Managing Small Project Teams


While working recently with a client, they asked for some specific advice for managing small project teams when delivering software projects.

Previously their project teams were quite large, but the nature of their work now needs small project teams completing software modules in less time. This is to enable them to support ever-changing market needs.

Their teams were used to a culture of clear role definition and never stepping outside that role even if it meant that the project was delayed. They claim that they could remain focused on the task at hand and they could specialize in a field of expertise relating to the client business.

The client knew they needed to adapt but they were fearful of the impact of this change on their operation and if it could impact what they do in a negative way.


The “large team” mindset certainly has its merits. But it only has it merits in a certain context, i.e. where there is a large team of people available. Where there are large project teams there is generally the availability to pick up the slack and reassign tasks to the next available resource. Small project teams do not have this luxury and therefore need a different mindset.

Smaller project teams can drive a different behavior and therefore need to foster a different culture to survive. In smaller project teams flexibility is everything. Although team/members still have a primary role they also have an obligation to do what ever it takes to keep the project moving. For example there is no reason why a business analyst cannot support software acceptance testing or author and review key documents.


The project manager has a similar obligation when it comes to keeping things moving on a project. For example I have witnessed too often where a PM is waiting on a resource to perform a simple review task when the review task is well within the skill set of the PM.

All project team members need to keep focused on the end goal and it is one of the responsibilities of the project manager to ensure that this vision is clear and obvious to all concerned.

Project Team members (including the PM) have an individual primary responsibility but also have a common secondary obligation to keep the project moving if they have the capacity and ability to do so.

The situation is best managed by a daily touch point with the full team. At the meeting we must understand – What is the priority for today? Do we have the skill set within the team to achieve this goal? Do we have the capacity to achieve this goal? What is the impact of completing this task?


As with each person’s primary responsibility, should come secondary ownership and expectations. If anyone finishes a task ahead of schedule what should they do? Answer – they should review what else needs to be done and what they themselves can do to achieve the next milestone or goal. They should also see if any of their colleagues need any support to complete a task.

Project Team members (including the PM) have an individual primary responsibility but also have a common secondary obligation to keep the project moving if they have the capacity to do so.

The agile scrum approach is an effective means of managing such work. The work tasks are queued up in a priority and the work is reviewed daily. Therefore, a change in priority can be communicated easily. This approach encourages and facilitates regular feedback.

An underlying theme here is strong, effective, clear and frequent communication.


Small teams need to adopt a slightly different approach to large project teams and base their work on the following principles:

1. There can be no 100% demarcation of work

2. The priority can change daily

3. The task you are assigned and working on can change daily.

4. Be prepared to step outside your comfort zone from time to time

5. Project success or failure is the responsibility of all concerned

6. Encourage open honest feedback among the team

7. We all fail or we all succeed.

Set these ground rules with small project teams and review the effectiveness of your approach regularly. Deal with any issues or concerns swiftly and do not let any issues fester. The solution to most project team problems can often be found within the team itself. Encourage feedback from the team on how the project is performing. From these suggestions, don’t be afraid to experiment with tasks, you may be pleasantly surprised, but don’t take crazy risks.

Culture doesn’t change overnight, and some people are not suited to the small team set up. This is a hard reality.

Further Reading

Flexibility does not mean multi tasking. Multi tasking is a myth – see this previous blog here

One person can only focus on one task effectively at a time.

We’d love to hear from you on this topic. E-mail us here

MES Systems and Benefits


With so many different variations of MES (Manufacturing Execution Systems) in use today, it can be difficult to define exactly what MES is and how it is used. The use of the system will vary from company to company.

Manufacturing Execution Systems can be defined as systems that record and control the execution of a manufacturing process from raw material to the finished project. Depending on the product being manufacturing and the level of complexity involved, the systems can be simple or complex.

MES generally exists as the layer between the process control (level 2) system and the ERP enterprise resource planning (level 4) system.

The pharmaceutical industry is a shining example of how MES systems can be used for maximum benefit.

Since their inception, most manufacturing organizations have relied on paper records, Paper SOPs (Standard Operating Procedures) and processes to manufacture batches of product.

Although functional, paper records have numerous challenges that can lead to some major issues for the manufacturer.

1. Paper can go missing
2. Paper can get damaged
3. Hand written records can be difficult to read
4. Paper records can be easily falsified
5. There is no accurate verification of timestamps
6. Paper records can be completed anywhere
7. Paper SOPs cannot be 100% enforced or policed.

The removal of paper from manufacturing processed is a major objective of many companies.

