costs. And you need frequent and effective communications and trust in those we are working with.
Tara Humphrey is the founder of THC Primary Care, a leading healthcare consultancy specialising in workforce transformation and the only consultancy to have worked with 11 Training Hubs across South London, Kent, Surrey and Sussex.
Tara and her team also work with GP federations supporting the implementation of clinical services.
Tara has over 20 years of project management and business development experience across the private and public sector and has an MBA in Leadership and Management in Healthcare, is published in the London Journal of Primary Care and is the author of over 150 blogs articles. She presents her own podcast: The Business of Healthcare With Tara Humphrey.