I would like to take us all back to high school Biology for a moment to remember the concept of emergent properties. These properties only come out when individual parts start interacting with each other in any given system. Take common salt for example. The fact that it tastes salty does not mean that the sodium and chlorine which make up salt also taste salty. Saltiness is an emergent property. Often, so are the problems we encounter when developing medical devices.
In medical device development we need to come up with creative solutions to ‘emergent problems’ throughout the entire lifecycle of a device. These problems can range from trivial to highly complex. The level of difficulty in finding a solution usually lies in the person doing the solving. Simply put, you need the right person for the job. It is the responsibility of the project manager to ensure that the right person is working on the right problem.
Over the past few years I have come up with a three-point checklist to ensure I have the right people on my team and leverage talent in client – consulting medtech development.
Know your team
Everyone has a varied professional background. Often, they have experiences from different disciplines and industries that can be leveraged. Therefore, the first tip is to know your team. Know their professional past as well as hobbies and interests. Knowing the people you work with allows a project manager to facilitate and ensure the right mix of talent is available for any given project. Oftentimes our clients come to us from highly specialized fields. They have spent decades in research and development of their own devices and need our help to transfer that knowledge into a commercial success.
Know your client
Effectively meshing internal talent with client talent allows for an efficient and productive work environment. It is not enough to just know your team, one must also know your client. That is the second tip. Clients are often the subject matter experts you want to utilise the most in early development.
One of the simplest strategies to manage this is to maintain a comprehensive stakeholder map with clear roles defined in a responsibility assignment matrix (RACI) communication strategy. This allows information flow to be precise without unnecessary bottlenecks (or missed emails that did not get passed along). Furthermore, it tracks resources in case there are changes in the teams, allowing transitions easier.
Know when to ask for help
In some cases, even these two tips are not enough to solve a problem that has emerged. Sometimes one must cast the net wider and search for experts in highly specific fields in order to come up with a strategy. My third tip is know when to ask for help. Search for external talent when required. This skill is necessary for ensuring that the budget is spent efficiently.
No single company has all the specialists/talent required to deal with cutting edge science. It is important to recognise that fact along with your own limitations. For example, if you gather your technical team in a room and pose a problem to them, and everyone feels like they need to go and review a few books or look up something, there is a good indication that you might not have everyone you need on the team.
Bonus: Form one team
It is all well and good that you, as a project manager, have paid attention to these three tips. But it is not enough that only the project manager understands these points. The entire team must support discussion and problem–solving activities. One of the best strategies to ensure this happens is to make sure that everyone forms one team. That is my bonus tip.
If a client has expertise to be used, the project manager must ensure this talent gets incorporated. In the spirit of forming a singular, well–functioning team, it is not enough to have remote meetings. When facing a challenge, a remote meeting cannot replace a face-to-face workshop focused on the issue at hand and facilitated by the project manager. It not only allows for greater focus away from everyone’s emails, but it promotes team cohesion and co-operation. When possible meet face to face to resolve issues.
When dealing with problems there isn’t a client team or a StarFish team. There is only a single project team.
“The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” This quote, often attributed to Aristotle, can be applied to more than just the principles of holism.
Image: StarFish Medical
David Felix is a Project Manager at StarFish Medical. Skilled in IBM Rational Rhapsody, DOORS, Analytical Skills, Requirements Analysis and Systems Engineering, David earned his Master of Engineering (MEng) in Systems Engineering from Loughborough University.