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Leveraging Project Champions to Achieve Project Management Success

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A Case Study from Pintail Solutions’ Project Management Series

Project management is a complex process that often requires flexibility, collaboration, and open-mindedness to achieve success. When faced with new challenges, teams can improve their performance by adopting new perspectives and reframing existing mindsets. In this post, we will explore how Pintail Solutions overcame project obstacles by shifting their team's relationship with a key stakeholder and fostering a collaborative environment. By incorporating these tips, your team can maximize project management success.

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The Context: Different Approaches Within Integrated Drug Development

The team faced a unique challenge: their Project Manager and Project Leader had experience in managing small molecule projects, but not large molecules. When working with large molecules, the processes to deliver clinical trials and regulatory approvals differ significantly. To address this issue, leadership assigned Leo as the Project Champion to assist with this transition. The project team began collaborating with Leo to bridge knowledge gaps and influence leadership decisions to achieve overall project success.

The Initial Struggle: Communication Barriers

In the beginning, collaboration attempts between Leo and the team were unsuccessful. Both sides struggled to understand each other and the unique challenges they faced. This lack of communication and understanding became a detriment to the project's progress.

The Turning Point: A Shift in Perspective

To overcome this hurdle, the team was encouraged by their project leader to adopt a new mindset: they began to view Leo as part of their team rather than an ‘outside’ stakeholder. Once they incorporated Leo into their team dynamic, they provided him with clear instructions on how he could assist in moving the project forward. This change in perspective ultimately led to greater collaboration and success.

The Result: Increased Clarity and Collaboration for Project Success

With this new mindset, Leo gained a better understanding of how to leverage his role within the team and how to utilize his skills and relationships to contribute to the project's overall success. Additionally, the whole team recognized the importance of working together, as they all shared the same goal of delivering a successful project, but possessed unique abilities, relationships, and experiences to contribute.

Tips for Successful Project Management: Shifting Perspectives for Better Results

  1. Assign clear roles: Be clear on both the capability and capacity required to deliver the project and understand each team member’s strengths and experiences.  Ensure every team member understands their role and responsibilities. This clarity allows everyone to focus on their tasks and contribute to the project effectively.
  2. Foster collaboration: Encourage open communication and teamwork within your group. This creates a supportive environment where team members feel comfortable expressing concerns and offering solutions.
  3. Embrace open-mindedness: Be willing to consider different perspectives and challenge existing biases. This approach can bring fresh ideas to the table and help your team overcome obstacles.
  4. Adapt to change: In the ever-evolving world of project management, flexibility is crucial. Be prepared to adjust your plans and strategies as new challenges and opportunities arise.
  5. Utilize Project Champions: “External” stakeholders, like Leo, bring unique skill sets and expertise to the team. Encourage these individuals to share their insights and experiences to guide the project toward success, but also do not be afraid to ask or direct them to where you need them the most.


In conclusion, this Pintail Solutions case study highlights how a shift in perspective can lead to greater project management success. Effectively leveraging Project Champions can not only add experience and expertise to project teams, but also remove barriers and enable project alignment more broadly across an organization.  By implementing these tips and fostering a collaborative and open-minded environment, teams can tackle even the most challenging projects with ease.

Video Transcription

I was a project manager working with a project leader. We both had a lot of experience in small molecules but hadn't worked in large molecules yet.

At 10,000 feet, the processes are kind of the same. When you get just a little bit below that, they're quite different. All of CM&C is different. Regulatory is a little bit different, the quality, expectation; it's different. And we didn't have experience in that.

The leadership in the organization knew we did not have experience with it and they said, “You know, Leo will be your project champion. He'll help you through the process. We'll work together. Kumbaya hugs and kisses. It's going to be great.” We thought, “fantastic!” So, we started with that and moved forward with that, and it was not working at all.

Leo did not understand the integrated drug development parts that we understood. We certainly didn't understand the nuances of large molecules and we did not have relationships with the senior leaders across the large molecule portfolio; which he did.

And so for a month or more, every time we’d get together with Leo we're trying to figure out what he did and how do we need to fix that. He's trying to figure out what we did and where he can help somewhere else. And it was just a mess. And we were aligned around the goals and what needed to be done. We just couldn't figure out how to move forward.

In this case, I was talking to the project leader, and we were thinking through the problem. And I said “What if,” and this doesn't work everywhere and it may or may not work here, but, “What if for a moment we just assumed Leo worked for us?”

So, we just had this VP reporting to me as a project manager. But joking aside what would we tell Leo to do? What do we need Leo to do to make the project a success? And we got much clearer in our ask of Leo. We got much more direct in our ask of Leo. He just wanted to help, and we needed his help. Make no mistake- we couldn't go out and do it on our own.

So, we went into that next meeting, and said, “You know, briefly here's a project update, here's where we're at. Largely here's what needs to get done, and as we double click on that and get to the how’s… Boy, Leo if you could have this conversation with her, and that conversation with him, and get these barriers and issues resolved we're going to work on this this and this.” You could see relief in his face.

He knew he wasn't really helping, which is all he wanted to do. We just had to get clearer around how best we could leverage his skill set, his relationships, and his expertise. Despite being several levels above us, he appreciated the direction that we were able to provide on a project team basis since we were admired in the details of the project which he really wasn't. He was seeing everything kind of a top level, had a thousand other things on his plate to manage and then was still trying to help us as well.

So, it's just a mindset or a methodology that may or may not work here, but I promise you, your stakeholders, your senior leaders- they want to help.

Often times, myself included, you find it difficult to ask for help. But, figure out what information do they need to help advance the project to move forward and how do you provide them that information and or perhaps that direction to help move the project forward.

When it comes to project delivery, we're all in the same boat. There's not a stakeholder in a boat over here, and a stakeholder in a boat over there. We're all in the same boat. We may be rowing in different directions, which needs to get solved, but we're all in the same boat. We win together, we lose together. No one wins if that project is late, no one wins if that project is over budget.

So how can we best even at the project team level provide greater clarity to our stakeholders and our senior leaders so they can help remove barriers with their best position to do so?

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Pintail Solutions is a niche management advisory firm focused on enabling overall project and portfolio delivery, developing and deploying new business strategies, and delivering construction projects across life science organizations.

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