My career in project management began while working at the system office of a large non-profit health system.  The Clinical Excellence team had just received its first large federal grant award for a three-year perinatal safety study. Five hospital demonstration sites were selected from within the health system, each with its own project teams consisting of clinical, quality, and risk management leaders, and coordinated by a site Project Manager (PM).  My job was to be the system office “Project Manager of Project Managers,” serving as the central coordination point for their project management efforts, and capturing schedule, budget, and resource information to communicate to senior leadership.

The site Project Managers and I had one thing in common: we had never served in a project management role over a large, complex project.  The five obstetrical (OB) nurses-turned PMs were selected for their subject matter expertise, but were new to project management.  In addition, the health system did not operate a Project Management Office (PMO), and had no infrastructure in place to manage a large federal grant.  The grant’s executive sponsor affectionately termed our situation “the gravel road.” As you can imagine, one of our biggest challenges in those early months was to determine the project management tools we really needed to keep our lines of communication open and shepherd this large, complex project effectively.

If you are new to project management, you may be facing a similar challenge.  To help you pave your gravel road, I would like to discuss five elements that I believe are essential to effective project management* – regardless of the industry and the level of PM rigor expected by the organization – and provide some guidance on creating supportive tools for each.

1. Governance and Structure – Governance provides direction and oversight for a project, and guides achievement of needed business outcomes from its execution. In the early stages of a project, it is important to establish structure and governance in order to lay the groundwork for effective stakeholder management and communication planning.  These efforts, in turn, will maximize project execution and minimize obstacles.

Project governance happens at three distinct levels, which support analysis, alignment, resolution, performance, measurement, and reporting.  The following graphic details these levels and their typical roles on a project:

gravel 1

Tools and templates documenting structure and governance may be presented in multiple formats and contain varying levels of detail, depending on the situation. Some examples include a diagram showing the positions and relationships of individuals filling executive and management roles on the project, a roles and responsibilities matrix for key project stakeholders, and specific policies defining management principles or decision-making.

2. Change Management Plan, including Stakeholder Management Plan and Communication Plan –The stakeholders at various levels in the governance model may have different goals and accountability for project success, and likely have very different communication needs. While these are by no means the only weapons in the Change Management arsenal, the Stakeholder Management Plan and Communication Plan can work together to serve as a simple Change Management Plan for your project.

  •  The Stakeholder Management Plan documents appropriate management strategies to effectively engage stakeholders throughout the project, based on analysis of needs, interests, and potential impact on project   The plan details what each stakeholder needs from communications, engagement strategies, and what the project team needs from the stakeholder.
  • The stakeholders’ identified communication needs inform development of the Communication Plan. The Communication Plan documents communication objectives, intended outcomes, specific channels to leverage to support the project’s communication effort, key messages and delivery approaches, timing, frequency and format of communications, and owners and status.

3. Project Management Plan – The Project Management Plan describes the planning of the project and its organization. It states how and when a project’s objectives are to be achieved by showing the major deliverables, milestones, activities, and resources required.  The Project Manager creates the project plan following input and approval from the project team and key project stakeholders.  Project plans may vary in degrees of detail and complexity, and contain these basic elements:

  • Work stream/Task identifiers/Associated deliverable
  • Task
  • Task Owner(s)
  • Planned and Actual Start/Finish Dates
  • May include status indicator for task completion
  • May include Predecessors – indicator of task dependency relationships

4. Resource Plan –A Project Manager’s primary role is to find a way to successfully execute a project within the organization’s resource constraints.  Resource planning consists of establishing a team that possesses the skills required to perform the work as well as scheduling the non-labor resources such as tools, equipment, and processes that enable staff to complete the project.  Resource planning helps the Project Manager gain approval from the Sponsor, ensuring their buy-in, and also helps with budgeting and forecasting project expenditure.  It is important to use the Resource Planning process to coordinate critical assets such as Subject Matter Experts with limited availability. Some examples include clinicians on healthcare projects who can only attend meetings at 7:00 a.m., or developers on IT projects who need to be available 40 hours a week from weeks 7-10 on a software development project.

5. Status Report/Dashboard – The Status Report is a critical tool in meeting the needs of project stakeholders, particularly those at the upper levels of the governance model. There are three major components of status that should be detectable by managers by a very cursory review of an effective status report:

  • Overall Project Health: forward-looking view of overall project risk, whether a project is on track, or at risk and why.
  • Milestones: which are complete, which are in progress, and which are coming up next.
  • Issues: brief details about any obstacles to completion in order to make a decision about whether or not to step in and help if necessary.

If you are able to develop and implement these tools to support your PM efforts, hopefully you will be well on the way to paving your gravel road.

*This assumes that the scope, schedule, and budget for the project are already established.


For more information about project management resources available at InfoWorks, contact Anne Nita at

See how our custom solutions can accelerate your success.