5 Simple Steps to Being a Rock Star Project Manager

Take a minute and think about successful projects of which you’ve been a part or witnessed. Maybe your team completed an analysis on time and under budget. Perhaps a change was implemented across your organization with little resistance. Maybe you worked with a team of ten executives to update your company’s web presence.

Whatever the project, think for a minute about why it was successful. What actually happened to make success more possible?

In nearly every case, successful project completion can be traced to successful project management.

It doesn’t take much searching to find resources on how to be a successful project manager. A simple Google search results in more than 154 million links. An Amazon.com search nets 1,883 books. And yet, so many of us still struggle with how to effectively manage a project – let alone be a rock star project manager.

Here are five simple steps to increase your rock star status as a project manager:

1. Begin with the End in Mind

For any project to be successful, and any project manager to be a rock star, you must know what you’re trying to accomplish. This is not a time for guessing or sort of getting it right. To be most successful, make sure whoever created the project and/or asked you manage it provides insight into the intended outcomes. You can then work backwards from the desired outcomes to create a plan for success.Remember, there may be times when the end results are modified or completely changed because of the work of you and your team. In that case, make sure you, your team and the project champion (whoever assigned it) agree upon the modified outcomes and all are working toward the same goal.


2. Assemble a Rock Star Team

Before you determine “who,” spend some time thinking about “what.” What skills and expertise do you need to be most successful? What departments need to be represented? What do you personally bring to the table and what compliments do you need for your own weak areas? Once you know what you need, start recruiting rock stars. Remember, rock stars generally don’t become stars because they are unassuming and wallflowers. When you gather the best people, you likely will have some personalities around the table and could have some who are not accustomed to doing things a different way. Rock star project managers learn how to manage the personalities they’ve gathered and find ways for everyone to shine.

Of course, you may not have the luxury of picking your team members. In that case, spend some time thinking about the strengths and challenges of your pre-existing team and work to find ways to give tasks and responsibilities that fit within their strengths. And be prepared to coach them through any areas that may be troubling.


3. Schedule Regular Check-ins

“Regular” will need to be determined by the timeline of your project. It could be daily, weekly, biweekly, hourly (in emergency situations), it all depends on the scope of the project. Rock star project managers gather the entire team “regularly” – regardless of the scope – to check-in. These check-ins should be used to update on progress made since the last check-in, discuss any changes to project scope, realign to project outcomes and reward success as often as possible. Scheduled check-ins are great . . . and to be most successful you also need to have additional check-ins with team members outside of those regularly scheduled meetings. You’ll quickly learn the balance between micromanaging and just in time check-ins so your team feels supported and appropriately connected.


4. Communicate

In-person, email, phone, agendas, meeting minutes, strategic plans, leadership updates, company meetings . . . in the end, the most successful project managers are those who communicate effectively with all the constituents impacted by the project. Successful project managers also determine the communication “rules” for the project: How often will you communicate? Does the entire team need to be copied on emails and/or do you have to reply all on responses? What is an acceptable turnaround time for email communications, returning voicemails, etc? Which decisions need conversations with others before making? Having conversations and establishing your best practices for these communication standards (and others) will help you and your team be more successful.If you want to be a true rock star, you’ll also learn the preferred communication styles of your team and do your best to communicate personally with your team members using their preferred style. This is not to say you have to personalize every communication – you won’t get anything done – however, when you “speak their language” you’ll have a better chance of inspiring each member and getting even more accomplished.


5. Manage Expectations

You’ve determined the outcome – and adjusted when necessary. You’ve selected your team. You’ve scheduled check-ins – and are prepared for extras. You’ve created communication best practices – and considered your team members’ styles. Now, you have to hold the team accountable to your decisions. When someone is not meeting the expectations, it’s your responsibility as project manager to bring that team member back into alignment with the overall plan. It’s also your responsibility to keep the team as insulated as you can. Depending on the visibility of the project, many others in your organization may want access to your team, have preconceived notions about your deadlines, question your authority or responsibility to act, and have any number of other “problems” – real or imagined – with your project. Rock star project managers manage the expectations of the organization around the project team as well.


Be intentional about implementing these ideas with every project and you will be on your way to becoming a project management rock star!

Rock on. . .


Lodestone Logic would like to thank Jenny Pratt as a contributor to this blog post 

Pharma: Putting up prize money to solve tough healthcare problems

The pharmaceutical industry gets a bad rap for many different things, but recently there’s been some good recognition of their interests in spawning healthcare innovation and transformation through the sponsorship of ‘challenges’.

Holding challenges to solve tough problems is not generally a new concept; think Xprize for figuring out how to get into space in a cheaper, more cost effective way or improve test scores of elementary aged children. Almost a decade ago, eLilly launched Innocentive (www.innocentive.com) to put out bounties to surface unique resources and the world’s brains to solve difficult problems in everything from bio-chemical synthesis, engineering, or fragrance development. The US government has even launched their own website for multiple types of challenges at www.challenge.gov. You don’t have to read Daniel Pink to know that if there’s a reward or financial incentive, more people will invest their own time and energy to create a solution and try for the prize.

So, it is really encouraging to see specific pharmaceutical companies use challenges as a way to reach out to the public and make some great things happen. What makes this so interesting is that the relationship between the pharmaceutical industry and other healthcare stakeholders is very symbiotic. Yet, in many cases we fail to see that the opportunity to bring together all of the stakeholders in the healthcare ecosystem to find solutions that will benefit everyone in the room.

In the challenge arena, with over $1M in prize money committed in 2012, Sanofi and Janssen are the pharmaceutical thought leaders.



US Data Design Diabetes Innovation Competition

Website: http://www.datadesigndiabetes.com

Prize money: over $200,000

Description: The focus of this challenge was to use data to create a human-centered and data-inspired innovation for any single or multiple stakeholders in the diabetes ecosystem.