MES systems eliminate completely the problems of paper but there is still the challenge of Data Integrity to be considered.


For well over 20 years the worlds regulatory bodies have been calling for and providing guidance on the use and implementation of a computer system-based method of producing and maintaining manufacturing batch records.

Many organizations throughout the world have eliminated and reduced paper processed in pursuit of the many benefits can come with the use of MES. There are however still many manufacturing facilities that continue to use paper processes and records as a means of managing manufacturing.

The reasons why some companies stick with paper are:

1. Paper is tangible and flexible
2. People like the tactile form of paper
3. Out of spec or adverse situations can be managed with paper
4. Paper is cheap to run
5. MES systems are expensive to implement
6. MES can be disruptive to the business during implementation
7. Old habits die hard

What are the benefits of MES?

Depending on the use of the system, the benefits of MES can vary greatly. Some of the main benefits include:

1. Removal of paper from the process
2. Faster review time of manufacturing records
3. More accurate records
4. Time stamped audit trails
5. Recording of user access
6. Ensuring people can only follow a consistent process
7. Improved quality
8. Reduced Data Entry Errors
9. Improved productivity

The case for the removal of paper records

The case for the removal of paper records may seem obvious but there are numerous benefits for example.

Within the software system every transaction is time stamped and therefore it is very easy track the sequence and timing around each event and activity associated with manufacturing and actual product.

The main benefits of Manufacturing Execution Systems include:

• Removal and reduction of paper records (including equipment log books) for the reasons detailed above.
• Reduction in production review and quality review activities
• Ease of Batch Reporting
• Improved quality via consistent manufacturing by enforced workflows (i.e. people can only to the right thing)
• Reduce time to prepare for regulatory audits
• Improved quality metrics
• Increased transparency
• Over time improves peoples’ behaviours
• Free up man-hours for more value-add activity

Investigations into manufacturing problems are much easier when using an MES system because all activity is recorded and is a is traceable back to a specific events or conditions.

Equipment and work efficiency can be measured much more precisely with system timestamps.

Underpinning all of these advantages is the main reason for implementing an MES system and this is patient safety. That is the ultimate goal and standard.

Company Leadership Must Drive the Culture

As with all initiatives and journeys upon which a company may embark must have the sincere support of the company leadership. The manufacturing leader’s mindset is hardwired to keep production moving and keep high volumes of product leaving the plant and entering into the supply chain. This is a valuable character trait and is an essential contributor to the success of many organizations.

Underpinning all of these advantages is the main reason for implementing an MES system and this is patient safety. That is the ultimate goal and standard.

When operators are driven down the road of enforced workflows (using and MES system), i.e. they must to the right thing at the right time, as opposed to filling in paper records whenever is convenient, the initial high-level observation is that the new system has slowed down activity on the line.

While enforced workflows can indeed slow operations down slightly, is this a fair price to pay for compliance and quality? Looking at one single facet of the operation can be short sighted. A wider view needs to be taken if the full benefits of MES are to be acknowledged. Instead of measuring one single element of the process, look at the end to end benefits and savings.

In removing paper from the manufacturing process, many types of human error are removed. For every manual signature or data entry removed, a verification of that entry is removed. Hand written data entry errors occupy a huge time portion of the batch review and release process.

Given time, MES can reap many benefits but pharmaceutical manufacturing company leaders must be patient focused and not numbers focused. In these organizations, (and there are many) the leaders make it clear that the priority is to serve the patient at the end of the supply chain. The patient takes the ultimate risk with the end product.


When implementing MES on a new site or existing facility, be clear on the reasons why MES is being implemented. Set a clear vision for the organization.
Ensure everyone in the organization knows why it is being implemented, what the benefits are and how it will be used.

Keep patient safety at the forefront of the implementation. That is the only standard.
Measure the benefits post implementation and how they compare with expectations.
Nothing is final or ever 100%. The best systems will continue to evolve with the needs of the business and the industry.

For further support book an online session with one of our project specialists here

PMSummit Dublin July 2018

PMSummit Dublin

PM Summit is an annual event that takes place in Dublin, Ireland hosting a global community of project, program and portfolio managers regardless of whether they use traditional, lean and/or agile approach to their projects. Unlike other project management events, the PM Summit catering to all sectors of industry, from engineering to pharmaceutical, from government bodies to IT and beyond.



About PMSummit

Project Management is critical to business performance and organizational success. The importance and visibility of Project Management has never been higher. The PM Summit was established in 2015 in response to the growing trend in all business sectors towards incorporating project management into their organisations. The aim is to deliver an event different than any others, where PM professionals from all industries can network and grow their knowledge together, adding real value to their professional development.

