For maximizing mission impact in the fight against cancer
Krystal Brady spent her 20s convinced she wanted to work in public service. But to pay her way through university, the political science student needed a job, so she took on a project management role at a small publishing firm. And then came the career-changing epiphany.
“I realized that I really enjoyed project management,” Brady says. “There was a sense of accomplishment—which I still get—from putting together a project plan, executing it and seeing the result of something well done. So when I graduated college, I stuck with it.”
After cutting her teeth in various project roles, she decided to formalize her know-how and set her sights on the Project Management Professional (PMP)® certification. Soon after, she landed a position that dovetailed her passion for project management with her early interest in social impact at the American Society of Clinical Oncology. With a project portfolio brimming with ambitious initiatives, the nonprofit association of 45,000 physicians and oncology specialists aims to conquer cancer through research, education and promotion of high-quality, equitable patient care.
“Working here is truly a treat, because people are mission-focused and really open to ideas and projects that will deliver impact,” she says.
Yet to truly deliver on its mission, the organization found itself in need of a cultural transformation. The usual ways of working weren’t working. Stakeholders were often pitted against one another in the competition for limited resources. Departmental silos and disconnected teams seeded an abundance of last-minute surprises, such as when two delivery teams working on separate types of code for a digital development project didn’t surface underlying interdependencies until deep into the execution phase. And scope bloat was commonplace, as sponsors tried to cram as much as possible into project charters with hard deadlines—making “phase two” promises the norm.
Brady also saw a fundamental disconnect with actual user needs. “We had this wonderful problem where people would say, ‘I think this would be really great for our members. Let’s build it.’ And we tried to make as many things happen as we could, but we wouldn’t necessarily know it was something members were going to use,” she says.
But Brady isn’t one to simply assume benefits will be realized. After leading a project to develop a workload-assessment tool for clinical research teams, for instance, she supported a follow-up initiative to quantify its utility IRL. The findings, which analyze data from 51 community-based research programs that made use of the tool over a six-month period, were published in the Journal of Oncology Practice.
“Without the ability to see how work was tied to the vision and mission of the org, it just felt like a never-ending litany of things to do,” she says. “We were constantly reactive instead of proactive.”
Efforts to revamp the project intake process did little to address what she saw as the true underlying issues: limited visibility and alignment across the organization and a fuzzy focus on customer value and product mindset.
Brady was going in armed with both the Disciplined Agile® Senior Scrum Master (DASSM) and the Disciplined Agile® Value Stream Consultant (DAVSC) certifications. Yet she feared that digital transformation would fall flat within the organization’s existing culture of competing stakeholders and waterfall execution. So she doubled down on cultural transformation at the same time.
Visual flows leveraged from value stream management helped internal stakeholders see how projects and tasks aligned to strategy and mission. A user research program and regular feedback loops helps ensure “we’re working on the right products at the right time to be efficient with our resources,” she says. And sponsors no longer queue up for services but are instead pressed to connect the dots between a proposed project and the value it delivers.
“We had a learning curve,” Brady says. “But one of the best things we’ve been able to do is orient business thinking around minimum viable products or minimum business increments. That means no scope creep and phase-two promises. Instead, you’ll get quality work that gets solid value to the customer, and then we can build on that.”
Theory is one thing, but implementation is another. To cement the shift in thinking during day-to-day project execution, teams work closely with an agile coach. They need to understand the full quiver of agile tools and frameworks available to them, Brady says, as well as how a value-driven mindset should permeate every part of the project—from how teams are organized to how user feedback informs a project’s next iteration. And to beat back the distraction beast that is multitasking, project teams now juggle fewer initiatives at once. They focus on shorter bursts of concentrated work, which has made the work itself both “more manageable and far more meaningful,” she says.
While the organization’s digital transformation is still very much underway, Brady is quick to celebrate the wins along the way. “It’s so awesome to help push people just a little bit out of their comfort zone—enough for them to be like, ‘Oh, I did that!’ When that spark hits, I see it, and I love it every time.”
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