The most important consortium project plan element

2019-07-23 11.30.32-1 copy

Mountains outside Kranjska Gora Slovenia

"It almost does not matter what you know. Execution is what matters the most."
               -   Andy Grove

Project plans are made up of 4 elements:

  1. Objectives
  2. Milestones
  3. Deliverables 
  4. Tasks

When you are writing a grant proposal, it is easy to get confused about the overlap of the project plan elements

Writing out the objectives either of the whole project or of a work package can often seem the same as writing the tasks.

We know that you should only have a few objectives and many tasks.

The simple difference between objectives and tasks is that objectives are what you want to achieve, and the tasks are how you are going to get there.

Even when you understand that and you write objectives, they can seem dull and dry. But they do not have to be.

Inspiring objectives

Andy Grove created a system for management at Intel, known as objectives and key results (OKRs). Google, and many other large companies adopted OKRs.

What John Doerr, who worked with Grove, says about objectives is rather interesting.

"They should be both aspirational and inspirational."

How do you do that?

You can make objective inspirational by adding a 'so that' statement.

"Objective: Stratify colon cancer patients using molecular profiling of resected tumours so that the therapies can be developed that are more precisely targeted increasing both their safety and efficacy."

You don't always need to use the phrase 'so that'. In fact, you should use different phrases. Adding 'so that' statements makes an objective more wordy, but it builds elements of impact into the objective.

Which project plan elements should survive

Helmuth von Moltke said: "No battle plan survives first contact with the enemy".

Ambitious consortium projects certainly can seem like a battle. You often have to change plans right from the start.

Are there parts of the plan that should survive?

You guessed it the objectives.

They are after all what you set out to achieve. Milestones, deliverables, and tasks often have to be adapted.

It is therefore curious that grant funding agencies are usually focused on whether you achieved milestones, deliverables, and tasks, but not objectives.

It seems to me that what should matter the most is if you achieved what you set out to achieve.

Regardless of what the grant funding agencies want, when designing a project, you should spend time on the objectives and strive to make them inspirational for one perfect reason.

Write objectives that will both survive the chaos of project implementation and inspire others.

Steps for inspiring objectives

  1. Decide with your partners what you want to be different at the end of the project
  2. Ask yourself if it is feasible
  3. Write objectives that describe what will be different avoiding specific details
  4. Add in a 'so that' statement which emphasises the impact the change will have
  5. Circulate objectives to a wide group of stakeholders
  6. Discuss in a group 
  7. Finalise

When you inspire others to contribute to your efforts, you can achieve so much more than you ever thought possible.

Scott Wagers

"The Consortium Whisperer" Physician and researcher who has spent the last 12 years engaged in developing biomedical R&D consortia, as well as designing and supporting the delivery of consortium based projects.

No matter who you are, you can, and you should innovate through consortia. They are the only way to make a big difference to the future of medicine. Want to find out how? Get in touch.