How to successfully "manage" a project

My training to be an emergency physician never included how to be a project manager. This is surprisingly a lot of what we do in academics -- overseeing projects led by really enthusiastic medical students and residents. I have had some really great self-driven collaborators and some really (ahem) not-so-great collaborators.

Yesterday, I attended a small-group Faculty Mentor (a.k.a project manger) orientation session at UCSF, because I'll be helping a medical student build a legacy project specifically in the field of medical education. She has chosen to build an online, Flash-based, multimedia module for EM clerkship students on the topic of "Approach to the patient with shock". This will supplement the 2 Virtual Lectures that I already have - Chest Pain and EKG Interpretation.

We will incorporate a survey looking at whether the students prefer this online learning approach. Furthermore, we will conduct a cohort study assessing the students' medical knowledge on shock as compared to historical controls.

The most useful part of the session involved (1) getting to know the amazing and humbling educational research resources around at UCSF and (2) a faculty development writeup on how to manage students who are working on longitudinal projects under your guidance. The latter is really easier said than done, because everyone gets busy and project momentum is hard to keep up.

The Project Management Template handout, created by Christian Burke, Dr. Carrie Chen, and Dr. Tracy Fulton breaks up project development into 4 stages, each with its own laundry list of questions that should be addressed by the mentor and mentee. The sample questions I picked out are especially to relevant to me, based on past projects gone a little awry. Think about how this list might have made your last collaborative project better, whether you were the manager or the student.

1. Define the project
  • Why is this project necessary?
  • What are the crucial deadlines? Build the project timeline starting with that and work backwards.
  • How will you measure the results of your project?
  • Are your project goals realistic in the defined time frame?
  • Do you have all your project team members in place to successfully carry out the project?
2. Plan the project
  • List the critical tasks that need to be accomplished.
  • What are the rate-limiting tasks (i.e. applying for IRB research approval)?
  • What obstacles do you anticipate in the project?
  • What resources are needed?
3. Execute the project
  • How often do you plan to meet and in what format (in person, phone, videoconference)?
  • How will you, as the project manager, constantly monitor progress?
  • When will you meet to check in on the work-in-progress to make sure things are on track?
4. Closure
  • How will the project be used in medical education?
  • How will you evaluate your project to determine usefulness and efficacy?
The most practical words of advice that I have are:
  • Be sure the scope of the project is feasible and narrow enough. Projects always take 300% more time and effort than people expect.
  • Constant check-ins of how the project is progressing is key. I think I'm going to request weekly updates either via email or an online e-Portfolio system called Mahara.
  • Build a timeline early on in your discussions.
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