5 MIN READ
Every experienced project manager knows that it’s not the methodologies that are key to a successful project, it’s the softer people skills. The careful management of individuals such as technical specialists, project sponsors, suppliers and strategic stakeholders, and the ability to bring them together to form a coherent project team.
When you are working at the leading edge of medical product development you inevitably come across challenges. Sometimes these potential challenges are identified early in the project and you prepare for them accordingly, other times something changes that you have no control over and these really test your resolve.
This got me thinking. What makes certain people good at project management? What is it about their skill set and personality that makes it just work? Keeping calm is important at times, but so is the ability to adapt and inspire. Being fair, a good listener, making difficult decisions and then leading the team to a successful conclusion. A good project manager needs multiple personalities!
We have to keep a finger on the financial pulse, balancing committed cost with anticipated future spend, understanding each stakeholder’s commercial desires, and managing the expectations of all team members accordingly. While this is often about managing clients’ expectations, the bigger challenge is always to focus the minds of the technical team, allowing them to push the boundaries without blowing the budget!
When working with a broad range of personalities, from marketing professionals to manufacturing and production engineers, differences in opinion are inevitable. Whether within the core team or at a higher strategic level, this requires finely tuned mediation, negotiation and conflict resolution skills.
The key to any successful project is a motivated project team. This is about understanding people as individuals, their strengths and drivers; then it’s about formulating a plan to utilise these individuals’ best abilities, perhaps substituting resources as the project develops and different skills are required, but always ensuring that the team is pulling together and working towards the same end goal.
Predicting the future… or at least having a sense when something doesn’t feel right, is a vital skill. This is partly risk management and partly gut feel, but it’s also about having the experience and foresight to either avoid potential issues in advance or have a plan B in place to call upon if required.
Motivation and vision are a given, but we need to combine this with charisma and enviable communication skills, always welcoming and with the ability to adapt style and vocabulary to suit specific scenarios, cultures, technical background and levels of seniority.
We have to know the ‘rules’ that must be adhered to, and we must enforce them. We must maintain a working knowledge of relevant standards and regulatory requirements, while being conscious of the risk of infringing existing intellectual property, and tackling or mitigating any potential projected-related issues before they escalate.
You need to be calm and composed at all times, especially as things never go according to plan, and there is always a need for flexibility and creativity in dealing with challenges. This could be a change in scope or project direction involving anything from timescales and budget to drug formulation or user’s needs.
To really get to the root of any problem we must understand enough about the technical aspects to challenge the design, while keeping in mind what will make this product a commercial success, and then being able to pull the team together to converge on the right answer.
whether it’s a fast turnaround sprint of a project, to solve a pressing problem, or a longer running full device development programme, setting and maintaining the right pace is key. There will be pain barriers along the way and leading a team through them will require huge amounts of determination and drive.
When everyone else is absorbed in the detail, we must be able to stand back and see the big picture. We need a clear vision of the end goal, and an understanding of the market and (ultimately) the client’s needs, while remaining focused on the project in hand.
Being able to lead the team through periods of change or uncertainty, whether in project scope, recourse or just progressing to the next stage of the development, can often be an uncomfortable process. Managing this uncertainty takes sensitivity, composure and calm. When in need of help or advice you are the ‘go to’ person, offering support and guiding the way to resolution. You need an air of authority to ensure peace and harmony are maintained.