AHRA 2011: Get 'Er Done: Management Best Practices from the Pros

January 19, 2011

GRAPEVINE, TX -No one's plates are getting any less full these days. So when thrown a new work project, it's best to breathe and strategize, practice management consultants told attendees of the annual AHRA conference this week.

GRAPEVINE, TX -No one's plates are getting any less full these days.

So when thrown a new work project, it's best to breathe and strategize, practice management consultants told attendees of the annual AHRA conference this week. Whether it's building a new facility or initiating a new imaging software system, it's all a matter of preparation and commitment to execution, noted Jef Williams, vice president of Sacramento-based Ascendian Consulting.

Successfully completing work projects takes careful consideration and coordination, especially within the hectic imaging industry. "It's obviously a very important part of the business we're in now," Williams said.

Williams and Ascendian president and CEO Shawn McKenzie shared tips for successfully completing what they called the "immutable phases of every project:"

Initiating - Each project must first start off with a clear vision of what you're trying to achieve. Get stakeholders to set precise, consistent goals for their end result. Without a clear, mutual understanding of goals, McKenzie warned, a project "is rudderless."

Planning - Eager about the work, many people often want to skip from initiation straight to execution. That can be a dangerous mistake, McKenzie warned. "If there is money being thrown at the project, then it's serious," McKenzie said. "Treat it seriously."

Speaking of money, know what your budget is. And treating the project seriously means taking a serious look at what could go wrong before it does. Identify potential weak links in your project before you begin. What might cause a delay? Where might we run into trouble? Highlight the hiccups ahead of time, and outline fixes before they happen.

Executing - Each project needs a good, confident manager as its steward. The true value of a solid project manager comes in their ability not to make friends, but to steer the ship in a cordial, focused manner. Important to remember, the two said, is that your project manager is neither your assistant, not your advocate. Your project manager is there to ensure that the work gets done well and efficiently.

Smooth, productive execution can only come with qualified leadership, and assuring the right people are in the right jobs. And that may mean being honest - even uncomfortably so - about who sits in what chair. Just because someone has a rank within an organization, does not mean they're the right fit for the responsibilities.

"A title is not leadership," McKenzie said. If someone is getting the job done, it's time to give them another job.

Monitoring - McKenzie favors a three-week approach: At each project update, outline what will happen over the next 21 days. Each update following should account for the expected work during those days.

Have milestones along the way, and conduct oversight to ensure they're being met. Oversight must include clear communication of how the project is progressing. Make sure everyone involved knows what's happening, and each milestone is confirmed. Avoid assumptions that work is being done at all costs, as they can easily derail a project.

It's important, too, to be realistic, Williams added. "Things will go wrong in your project," he said. "You will hit some problems along the way." As long as you've prepared well and anticipated problems, you'll be able to handle roadblocks as they crop up. Don't be surprised when they do.

Closing - Review how the project went. Did you meet your deadline? Did you hit, or exceed, your budget? If you ran into problems, what can you take away as lessons?

Projects can serve as mirrors to an organization of how it's functioning, whether orchestrated internally or by outside managers. Often, outside managers can best identify how hiccups or victories within any one project can serve the organization going forward.

"You can learn things about your organization through the projects you have going on," Williams said. "Sometimes the best set of eyes is from the outside."