This year our founder and Principal Consultant Barry Curry will be speaking at the event.

Find out more here

Barry will be presenting on a topic that has huge significance in many organizations. “Rescuing and Reviving Troubled Software Projects”

“Delighted to be speaking at the PMSummit in Dublin, my home town, in July in a fantastic venue, the Conference Centre. I’ll be speaking about Rescuing and Reviving Troubled Software Projects. I will describe the tools and techniques used to take a failed or failing project from the initial stages of an investigation right through to root cause. I’ll then look at how by making some key changes we can we re-plan for Success, Kickstart the project with Confidence and ensure that the same as issues do not happen again.” – Barry Curry


The Importance of Software Projects

Software projects are the lifeblood of business change, often driving competitiveness and adaptability. When a software project is delayed or cancelled, the impact on the business can be devastating. This is why more so than ever before, the capability to deliver software projects is becoming a key skill set in industry today. Based on many years of rescuing and reviving software projects of all types, this presentation offers a simple but effective approach to resolving project issues and getting the project back on the road to recovery.


Software projects are the lifeblood of business change, often driving competitiveness and adaptability. When a software project is delayed or cancelled, the impact on the business can be devastating.



Speaker Profile for Barry – Managing projects for some of the world’s largest companies for over 20 years, Barry has gained an outstanding reputation for rescuing troubled software projects internationally. His approach to project management is both innovative and effective and has seen him become one of industry’s leading consultants.

Here is the presentation delivered to the PMSummit 2018 – Here

Distractions, Multi-Tasking and Work Overload

One of the biggest sources of distraction in the workplace today is technology. Phones, tablets, laptops, messages, emails all have the capability to cause even the smallest disruption. More often than not when running meetings and workshops I have to remind people about these distractions.

There are a couple of basic rules that I insist on everyone following during these sessions.

1. No phones or tablets in the room.
2. No laptops open on the desk unless directly required for presentations or note taking.

You’d be surprised at the look of horror on some faces when I present these rules. There are of course exceptions, someone may be on high alert and be required to be available on the phone. Someone may have a personal issue that requires them to be available. These exceptions are acceptable it manageable. i.e. Have someone outside the room keep watch on these specific phones but the phone doesn’t not need to be in the room.

Devices do have the ability to distract people from what is important. There needs to be a conscious effort from each individual to manage these distractions. By accepting a message or an email when you are in the middle of doing something you are in fact reducing your productivity and focus.

I work on the basis that we can only focus on one task at a time. I have some rules that I follow in order to minimise distractions during work time.

1. Don’t check your email first thing each morning unless there is a specific response or update you are waiting on in order to complete a priority task.
2. By checking email first thing you are inviting others to provide a distraction
3. At the start of your day, complete a task first then read emails. That way if you do get distracted by an email, at least you will have accomplished something first.
4. If you do receive an email that you need to respond to in order to contain a panic, try to speak to the person first. If this is not possible, set up a brief meeting. If neither of these are possible in the short term, don’t respond until you have spoken to the person in question.
5. Unless needed for a specific input or advice avoid bringing a wider audience into the issue. Your colleagues will appreciate it.
6. If you absolutely have to respond to an email that is likely to stir up a response that could escalate then be constructive. Before sending, print off a draft, go to a quiet office and read it aloud. How does it sound?

– At the start of your day, complete a task first then read emails. That way if you do get distracted by an email, at least you will have accomplished something first.

Multi tasking is a myth. In a professional situation is not possible for one person to focus on more than task at a time. That’s about as much as we need to understand about multitasking.

Multi tasking is not to be confused with taking on too much work and feeling overwhelmed.

Work Overload
It is easy to take on too much work at any time and find ourselves slightly overwhelmed with the amount of work we need to do. Early in our careers when we are getting used to how we respond to the professional working situation this can be a frequent occurrence. It was for me anyway and regularly I would take on too much work at the same time.

I would say yes to everything thinking that I would impress people with the amount of work I could do. I had to work late on many occasions thinking that I was doing the right thing but over time I learned that I was feeding the problem. I was feeding the problem and I did not know what the problem was. I thought that I was not working efficiently enough and not working quickly enough. I was wrong – the issue was that I was taking on far too much work without thinking about it.
What I have learned over the years is that you should be able to do your job effectively most of the time by working between 38 to 45 hours per week. (There are always exceptions where we have to work late or on the weekend). If you find yourself in a position where this is happening every day and every week, there is one or both of two problems:

1. The workload is too much for one person

2. You do not have the ability to do the job effectively

In reality, it is rarely the second reason unless there has been some major oversight in hiring you for the position, you have taken on a job that you are just not capable of doing or the scope of the role has changed significantly.

