Project Management 101 — eating an elephant

How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.

NEMT President Linda Allard

I was recently asked to name the one skill I have learned that has helped me most in my career.  The first thing the popped into my head was project management.  I was fortunate that in college starting with my first semester I was introduced to what we now call projectmanagement.  This skill has stayed with me all the way through my career and I believe it is what has allowed me to be successful.

In our changing healthcare world, we are often given a project to implement and asked to make it happen.  Find a new vendor; launch a new client; train the whole staff on HIPAA compliance; outsource an entire department; change the computer systems and teach everyone the new software … any manager in any role can get hit with these types of orders: a massive project with no instruction on how to get there. We are no longer told how to make these changes as it is just assumed we will do it. This can be daunting if we don’t use some basic project management skills.

The first thing I do when starting a new project is break it down into steps.  I prefer working in Microsoft Project but there are a lot of project management software solutions available.  A simple search on the Internet will provide you with many options and I always look at the “feedback” section for any program, especially to see its ratings for ease of use.  The reason I use project management software is it has both a timeline feature, including due dates, and a resource feature so I can assign tasks. It also allows me to share the project with everyone, as well as make notes that all stay together in one place.  Some even have special online functionality that you can use so everyone can see it all the time.

To start my project, I insert each step on a separate line into my project solution without assigning due dates or resources.  This initial step will completely outline my project from start to finish.  Often the difficulty in a getting started on a project is the fear of the project itself.  By entering every task on the sheet you have completely detailed your project and the worry of remembering all areas of the project are now removed.

There are two ways I organize my projects when I am entering them on the sheet.  I either do it by areas of the project or by the order things need to be done.

If a project has different areas, for example if it has a technical section, human resources section and an operational section, I start by making a line item for each of these three of these areas on my project sheet.  I then go back to the area that I know best and start inserting blank lines so I can list each task that needs to be completed in each section.  I continue this for all the different groups until the project is detailed.

The second way is to list them in order of the project from start to finish.  I will go down about halfway on the sheet and list what I would consider the final step for the project to be complete.  Then I go back to the top and list the first step that needs to be done to get the project started and I work my way towards the last step.

I have found that starting a project either of these two ways will help me reach my ultimate goal of a complete project plan.  By getting my complete project down on paper, I am ready to start working through the steps and assigning the deadlines and resources needed.

Check back next month for more on project management. I’ll discuss how to assign resources and schedule tasks.

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About Tara Courtland

Tara Courtland is the communications director at NEMT.
This entry was posted in Operations and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Project Management 101 — eating an elephant

  1. Marie Janes says:

    I love this article and will post it for discussion in my HIM 4220 Project Management in Healthcare course at the University of Toledo. I believe it will provide an excellent opportunity for students to apply their knowledge and exchange ideas!

  2. If you search the blog for Linda Allard, she’s got a whole series on Project Management tips.

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