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Effective Project Management for Public Health IT Initiatives

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Volume 1 | Issue 9 | December 2007

Daniel Vitek, MBA, PMP

A project, as defined by the Project Management Institute’s (PMI) Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK), is a temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product, service, or result. Project Management is defined as the application of knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques to project activities to meet the project requirements.

Regardless of project size, or type, effective application of best practice project management techniques is often what distinguishes an easy, successful project from one that is painful, and unsatisfactory. Being able to apply this in the area of public health IT is challenging because project managers not only need to concern themselves with project management activities but also with a plethora of Federal and organizational policies, mandates, and procedures that sometimes dictate how a project needs to be managed. Additional challenges stem from a continued sense of urgency to meet public heath demands, public scrutiny that often makes even small projects highly visible, ever increasing and changing Federal and organization mandates and policies, resource and budget constraints and limitations, shifting and changing resources and stakeholder, etc.

Public health IT managers are also often the first to apply new technologies to the area of public health. At the same time they may struggle with loosely defined requirements resulting from the increasing demand for timely delivery of public health IT solutions. These and other challenges result in increased project risk. Public health IT project managers are then faced with the challenges of working through these and other concerns while battling the difficulties of communicating effectively across agencies and offices, and through multiple layers of government.

With all this in mind, the goal of any public health IT manager should be to manage public health IT initiatives more effectively to not be bogged down by these and other challenges.

Tom Brinks, PMP presenting at the October 2007 meeting of the CDC Project Management Community of Practice (PMCoP) outlined ten recommendations for effective project management for public health IT initiatives. These recommendations included:

  1. Understanding the business vision of the client
    If the IT project doesn’t align with strategic goals the project is at risk. An IT project manager must be more than just a technologist. They must educate themselves about and understand the client and stakeholder’s business as well as any requirements driving the need for the project. It’s also important for project managers to articulate technology solutions in terms of business requirements so that non-technical stakeholder can understand the benefit of the project and work being performed. In addition, communicating the business impacts to developers is just as important.
  2.  Influencing the project team and stakeholders
    The ability to persuade others is not necessarily dependant upon the level of authority given to the manager. Authority does not limit the ability to understand and influence others, and situations. Proactive leadership allows project managers to adapt and quickly react to rapidly changing situations and requirements.
  3. Managing the triple constraints of the project
    Analyze quality based on scope, time, and cost impact to the project. When managing competing requirements, evaluate how a change in one constraint affects one or both of the remaining two constraints. This evaluation will help the project team understand the costs and benefits of change. Educate stakeholders on the triple constraints cost, schedule, scope and how changes to one variable affects the others, as well as the overall quality of the product.
  4. Planning for the unknown
    Manage risk in a way that limits the project impact of unknown events. As quickly, and as early, as possible identify risks and begin to mitigate them and develop contingency plans to handle risk if it becomes an issue. The sooner this is done the less impact the risk may have on the project.
  5. Managing change to scope and requirements
    Expect that customer requirements will change. Communicate to stakeholders the importance of a formal process for managing and controlling change. Have formal procedures in place for dealing with change requests. Document how change will be managed within a change management plan.
  6. Planning the project work and work the plan
    Identify and understand external dependencies. Respond quickly to missed dates, deliverables, and milestones. Collaborate with stakeholders to develop a WBS and schedule. This makes it easier to obtain buy-in and support for the schedule. Create a project management plan that outlines how project activities will be managed. Whenever possible, record actual results against planned results followed by any appropriate schedule adjustments.
  7. Releasing the product through iterations rather that all at once
    Consider delivering the product in several shorter functional iterations that each address key issues. This approach brings benefits to the client more quickly rather than forcing them to wait for the entire product to be completed. It provides something sooner rather than everything later and allows the project to be more flexible, respond quicker to requirement changes, and reduces technology risk.
  8. Communicating effectively
    Manage customer expectation by documenting goals and objectives and communicate them effectively. Meetings where decisions are made and action items identified should require meeting minutes that validate and document what was decided and who is responsible.
  9. Encouraging teamwork
    A group of people does not make a “team”. Teams are built. Assign ownership of deliverables, recognize accomplishments, and celebrate success.
  10. Using good project management tools and techniques
    Follow the best practice project management approach(s) as outlined by the CDC Unified Process.

Portions of the content of this newsletter was paraphrased from a presentation by Tom Brinks, PMP during the October 2007 meeting of the CDC Project Management Community of Practice (PMCoP).

For more information and tools related to the topic(s) covered in this newsletter, the CDC Unified Process, or the Project Management Community of Practice please visit the CDC Unified Process website at

Please also visit the CDC Unified Process Newsletter Archive located at for access to many additional newsletters, articles, and management related topics and information.


The CDC UP offers a short overview presentation to any CDC FTE or Non-FTE group. Presentations are often performed at your location, on a day of the week convenient for your group, and typically take place over lunch structured as one hour lunch-and-learn style meeting.

Contact the CDC Unified Process at or visit to arrange a short overview presentation for your group.


The CDC Unified Process Project Management Newsletter is authored by Daniel Vitek, MBA, PMP and published by the Office of Surveillance, Epidemiology, and Laboratory Services.

For questions about the CDC Unified Process, comments regarding this newsletter, suggestions for future newsletter topics, or to subscribe to the CDC Unified Process Project Management Newsletter please contact the CDC Unified Process or visit



  • February 23, 2007
    Topic: Managing Virtual Teams
  • March 23, 2007
    Topic: Earned Value Management
  • April 27, 2007
    Topic: Weathering Project Ups and Downs
  • May 18, 2007
    Topic: Tools, Tools, Tools
  • June 22, 2007
    Topic: Enterprise Architecture
  • July 27, 2007
    Topic: Expectation Management
  • August 24, 2007
    Topic: Analysis of Business Analysis
  • September 30, 2007
    Topic: Tips for Delivering Projects on Schedule
  • October 26, 2007
    Topic: Effective Project Management for Public Health IT Initiatives
  • December 07, 2007
    Topic: The Inadvertent Project Manager


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