If you do find yourself in the scenario where you have committed too much work, step back and look at these tasks, the priority of these tasks and decide which one of these tasks do we absolutely need to do first.

If you are unable to define a clear priority between these tasks seek the advice of your immediate manager or supervisor and get their input into how you should prioritize the tasks that you have taken on.

Next, provide a plan or outline a schedule that you think is reasonable. Discuss this with your manager or your client. Once you explain the plan honestly and rationally to someone, very few people can argue or complain. In my own experience 99% of people agree. If you do get a negative response – don’t over react negatively or take it personally. The best you can do is inform the person that you will make every effort to get the tasks done in a timely fashion but you still believe that the schedule you have proposed is the most effective way forward.

Although this article is a mix of three topics, they are related as they can cause disruption and inefficiencies in any organization. Here’s a summary of advice:

1. Distractions – Don’t tolerate them and do not let them disrupt your working day.

2. Multi-Tasking – Don’t go there, it is a myth. If you are trying to do more than one task at a time, both of them will suffer.

3. Workload – think about the tasks you are doing. Prioritize the tasks. Plan your work, then communicate early and often.

If you enjoyed reading this article you can read more here

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The Impact of Pharmaceutical Serialization in Your Organization

Pharmaceutical Serialization

Serialization in the pharmaceutical industry requires the individual identification of each individual saleable unit. i.e. each vial or syringe or pack of tablets must have an individual serial number identifying the pack back to source, date and time of manufacture providing full traceability.
Previously legislation only required products to be identifiable to a manufactured batch which can consists of thousands of units. The imminent Serialisation legislation will require new capabilities to be implemented across many different functions of a typical company resulting in a wide reaching programme of business change.
The objectives of Serialization are:
To Prevent the introduction, distribution and use of counterfeit medicines in the global market
To facilitate the detection of counterfeit medicines
To Provide accountability for the movement of products by the supply chain participants
To improve the efficiency and effectiveness of recalls

Business Areas Impacted by Serialization

There is a significant impact on Packaging operations where serialisation data will have to be applied to product packaging at one or more levels. In the more complex serialisation models, this operational impact will extend into the distribution operations in central and/or local markets, where information on individual sale and shipment transactions needs to be gathered and added to the serialisation information. Particularly in the more complex track and trace models, significant IT capabilities will be required to manage serial numbers and track information related to the product and its movement.

Other impacted business areas include:

Supply chain
Quality assurance and control
Regulatory affairs

All these impacted areas need to be assessed for adoption of serialization and the appropriate solutions put in place. Given that these impacts affect many different functions and third parties, there is a high risk that solutions will not work well together unless the design of the overall solution is carefully managed and governed.

Managing Implementation of Serialization

Establish a programme of activity to build organisational and extended supply chain capability.
Be realistic about the emerging nature of these capabilities and build in adequate time and resource to effectively test and iterate solutions.
Design serialisation activities to closely couple related actions to minimise the possibility for errors due to abnormal events.
Design both the normal processes and the regularly occurring non-standard events to avoid product supply quickly grinding to a halt.
Ensure cross-functional teams are established to carefully design the interfaces between departmental and organisational boundaries.
Ensure adequate time is allowed for packaging design changes to be made to accommodate serialisation features required.


As with any other key element of the business. There should be a local senior level sponsor that will take complete ownership for Serialization on site or within the organization. A common misconception here is that it needs to be an IT or a Software discipline that should own Serialization. Serialization is a supply chain solution and function but the means of delivery is via Software and Technology. The ownership should be with the Supply Chain team. One could argue that all departments are in the supply Chain in some capacity. Serialization is a key differentiator in the Pharmaceutical industry and is only in its infancy. The spread and impact of Serialization will continue to grow. A dedicated team will be needed to both implement sand run Serialization as part of the daily work on each site.


Deliver Serialization into your organization with an eye on the market for the next 5-10 years not just to get a system in place.

Assign a senior level owner for Serialization.

Build a cross functional Team with the capability to manage and expand the footprint on Serialization within the business.

Ensure the Success of Serialization in the business forms part of the indivdual and collective goals and objectives for the team.

Respond swiftly and decisively to Regulatory requirements

Implement and practice the same level of control that is in place with other site systems.

For more Information and Guidance on the Implementation of Serialization please email is at

Download our Project Kickstart Guide Here