Project Management – summer tips from project experts

By Elisabeth Goodman, 29th June 2019

I have been spending a pleasant few hours browsing through the APM’s summer issue (no.299) of their quarterly publication Project and have found it a rich mine of information for the subjects that RiverRhee covers in its courses for project and line managers.

Here then are some extracts from this summer’s issue of Project – with a focus on Project Management.

Waterfall and Agile techniques can be fruitfully combined for structure and creativity

Many of our clients work in small Life Science or Biotech companies.  Their projects can follow an established methodology, especially if they are providing CRO-style (Contract Research Organisation) services to external clients.  Often though, their projects are more exploratory.  They may be assessing whether a particular methodology might work, or may even be developing that methodology.  Or they may be finding out what kind of activity a specific chemical or biological entity might demonstrate.

Illustration from Emma De Vita’s article “Hybrid and Proud” in Project, Summer issue, 2019

Emma De Vita is editor of Project. Her article cites several examples of how project managers are combining the Waterfall methodology for the overall project structure, with the Agile methodology for the creative interactions within the team and with clients. This “hybrid” approach could also work very well for our Life Science clients.

These quotes from Jim Conroy of Project Objects are particularly apt:

“You can’t not do it [waterfall]. You…need to assess whether that [[project or idea] is a good strategic fit, whether you’ve got the cost for it and the right resources to make it happen. Then you do have to go through a process..[reviewing] deliverables, and tasks and workflows..that need to get done and validates.”

He says that Agile is about:

“waiting for the mess of creativity to manifest itself”.

Five top tips for brilliant projects

In another very helpful article, Emma de Vita shares her top tips for “getting your project to a flying start”.   Her tips resonate very well with what we tell our delegates:

Tip 1. Have the right people on your team and make the most of their ‘soft’ skills as well as their technical ones.

Project team members are often selected on the basis of their availability and, usually, on the basis of having the necessary technical skills.  Emma quotes Christine Unterhitzenberger (Lancaster University Management School’ who says: “It is important that you are not just given people because they are available, but get the people who can make the project a success.  They need to want to see it happen and speak up for it – get them on your side.”

Emma goes on to cite the importance of understanding the softer or behavioural skills that distinguishes each of your team members, so that you can really make the most of those skills, as well as their technical ones.  This is something that we help people explore through such personality tools as Belbin Team Roles and MBTI.

Tip 2. Build the team.

Emma quotes Nick Fewings (Ngagementworks): “as the project gets bigger, risks appear and stress occurs. If you get people who understand each other, they can mitigate that stress.”  Face-to-face kick off meetings, of fun-site meetings’ and electronic collaborative working spaces are all given as examples for how to do this.

Other approaches that we suggest include: encouraging people to work across the team in different combinations of twos and threes, and setting up regular one-to-one meetings to encourage open conversations about all aspects of the project, people- as well as task-related. However, as Nassar Majothi (WSP) suggests: “you only really become a team when you are in the thick of it”.

Tip 3. Clearly articulate your vision.

A clear vision is so important to get everyone on board, motivated, and working towards a common purpose.  It also helps people to get back on track when there is any change or uncertainty.  Emma’s quotes from Fewings and Unterhitzenberger corroborate this.  She also points out that you sometimes need external advice to help you clarify this vision – and, whilst our clients’ experiences are not necessarily the same as hers, they certainly often need constructive dialogue with their stakeholders to help them do that.

Tip 4. Set the (strong) culture and pace for the project.

Project leaders or managers should certainly take advantage of their role on a project to set the tone for what they want to achieve.  Emma quotes Majothi on this one:

“Invariably the team will take the personality of the leader.  Show that you are actually going to hold people to account from day one.  That sets the culture pretty quickly.”

There are so many ways that a leader can influence what happens on a team.  We put a lot of emphasis on these in our work with line and project managers. (See for example our blog on temperature checks or diagnostics for high performance teams.) Spending time clarifying expectations, roles and responsibilities, routes of communication, decision-making processes; all these things will help to set the culture and pace for the project.

Tip 5.  Build strong relationships with your stakeholders

Our Life Science and Biotech clients’ customers can be some of their most challenging stakeholders.  So it’s great to see stakeholders included in Emma de Vita’s top five tips.  Like us, she emphasizes the importance of putting in the time and the effort to understand things from their perspectives.

She also quotes Fewings’ suggestion that you find the people in your team who are really good at stakeholder management and make it one of their key roles.  It’s about keeping the communication lines constantly open so that stakeholders know what is happening on the project, and have the opportunity to influence it to make sure that it reflects their needs.  This approach brings us back to the opening item in this blog – adopting a hybrid approach to Project Management that will enable you to have a high level of interaction with your clients within the overall structure of your project.


This summer issue of Project has been a particularly interesting read.  There are other articles with tips about productivity, and about addressing difficult relationships which I will be reflecting in one or two other blogs.


RiverRhee runs an Introduction to Project Management course (both in-house for clients, and as open courses).  Do get in touch if you would like to learn more about our approach.

Elisabeth Goodman is the Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting., a consultancy that specialises in “creating exceptional managers and teams”, with a focus on the Life Sciences. (We support our clients through courses, workshops and personal one-to-one coaching.)  Elisabeth founded RiverRhee Consulting in 2009, and prior to that had 25+ years’ experience in the Pharmaceutical Industry in line management and internal training and consultancy roles supporting Information Management and other business teams on a global basis.  RiverRhee is a member-to-member training provider for One Nucleus. 

Elisabeth is accredited in Change Management, in Lean Sigma, in Belbin Team Roles, MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) and is an NLP (NeuroLinguistic Programming) Practitioner. She is a member of CILIP (Chartered Institute for Library and Information Professionals) and of APM (Association for Project Management) in which she was a founding member of the Enabling Change SIG.

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