Christian Stephens, PMP, has been working in project management for almost 20 years. In one of his earliest post-college positions, he worked in customer service at a digital publishing start-up. Soon after the release of their first product, Christian realized there was a major gap in the company’s work structure: the sales and development teams were not covering the implementation and training phases with the customer. To bridge this gap, Christian began working as a project manager. He translated what the customer wanted to the developers so the application met the customer’s needs, and then trained the customer how to use the new application.
Now, as a Senior Information Technology (IT) Analyst with the Office of Research Informatics at Duke, Christian’s project management role has reversed. Now working for the “customer” (i.e., researchers, clinicians, and patients at Duke), Christian interfaces with IT companies to deliver and implement the product purchased so that it best fits the requirements of each stakeholder group. In theory, delivering a purchased vended solution should be simpler than developing custom solutions. However, implementing a new system in a large academic research institution and health system, each with complex requirements and pre-existing IT systems and protocols, sets the stage for challenging, interesting, and rewarding projects.
One of Christian’s most recent Duke projects is the implementation and build out of OnCore, Duke’s clinical trial management system. OnCore takes in subject accrual information, financial information, and clinical research protocols and data and produces a variety of reports at multiple levels: by trial, department, center, or institution. Prior to using OnCore, Duke clinical departments and centers managed their own research information systems using Word documents in SharePoint, Excel files, custom databases, and/or REDCap. The implementation of OnCore standardized clinical trial information management across Duke. Further, it provides the institution with a global view of projects across disciplines - allowing for strategic investment, targeted research support, and an easier way for patients, caregivers, clinicians and researchers to find all of the trials at Duke.
In Christian’s view, for every project there are there are two essential guiding principles:
1. Understand and solve the problem that the project addresses. The “key to successful project management is to focus on solving problems; you're trying to save money or make something more efficient or effective. You don't take on projects just to keep people busy. You tackle a project because you want something to be better. And while that’s a challenge for us, it's exciting to be part of making a change for the better.”
2. Maintain communication and prepare training for the adoption and use of any new tool or processes. “Always remember the fact that people are going to be using these tools or carrying out these processes. You need to train them and help them so that they do it well and correctly sooner rather than later. If you forget about the people, you might end up with the biggest failure- --which in the case of OnCore would have been that a year after go live everybody was still using Excel to track patient accrual. For OnCore, we brought the training people in almost at day one of the project. They were a key piece of everything we did so that they would understand what we were building, and why and how we were building it so that their training materials could show people quickly and effectively how to use the system.”
As an IT project manager at Duke, Christian Stephens loves the combination of solving problems and the direct impact that these solutions have on people’s lives – for both patients and researchers. As a Project Management Community of Practice (PMCoP) steering committee member, Christian is interested in finding ways to provide project managers with improved mentorship. Christian advises new project managers to ask good questions to understand the big picture at the start of every new project: “Why is this project being carried out?” and “Who will be the end-user?” “What is our plan for engaging and communicating with stakeholders throughout the project?” so that the development and implementation may be carried out effectively.