How to Rescue a Floundering Data Management Project

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Life science commercial operations teams are regularly pressured to develop new, actionable insights while streamlining data activities to reduce expenses. However, well-intentioned, new data management projects initiated to pursue these goals sometimes veer off course, floundering for traction and momentum. Wasted time and misspent money are two apparent consequences, but frustrated stakeholders’ delays in reaching or implementing critical decisions are equally costly. Often, these projects are too important to sideline, forcing leaders to act quickly to regain traction and confidence.

This blog will discuss the actions needed to regain momentum for a data management project that lurched forward or, perhaps, completely stalled. We concentrate on six general steps, which can serve as a valuable framework for assessing the project’s delay.

1. Identify the Root Causes
The first step in rescuing a failing project is understanding why it is failing. Is it due to inadequate resources, unclear objectives, lack of skilled personnel, or poor project management? In our experience with delayed projects, it is not uncommon for each issue to play a part in the interruption. When new technologies are involved, such as advanced analytics, the resources and skills required may exceed those currently deployed on present analytics efforts, compromising further progress while reducing resources for current demands. Teams can often discover blurred or misaligned objectives in this step. For example, a simple objective is to streamline the number of dashboards needed to adequately examine the underlying actions required at the data, calculation, and visualization layers. A thorough review, however painful, conducted with key stakeholders and project team members is essential. Sometimes, an external audit can provide a fresh perspective on the underlying issues.

2. Realign Goals and Expectations
Once problems are known, revisiting and realigning the project’s goals and expectations is essential. This step often involves resetting the project scope to make it more manageable or adjusting timelines to be more realistic. Let’s break the effort into smaller, linked segments. For example, a project that involves the preparation of an existing data environment to support a new product launch or revisiting the mastering process as more data sources are onboarded to ensure accuracy in downstream reporting and analytics. Business, data, and governance strategies should be developed jointly by business and IT units. Cascade these through well-organized planning sessions, adopting well-developed goals articulated using business frameworks such as SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound) and leaving ample time for planning, executing, and clarifications.

3. Reboot with Strengthened Project Governance
Effective project management and governance are crucial in revitalizing a struggling project. Begin by evaluating the current project management’s experience, level, and authority to determine if any enhancements or adjustments are necessary. It is vital to identify key stakeholders from various areas, such as business, IT, and contracted vendors. Aligning the project’s objectives, agreeing on the minimal viable product or critical paths, and assessing risks and dependencies are essential steps before initiating the execution phase. It’s important to avoid the complications arising from each workstream or vendor using tools like Microsoft Project, Smartsheet, and Excel. Instead, focus on appointing a dedicated project manager whose primary responsibility is to gather information from all workstreams and vendors. This individual should objectively present weekly project status updates and lead monthly executive steering committee meetings. The weekly meetings aim for tactical alignment across workstreams, highlighting potential delays and shifting timelines. Meanwhile, the executive steering committee prioritizes tasks amid changing timelines, ensures financial oversight, deprioritizes when necessary, and facilitates the achievement of the minimal viable product.

4. Be Tough on Communication and Collaboration
Poor communication often contributes to project failures. Establishing regular updates, transparent communication channels, and collaborative platforms can significantly improve project progress and outcomes. However, a strong emphasis on defined agendas, notes capture, and distributed action items is as significant as frequency. Remote employees, contractors, and vendors should be aligned while respecting competing time zones to maintain motivation and engagement. Leaders must demand steady participation from a core team to ensure that the information developed and passed is understood and the team can effortlessly bring in new members. High churn among your rebooted team risks stalling the project again.

5. Assess Honestly Investment in Required Skills Development
New data management outcomes sought by commercial operations teams often rely on mastering new technologies, data methods, and new production and distribution requirements demands. Even experienced data experts may need to pay more attention to the scope of learning and practice required for these new technologies. In a project reboot, this is an excellent time to reassess the real needs and outline the necessary skills and related training needed to not only repoint your project but also ensure it will transition into operations smoothly. This evaluation could involve external training programs or bringing in consultants with the necessary expertise.

6. Consider a Highly Empowered Champion to Support Change
Efforts required to produce new changes in a commercial operation may also require sunsetting or eliminating current practices, SOPs, and work instructions. These disruptions are a form of loss, and the effect of that loss should be rectified among existing employees, contractors, and vendors (yes, even vendors). These changes may benefit from empowered senior-level leaders regularly discussing the project’s goals and progress.

Rescuing a floundering data management project is challenging but achievable with a strategic approach. You can steer your project back on track by identifying the root causes, realigning goals, strengthening project management, and enhancing skills and tools. Remember, the key is to remain flexible, adapt to changes, and keep your team motivated and focused on the end goal. You can turn a struggling project into a success story with these steps.

Data management projects can be challenging, and we understand that unforeseen obstacles may arise. If your data management initiatives need expert guidance and support, Conexus is here to help! Our team of experienced professionals is ready to provide tailored solutions to rescue and revitalize your project. Contact us today to explore how our specialized data management services can turn your challenges into success stories.

About Conexus Solutions, Inc.

Conexus Solutions, Inc. provides small and mid-size life sciences companies with sales and marketing operations support. This includes implementation and ongoing support of Veeva CRM, Veeva Vault, Salesforce Sales, Service, Marketing, and Health cloud, content creation (CLM, approved email, etc.), data science and insights, a multi-level help desk and hardware depot support.

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