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Our PROJECT & PROGRAM MANAGEMENT white paper mini-series continues with:

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Sara Masterson, MBA

Project and Program Management: Navigating Timelines with Empathy, Experience, and Intention

Project management (PM) is a critical function in every organization, to drive preparation, execution, & completion of operational activities that support overarching corporate or strategic goals.  The most important, defined output from project management is typically on time delivery of appropriate quality within budget. This is accomplished in part through the identification, assessment, management and mitigation of risks that inevitably present themselves along the way.  Successful project management offices (PMO) have a diverse set of tools at their disposal, are composed of individuals with high emotional intelligence, and most importantly, actively identify and deploy the most appropriate leadership style when working as part of a team. These three key factors directly contribute to programmatic success propelling project teams through challenging situations to success.

Tools of the PMO
There is a range of commercially available, and commonly used, PM tools for project planning, timeline tracking and Gantt development such as Merlin™, MS Project™, SmartSheet™ and others. It would be difficult to indefinitely choose one platform or template - even when specific line items are invariably found within every project plan.  Any tool utilized is only as good as the plan which it is used to build and must be effective for both the project management office and, more importantly, for the project team and key stakeholders.  The tool must work for each individual on the team and be easily understood.  As the individuals on the project team change, the way in which the project is managed may also need to evolve. For example, a detailed Gantt chart with all interdependencies mapped, including hundreds or even thousands of individual tasks is often useful for coordinating, communicating and tracking details within the context of the technical project team.  However, in communicating with management it is usually important to respect their busy schedules by preparing a high-level summary of critical path and key risks only. Similarly, one summary timeline may be inadequate to communicate key program risks when uncertainty is high – a common scenario in CGT development projects.  In such cases, it may be advisable to construct base, downside and upside case timelines to adequately communicate key program timeline uncertainties and risks. The approach taken to the deployment of tools will heavily depend on the audience and intent of the communication (e.g., supporting preplanning, execution, and tracking of completion of goals). It should be recognized that project governance tools are only a tracking mechanism and do not drive activities to completion which is why it is of utmost importance to place most of our focus on the people who are responsible for ownership and oversight of execution.

In addition to timeline and Gantt tools, a PMO office will need additional skills and templates to support an organization’s activities, including and certainly not limited, to RACI (responsible, accountable, consulted, and informed) matrices, risk registers, project dashboards and communication plans. Similar to the timeline or Gantt development, there is no one correct way to develop additional tools, but not having these tools may pose preventable project challenges. Ensuring project teams have clear roles, responsibilities, and communication channels eases management of roadblocks as they arise.

The Human Elements
As we think about the appropriate tools to use, an equally important consideration is the team culture that already exists and what will develop as a part of the working environment.  Understanding the circumstances in which your colleagues and clients are operating, and their related emotions, is critical to a project manager’s ability to drive success of the team.  One of the best ways in which we can directly relate to the people we are working with is to have previously experienced, in some capacity, what they are experiencing daily in relation to meeting the demands of the organization.  Having previously held a role similar to the roles of current team members positions, the project manager to make direct correlations and further empowers them to provide support consistent with the environmental factors at hand. In lieu of direct experience, taking time to develop rapport with the project team members, listening to understand, and striving to create a space for open communication will aid the project manager in relating to the project team. An effective project manager will take time to put oneself in teammates' shoes and think about their motivations. To take this further, one may consider performing Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® (MBTI®) and other ‘ways of working’ analyses as part of project team kickoffs.  Being able to establish direct connection helps build trust and gives the team an increased comfort level for informing the project manager of potential roadblocks.  

When completing a significant milestone or concluding a project, consider requesting feedback from the project team regarding both their perspectives on the project manager’s technical capabilities in tracking and driving the project to completion as well as the emotional intelligence aspects and comfort in communicating potential or realized challenges. Being open to feedback and implementing changes in project management style will contribute and help build emotional intelligence at all stages in one’s career. Having a high emotional intelligence is critical in being able to work closely and effectively with your partners and collaboratively move activities forward as it relates to the needs of the organization.

Project Leadership
To be effective in their role, the project manager must embody exceptional influencing skills, including the ability to command the respect and influence the actions of project team members regardless of title or seniority.  One way to develop this type of working culture is to function as a servant leader, as described by Robert K. Greenleaf.  Embracing and consistently living a servant leadership working lifestyle is one of the best ways to build a solid foundation based on trust.  Continuously placing the needs of the team in front of your own and ensuring the team has the resources available to successfully execute according to the project management plan is critical in meeting small and large goals - not only related to the organization but also related to the individuals being led.  A project manager should make life easier – not harder – for all team members. In aiding organization and prioritization, they should have a net positive impact on the team and productivity.

Project organization and prioritization contextualized by servant leadership demonstrates the importance of a project manager deploying a clear path in establishing urgency and deadlines. A project manager will build credibility and ease the work of the project team by mapping a project’s critical path, allowing them to emphasize urgent deliverables when truly necessary, and to allow for more flexibility in timelines when items are not on or near the critical path.

Self-awareness and living in the present time are key elements that aid in an individual’s ability to successfully live the servant leadership style.  Continuous and honest self-evaluation (as the project manager) and regular implementation of corrective actions must be employed, as direct reflections of the experiences encountered. If the project manager has established trust through embodying the above actions, then over time, the team will evolve to a high performing team that is both highly productive and truly enjoyable to be part of.

In Summary
Project management is often misconstrued as an activity that utilizes tools to track the progression of activities.  However, truly effective project management requires far more than Gantt charts and following up on action items. The basis for meeting and exceeding program goals comes from a project manager’s thoughtful deployment of a diverse and adaptable toolbox, high emotional intelligence, and nuanced influencing skills on a routine basis regardless of the circumstances encountered. Dark Horse Consulting Group offers a range of project and program management services, with experienced and effective project managers, for CGT projects of all types.

published mini-series white papers:

Kevin Whittlesey Headshot


by former Dark Horse Kevin Whittlesey
“Effective project and program management will have a substantial positive impact on the quality, time, and cost of cell and gene therapy product development. Although the terms ‘program management’ and ‘project management’ are often used interchangeably…”

View this White Paper
Ryan Duffy Headshot


by former Dark Horse Ryan Duffy
“The end goal of Knowledge and Technology Transfer activities associated with a manufacturing process and analytical assays is moving the production, testing, and release of a Drug Product from one manufacturing location to another, while…"

View this White Paper
Sara Masterson Headshot


by former Dark Horse Phil Bowles
DHC Principal"Successful delivery of a new Cell and Gene Therapy (CGT) facility relies on effective project management throughout its lifecycle to meet quality, financial and schedule goals. CGT capital projects require significant investment of money, time and human capital to construct or modify a clinical or commercial manufacturing facility. The new or expanded manufacturing capacity delivered by the project will inevitably be..."

View this White Paper

upcoming additions to the mini-series will include:

Heather Todd Headshot


by Heather Todd, M.S., DHC Senior Consultant

Michael Kinzie Headshot


by Michael Kinzie, DHC Principal