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Who’s In Charge?
Project management isn’t just a fancy term; it needs action
It was hard to miss. Everywhere at the Chicago Dental Society Midwinter Meeting, manufacturers, laboratories, and distributors were getting together to discuss how they could benefit from working together in new ways. Collaboration of this nature can be challenging and requires careful planning, necessitating project management, which is essential for all parties involved.
The formal idea of project management is as recent as the 1950s when project management became recognized as its own discipline. Before that, architects and builders were managing civil engineering projects themselves. Today, project management tools are abundant; the Gantt chart, WBS (work breakdown structure), resource allocation, and project management software systems are just the tip of the iceberg. Tools even include complex mathematical techniques using time and costs, which won’t be addressed in this article.
The Project Management Institute defines project management as “a temporary group activity designed to produce a unique product, service or result.” Unlike business operations, which are repetitive activities, projects are designed to achieve specific goals in a defined amount of time. Going back to what was happening in Chicago, the collaboration between two or more companies would need to be distilled into several manageable projects to bring it to a successful partnership.
In the laboratory, as with any business, whenever the decision is made to change an established protocol, a project is born. The team has a specific goal to achieve, which needs to be completed at some point. Let’s say you are changing porcelain systems. Break this process down into five phases: 1) initiation; 2) planning; 3) execution; 4) monitoring; and 5) completion.
Simply making the decision to incorporate a new porcelain into your production means you have completed the first phase. For Phase 2, you need to determine who will make the change, when it will happen, and how it will be done. Training on the new system, updating porcelain ovens with the new firing parameters, determining alloy compatibility, and deciding who will be the “go-to” person for the technicians as they make the transition are all part of Phase 2. Try to anticipate everything that could possibly go wrong and devise solutions. This is called risk management. By anticipating and preparing for pitfalls, which are unavoidable, you won’t have your project come to a crashing halt. You’ll be able to make some adjustments and keep moving forward. You’ve decided on a launch date in Phase 2. The day before launch, meet with everyone involved to prepare and to iron out any remaining wrinkles. Then, jump in with both feet.
The time needed for the third phase, or execution phase, may be longer, depending on the circumstances. When all the employees are using the new porcelain system and you’ve moved the old system to a shelf in a far corner of your laboratory, you’ve completed the execution phase. Monitoring any project is critical to ensure that all planning and execution has been successful. In this fourth phase, you may discover that you have overlooked something in your planning and need to repeat some or all of the planning and execution phases. This is perfectly OK. That’s why monitoring a project after its execution is important. This phase enables us to really “dial in” the details and help guarantee the success of the project. The completion of the project, which is Phase 5, occurs when success or failure can be determined.
Each phase should have a timeline, which can be tracked. This is where Gantt charts are particularly useful (see chart). Gantt charts show when a project starts and ends. This simple tool allows you to set who is directly responsible for each phase and also establishes the project timeline.
Project management is everywhere. From home to the highest levels of business, the tools and simple steps outlined here can be used to increase the productivity and success of any project.
Susan van Kinsbergen, CDT, is the owner of SvK Consulting in Newport Beach, California.