Any project manager worth their salt knows that bringing a medical device project to completion successfully requires quick decisions and timely actions. This includes ensuring that senior management sees and addresses critical issues on time. With their experience, expertise, and reach, they can resolve these issues efficiently. Thus mitigating risks, saving invaluable time, and securing smooth implementation for all. That’s why as tempting as it is to address these issues at the project level, it’s more important to communicate critical issues to senior management effectively.
Getting senior management involved early on ensures that necessary resources can be allocated to keep your project running smoothly, avoiding costly delays. By taking the right approach to engage senior management, you can get these important issues addressed in a way that maximizes your chances of success.
But what can be defined as a critical issue?
Senior managers are busy. If you’re bringing a project issue to them, be very sure it’s critical unless you want it to cost you in more ways than your project getting delayed. An issue can be defined as critical if it delays or costs the project beyond an acceptable limit or stops it completely.
To determine if an issue is critical, you need to gather as much information about it as you can. Gather all the facts, figures, and data about:
- What type of issue it is and how it was caused.
- The scope of the issue.
- The systems, people, and processes the issue affects.
- The impact and severity of the issue.
- What would happen if the issue is not acted on immediately.
Once you do that, brainstorm with your project team and trusted colleagues to determine what solutions and mitigations are available and if you can perform those in the background without bringing it up to senior management.
If an issue arises to critical after all those efforts, then you and your management chain need to determine the next action step. This may include bringing it to senior management for additional help or resolutions.
For example, you need a certain resource from another project team or department outside your control. If you don’t get that, your project fails. This issue can be resolved internally by approaching said team or department lead and working out a solution. It only escalates to critical status if the lead refuses to work with you or your team to help you resolve this issue. This is the point at which you may have to go up the chain and involve senior management for an effective solution.
When communicating critical issues to senior management, you also need to:
1. Understand who should be involved in raising critical issues to senior management
While you will be raising the issue to the senior management as the medical device project manager, it’s essential to involve those closest to the issue to provide firsthand insight and expertise. Additionally, involving multi-departmental team members with vested interest in addressing the problem can help ensure that the proposed solution takes into account any potential interdependencies or constraints. Remember, communication is the currency of leadership.
2. Identify when to communicate critical issues to senior management
Bringing up a critical issue at the wrong time can entirely derail a project. Do you bring up the critical issue in a weekly overview? Or talk with a senior manager one on one? If your bosses agree, you can also bring up the issue in a big meeting. That generally happens when you want to force an issue. Some examples of the kinds of issues you bring up in a meeting (vs. 1:1) are:
- You need a resource from which another group is unwilling to part.
- A team member is failing.
- You need to get approval for investing outside resources and dollars to resolve tech issues.
- All the project leaders can not come to a common conclusion.
- Market dynamics changed, and your project is no longer relevant.
- Someone made a mistake starting a project when it should have been killed earlier.
- The research is on the critical path, and an issue needs to be resolved quickly.
3. Prepare information and data in a way that senior management can understand
Whether you decide to bring up the issue in a meeting or one on one with an individual project manager, you need to show that you come prepared with details about the problem and the potential solutions. You need to ensure that these are communicated effectively with clarity and a sense of urgency. You also need to present the issue in a way that will get the immediate attention of senior management.
For that, the data needs to be organized, distilled, and presented in a simplified way, with actionable insights that leaders need to make informed decisions. Explain why it matters. Make them care by talking about the company bottom line or product marketability. Talk about the impact of not resolving said issue. Making the data visually appealing also helps.
4. Know when NOT to communicate with senior management about critical issues
Not all conversations between you and senior management are best suited for addressing critical issues. It’s helpful to think of communication with senior management as a tool, and like any tool; it should be used judiciously. Ensure your communication is well thought-out, courteous, respectful, and professional. Do NOT communicate if:
- Many people are involved in an important meeting, and you bring up the critical issue without any solution.
- You bring up a solution requiring a separate manager to decide on the spot about it. (General rule of thumb: NEVER surprise anybody by keeping them in the dark about what’s going to happen in a big meeting)
- It has the potential to lead to a damaging confrontation. Think of ways to mitigate possible conflict and THEN bring up the critical issue.
If possible, try bringing issues to senior management directly and handling them before reporting them at the next meeting. If a situation requires direct communication with senior management, seek out the appropriate supervisor or mentor and discuss the best way forward.
To ensure that critical issues are addressed effectively, remember to make sure you have taken time to assess the problem, understand its urgency, and developed solutions or recommendations BEFORE bringing it to senior management. It’s also important to note that communication with senior management should be conducted respectfully, avoiding gossip and potentially damaging confrontations. You can also seek out the appropriate supervisor or mentor and discuss the best way forward.
As a medical device project management consultancy, the Waddell Group provides strategic-level project leaders and project management consultants for the medical device industry. Beyond essential project management skills, our highly experienced consultants know how to lead teams, manage in times of crisis, and influence change. Take a look at our work and see how we can help you get on the right track with our project management team.