Effective September 1, 2018, Lynn Sutton, PMP, founding member of the Duke Project Management Community of Practice and Director of Operations for the Duke Clinical and Translational Science Institute (CTSI), accepted the role of Chair of the PMCoP Steering Committee. Lynn succeeds Mary Trabert, MBA, CAPM, who will continue as a Steering Committee member and leader of the Communications workgroup. PMCoP communications workgroup member Rebecca Beerman, PhD, interviewed Lynn recently about her experiences and insight. The following are excerpts from that interview.
To describe the role of a project manager, Lynn Sutton uses the analogy of an orchestra conductor “everybody’s got their own parts, but you, as the project manager, have to bring them together.” What are the key components to harmonious project management (PM)?
Q: You can’t be an expert in everything, so how do you manage complex clinical research projects with diverse teams of statisticians, clinicians, and researchers?
A: Lynn described a new project she is managing for Duke Forge and broke down the steps she follows for any new collaborative project with diverse team members: “I go back to the basics of project management to create a project plan”:
1. Establish the “overall goal of what we’re trying to accomplish” and define the scope of the project – both short- and long-term.
2. Identify the team members needed and available, and determine where there may be gaps.
3. Map out who will do what on a timeline.
4. “I learn what I can [about the goals and resources for the project] both from background reading and by listening to the project sponsor and team members.”
“The project manager plays a critical role in keeping the team connected, and by ensuring all of the details have been considered and are accounted for in the plan.”
Q: What traits would help someone to be a good project manager?
A: “You really have to have people skills and the desire to work in a team. You have to be able to communicate effectively with other people, which means you have to be able to listen, interpret and translate – explain things to people in the language they use in their field. If you are working with a chemist versus a genomics expert, versus someone who is clinical, they will start tossing around acronyms. They are used to explaining things as they would with their peers, but you as the PM might need to explain this to someone in a completely different area. Most importantly, you can’t be afraid to ask questions, especially for clarification and to ensure that the team members understand each other and are all on the same page.
Q: One piece of advice?
A: “Even though we are living in the era of new project management software tools and instant communication, there is nothing that can replace the periodic face-to-face meeting to bring together the people driving the individual projects - especially if there are incongruences or disagreements among the team members. Sometimes it’s all about trying to understand the other person’s point of view – which can be easier in person. This doesn’t mean you have to agree with it. One of the people I used to work with liked to say ‘reasonable people can disagree.’ Once you arrive at that understanding, then you can try to work past your disagreements to get something done together.”