Recognising the need to expand her skillset beyond occupational health, Patricia Obende embarked on a journey to gain Chartered Manager status. Here, she reflects on what she has learnt from its project management module.
Changes in occupational health meant that in 2021 I decided to expand my skillset beyond my current field of practice and started a new journey towards the Charted Management Institute’s Charted Manager accreditation.
The Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) recently reviewed proficiency standards for Specialist Community Public Health Nurses (SCPHN).The NMC now recognise that SCPHNs must have the skill of leading and collaborating (NMC 2022).
The CMI’s ‘managing project’ module requires learners to pick an ongoing project in their organisation and demonstrate the learning outcomes of project management concepts and the tools and techniques used in different stages. I needed to demonstrate my skills in project planning, management of risk, developing collaborative relationships and transferring learning.
In this article I look at how I approached the ‘managing project’ module and reflect on what I have learnt.
Reflection is important as Forrest (2008) says that reflective practice is the footing for professional development. Reflection is iterative; you reflect, enact change, and then reflect further. Reflection encourages us to think about things from different perspectives. Galutira (2018) said that nursing practice is innovated by the theory of reflective practice.
Selecting a project
My occupational health role is in the defence sector and projects are often confidential. The Covid-19 pandemic resulted in most projects within my organisation being put on hold. I regretted assuming that it would be easy to select from projects at my workplace, and was disappointed when I struggled to find something suitable. Nevertheless, these two emotions of regret and disappointment have been reported to drive motivation, according to Elliot (1999).
Eight weeks into a ten-week module, after initially struggling to find a project that met the course’s learning outcomes, I secured a project; Project Initiation: Lesson Learned Project (PILLP).
PILLP focused on the initiation stage of five selected projects in the defence sector. These five projects were chosen as case studies because they represented various facets: international partnering, industry collaboration, large-scale acquisition, and long-term capability management.
PILLP is an insightful study of all previous projects’ initiation stages. PILLP’s objective is to improve awareness of project initiation lessons and embed these. Defence is responsible for a large proportion of government major projects, and there is a need to actively apply the learnings from these to future projects in defence and the wider UK public sector.
PILLP distinguishes that initiation does not just end with having an idea approved; it may be required at any step, resulting from significant changes in the direction, leadership, team size, or project structure. Koskela and Howell (2002 p2) note that “a project is conceptualised as a transformation of inputs to outputs” -– this appears to support the PILLP objective.
PILLP outcomes were met due to cross-functional collaboration between different stakeholders (Pinto, 2020). The project had intangible outcomes that border on quality, although Pinto suggested that a successful outcome cannot be said to have been achieved until the end client’s acceptance is evaluated.
The project lifecycle
It’s generally accepted that there are four project lifestyles: conceptualisation, planning, execution, and terminations in project management (Pinto, 2020).
PILLP did not follow the norm; going through the approval process outlining the strategic business case. Additionally, there was no defined project management structure, such as ‘waterfall’ or ‘agile’. In waterfall methodology, each stage of the project is completed before moving to the next stage in a linear way, while agile methodology involves constant collaboration and working in repetition to continuously improve the project (Pinto, 2020), with any identified risk outlined. Instead, some tasks ran parallel to others which, according to Pinto (2020), can be identified as crashing; crashing is a different means to hasten when there are adequate resources to use. Fast-tracking (Pinto, 2020), a method of crashing, meant that the planning and execution occurred in parallel, covering the scheduling work base, and identifying different tasks and implementation.
The understanding of the environment, due to having a defence functional project unit, accounts for this lack of defined structure. The focus was short and sharp and activities were tracked to schedules. This approach worked well considering the short lifespan for PILLP. PILLP can be described as a hybrid of waterfall and agile (Rowland 2019; Marshal-Nicols 2019; Marshal-Nicols 2020; Association of Project Management 2021; Murray-Webster, and Dalcher, 2019).
I had to undertake a stakeholder analysis. PILLP stakeholders included the Infrastructure and Project Authority (IPA), which had a governance role, PA Consultancy, which offered expert guidance and solutions; the UK government, which was concerned with safeguarding taxpayers’ money; senior responsible owners (SRO); and defence project professionals (DPP).
Using stakeholder analysis is a way of understanding individual or organisational behaviour, purposes, inter-relationships and interest, for the purpose of evaluating influences and power over decision-making or process implementation. The government and the SRO had high power and high influence, while DPP and PA consultancy had low-power but high interest.
A communication plan helped to understand the perspectives of each stakeholder and fostered relationship-building and maintenance, since influence relies on a relationship. Maintaining communication vital as Cleland (1986) proposes that keeping channels open and sustaining contacts improves the chances of understanding stakeholders’ perception, which is critical to success.
PILLP was delivered within time and budget, which was seen as a success by stakeholders. The learning from this assignment can significantly impact the re-evaluation of leadership actions.
The CMI-accredited management and leadership training has helped further my knowledge and supported my professional growth in OH. It also opens the door for other opportunities in other disciplines.”
How this has helped my OH practice
The Chartered Management Institute suggests that the behaviour of self-awareness and others, particularly social intelligence, is an aspect of development. Learning from success and failures at work is essential to the OH advisory role. According to Goleman et al. (2016), when a leader stirs appropriate feelings and emotions, they can connect with and understand their feelings and followers, realising personal success and good business performance. This practice is so much vital in the world of work.
Undertaking this module has given me new competence and an understanding of the quadruple constraints which are time, acceptance, scope and cost in managing a project, significantly boosting my confidence working in a diverse, multidisciplinary team at a strategic level.
The CMI-accredited management and leadership training has helped further my knowledge and supported my professional growth in OH. It also opens the door for other opportunities in other disciplines.
I was also able to enhance my communication skills by managing and resolving matters arising from struggling to secure a project early on in the process. For future modules I intend to engage my line manager and other stakeholders much earlier, ideally from the first day, highlighting any assessment criteria and deadlines.
I learnt the difference between a leader and a manager and when supporting employees and managers understand the relationship between health and work. This understanding now underpins my advisory role. Most importantly I feel that I can now better handle expectations from my organisational leaders, managers, trade union representatives and employees.
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Ministry of Defence (2020) Project Delivery Functions strategy 2021-2023 Available at: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/968219/Project_Delivery_Functional_Strategy_Overview_External.pdf (Accessed May 2021).
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Nursing and Midwifery Council (2022) Standards of Proficiency for Specialist Community Public Health Nurses. London: NMC Available at: https://www.nmc.org.uk/globalassets/sitedocuments/standards/post-reg-standards/nmc_standards_of_proficiency_for_specialist_community_public_health_nurses_scphn.pdf [Accessed August 2022]
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