Winner: n4a Diabetes Care Center

Collaborate Activate

Website: www.collaborateactivate.com

Prize money: $500,000

Description: This challenge was focused on bringing together multiple teams or patient advocacy organizations to develop solutions that will encourage people to engage in their health and wellbeing. An interesting facet of this challenge was that the teams and solutions had to be connected to a fully registered non-profit organization. The intent was to further cross-pollinate ideas and energy to develop solutions that will be sustainable.

Winner: 4 finalists have been selected, winner announced in mid-November, 2012


Janssen Healthcare Innovation Group

Connected Care Challenge

Co-Sponsor(s): National Transitions of Care Coalition (NTOCC)

Website: http://www.multivu.com/mnr/56342-discharge-decision-support-system-janssen-connected-care-challenge

Prize money: $250,000

Description: Consistent with HHS’s triple aim goals, the focus of this challenge was to improve transitions from the hospital to the home and to reduce overall re-admission rates.

Winner: RightCare Solutions, Inc., D2S2 software system


Alzheimer’s Challenge 2012

Co-sponsor(s): Pfizer, Geoffrey Beene Gives Back® Alzheimer’s Initiative

Website: https://www.alzheimerschallenge2012.com/announcements/announcements.php

Prize money: $175,000

Description: To develop a simple, cost-effective tool that will allow for easy assessment and/or diagnosis of an Alzheimer’s patient’s status with regards to memory, mood, thinking, and activity level over time.

Winner: Team Ginger.io, Ginger.io Behavioral Analytics Platform


Many people will question the true motivation behind a pharmaceutical company sponsoring these types of competitions. However, if one were to really look at each of the challenges, the true return on the investment (ROI) will be recognized beyond any one pharmaceutical company; instead, when one of these solutions is scaled and implemented, then patients will experience the ROI through better care, information, and outcomes.  What’s so wrong with that?

Disruptive Sparks of Innovation

Today, the en vogue and sexy term in pharma, healthcare, and technology is “disrupt”. Being “disruptive” will definitely help us move from the status quo of inefficient processes, expensive systems, under utilization of analytics to improve the quality of care and ultimately deliver patient outcomes.

But, the reality is that being disruptive means that there is something (eg a project or initiative) pushing against a pre-existing system and causing friction. And, friction causes heat. Heat causes fires. Fires, when uncontrolled, burn down houses and institutions. Just think of the video coverage of wild fires and it is easy to comprehend why most organizations enable and reward their employees to say ‘no’ to disruption, rather than ‘yes’.

To avoid wild fires organizations do a very good job creating sub-zero conditions that inhibit any kind of molecular reactions that may trigger a spark.  If you have ever tried to get support from your leadership or an organization to do something that is not the status quo, then you’ve probably felt the chill of a sub-zero environment: paperwork, committees, paperwork, 1:1 meetings, return on investment  (ROI) thresholds, review boards, etc… all are organizational tactics built to protect the organization and inhibit the creation of a spark.

Do not lose hope. Ideas are a dime a dozen, but when you know that you have one that will really make a difference, do something about it. And, this is what you need to do to create a warm pocket within your organization that will not only allow for a controlled spark of innovation, but also support a small flame to show people the possibilities of your ‘big idea’.

1. Earn the right to create the spark

Perform above expectations. No one is going to support someone who is unable to successful execute on their existing job and responsibilities. You have to figure out how to deliver 150% in your current role. Organizations and leaders are more likely to support zany and out-of-the-box ideas when it comes from an employee that has a solid performance track record.

2. Find an executive sponsor

You need someone to create a protective shield, also known as “cover”, for you and your idea. The sponsor needs to have sufficient power and credibility within your organization to be granted the freedom to support and advocate for ‘special projects.’ Just realize that, by supporting you, this person is extending their professional brand to you. If you succeed, they succeed. If you fail, then their reputation may be tarnished or negatively effected. Respect what this relationship means to you both.

3. Build an extended team of resources that include domain experts that advocate for the idea

Check the ego at the door. Know your limitations and seek out and befriend the people that will be able to help you tackle the toughest bits and pieces of the project. Your idea will only be executed if you get support from peers that are the domain experts. In most cases, you will not be able to secure them as full time resources, but you need to be able to call on them and tap their expertise. Make sure that you have access to true experts in public policy, privacy, legal (eg intellectual property), and regulatory. If you project goes wonky on any one of these items, your small flame could quickly turn into a wild fire and your ‘big idea’ turns into a career limiting opportunity.

4. Be honest and transparent

Communicate. Communicate. Communicate. There will be days where you will not want to type another email or speak to another person. When you are working on projects and initiatives that ‘no one has ever done before’, you need to make sure that you are staying connected with the real world – your sponsor and your extended network of resources. Plus, it is in your idea’s best interest for you to invest in building the bridges to the organization and continue to generate support and advocacy. Adhere to your company’s communications policies, but get the word out internally and externally … the more that you share, the more likely your project will attract others that are interested in helping you make it succeed.

5. Take care of yourself

You’ve worked for months on the ‘big idea’ and you’ve hit umpteen walls and hurdles. The pressure is almost unbearable. You are burnt out and want to call it quits… but you are so close…. So, TAKE A BREAK. You need to get away from the mayhem. Go off the grid. Shut down the electronics. Or, at least don’t check work email. Do something that you love to do. Even if it is just for a half day, you need time to clear the brain. This mini-mental vacation will help you recharge your batteries, focus, and get back on task.

Navigating organization dynamics is always a challenge, especially when you want to change the status quo. However, following these five steps will not only help you to initiate a spark and small flame, in time you will generate a larger and more sustainable fire that is welcomed and encouraged by the organization.

You can do it!