Transition and Activation Project Management Best Practices

By: Nick Tran

As the world continues to grow and change, projects are becoming larger and more complex. The need for skilled project managers equipped to adapt to the changes in today’s world is growing more and more apparent in all industries.

During a recent meeting in which I was participating, I felt the strong desire for a project manager’s support. A multidisciplinary team had been pulled together to discuss the comprehensive transition and activation plan for a new hospital project being added to the campus. The meeting started like any normal meeting, but slowly, we all felt the purpose had been lost in the discussion. I sensed the high level of anxiety and uncertainty that the group was feeling towards the tasks being assigned to them. Due to the siloed nature of the organization, work was being duplicated by multiple teams, which caused frustration. As I observed the discussion, I thought “what are we missing from this team of well-educated and high-functioning healthcare providers?”

“Effective leaders help others to understand the necessity of change and to accept a common vision of the desired outcome.” – John Kotter

Operational initiatives are part of every organization. Often, these initiatives are add-ons to the mountain of work operational teams are already supporting. Whether the project is megaproject, such as transitioning a fully functioning hospital to a freshly-built state-of-the-art hospital across a densely packed city, or project focused on a system upgrade to the current electronic medical records system, the project manager is the glue that keeps the project together. The project manager’s role is to manage resources, ensure timelines are met, plan next steps, and identify any potential risks. Many organizations now have a dedicated Project Management Office (PMO). Project managers are often regarded as the guardians of best practices and standards that are derived from project management methodologies, industry resources, and lessons learned from past projects.

The definition of “best practices and standards” can vary by industry and organization. For some, best practice refers to a standard way of approaching a task. For others, best practice can mean everyone in the project management office must approach a project by first creating a charter. Over the last five years, I have managed more than ten large transition and activation projects. Here are my top five best practices and standards that can be used across industries.

Ensure all stakeholders understand the project requirements/document the requirements

Before you can even think about planning or building anything, you must gain a solid understanding of the project, its goals, and your stakeholders’ requirements. This will provide clarity as to what is in scope, what is out of scope, and what is the desired product or result. Many failed projects have lacked a uniform understanding of the project’s requirements and directive among stakeholders.

Providing the purpose of why the teams were invited to the meeting prepares stakeholders to determine the next steps required to move the project forward. I recommend emphasizing the project’s purpose and how the project fits into the organization’s strategic plan. Take the time to explain to stakeholders what will be required from them. This means the project manager will need to be able to answer the “what’s in it for me” question.

Provide an agenda ahead of time that lists discussion items and desired outputs and solicit stakeholder feedback. This will avoid agonizing questions during the meeting about the meeting’s purpose. Setting expectations early and reminding the team of the objectives often will satisfy the much-desired communication that often is missing on projects.

Project “Plan” Management

Building a detailed project plan is one of the most important steps you can take to increase the likelihood that your project will be successful. Detailing out the required steps to bring the project to completion will ensure everyone is on the same page. There are several ways a project manager can do this:

  1. Identify key milestones within the project timeline.
  2. Communicate to major dates, project phases, and deliverables.
  3. Build out the plan in a Gantt chart with dependencies and due dates. This can be accomplished using the many different applications, a few of my favorites include Microsoft Project, Smartsheet, and Gantt Project.

Having a detailed project plan will help to address the change anxiety the teams may be feeling. For example, if the nurse supervisor is deeply concerned that there is not enough time to prepare for the patient move and wants to start planning immediately, a project manager can reference the project plan to reassure the nurse supervisor that the plan includes a planning phase for the patient move and show the dependencies that need to be completed prior to the activation phase. Ultimately, this will allow the teams to focus on the most critical task coming down the pipe first.

“Those who plan do better than those who do not plan even though they rarely stick to their plan.” – Winston Churchill

Actionable Task List

Having a clear project plan completed is a tremendous accomplishment. Now comes the fun part… detailing the project plan into bite-sized, actionable pieces. Think of it as a subset of actionable items that roll up to the big milestone. Once combined, you have your final project deliverable. Personally, I think of it as the different components of a Baked Alaska dessert: you have an individual grocery list of items that you must buy to make the sponge cake, the ice cream, the marshmallow meringue topping, butter, etc. Separate, they are individual milestones, but together it becomes your delicious Baked Alaska dessert – the final deliverable.

The project manager’s role is to provide direction and a structure to organize the list of tasks into logical categories with a responsible owner, due date, and to ensure that there is a clear deliverable for each task. Each task should have a responsible owner to report out on the progress during project meetings and to be the point person to escalate any risks to the completion of the task. Setting a due date is critical to the owner and the teams to prioritize which tasks are urgent, which are late, and which can wait for another day. Establishing the expected deliverable for each task will help the responsible owner understand the end goal prior to starting the work. Trust me, your team will thank you greatly!

The task list can in turn be used to populate the project meeting agendas and thus informing stakeholders of the topics of discussions in advance of the meeting. This will result in a more effective and efficient meeting.

Communicate, Communicate, and Communicate

Perhaps the most overlooked best practice is checking in regularly and frequently with the project stakeholders. Checking in creates a sense of accountability and overall shared responsibility. As a project manager, your biggest role in ensuring your team is supported and has the information required to be successful. This can be accomplished by sending an email, having a quick touch base call, or scheduling a weekly one-to-one meeting. It’s important to find a method of communication that is preferred by both the organization and individual project members. The frequency of check-ins does not matter as much as the consistency in which you have them. Establishing the meeting cadence early in the project will help eliminate stakeholder anxiety as you provide a forum to escalate risks and communicate departmental needs. It is important to encourage your stakeholders to take information back to the teams they are representing so that everyone in the organization stays informed and to prevent the rumor mill from starting.

Saving Project-Related Information and Data

The best practices you learn as a project manager often come from your past project experiences. Not everything you do on a project will be the most efficient, purposeful, or accurate, but the experiences you gain will hugely play into the success of future projects, especially when you come across similar issues.

Key things to have readily available are: lessons learned, tools, templates, samples, project decisions and assumptions, project resources, and a list of project management best practices. This will benefit you when you are tackling your current project by providing a place to start. In the healthcare construction world, changes happen rapidly, so it is a best practice to keep the resources and data up-to-date.

There are countless other project management best practices circling the internet and in textbooks. You more than likely already have some in your back pocket and are applying them to your projects today. The project management world is consistently evolving with new technology, software, tools, etc. and we too must evolve. We should all strive to apply new project management methodologies and test new approaches. This will allow us all to evaluate more efficient and effective means of delivering projects, ultimately making our jobs easier and the stakeholders we serve more satisfied. One thing that will never change is our goal to be the best project managers we can be for our teams and projects.