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Project Collaboration: How One Company Got A Diverse Team on the Same Page

Project Collaboration: How One Company Got A Diverse Team on the Same Page

Managing a complex project with multiple moving parts and deadlines being worked on by a diverse team can get downright nasty. Here's how one company solved the problem.

Project management programs often sound great in theory, but once IT hands them out to end users, complaints about ease of use and inscrutable interfaces start rolling in. Industrial-strength charting programs like Microsoft Visio please IT veterans, especially those who draw network diagrams for a living, but often prove frustrating for line-of-business execs. Sometimes, as Neal Benz, CTO of Healthwise, learned, you have to think differently to crack your company's project management problem.

And, as Benz learned, you may find that a project management app today can do more for a business than keep projects running smoothly. The program that he chose, Mindjet's MindManager, turned into a product development tool for his company as well. (The most recent version, MindManager Pro 7, lists at $US349 with volume pricing available; the company offers a 21-day free trial if you want to gauge your reaction to the interface.) Healthwise, a nonprofit organization founded in 1975, works with managed care groups like Kaiser Permanente, consumer portals like WebMD and hundreds of hospitals to provide information that helps consumers make informed health decisions. The company calls it Information Therapy.

But when it came to managing their internal project information, including hundreds of pieces of health-related content that would be involved in an upcoming product line launch, the company realized about two years ago that it needed to do some surgery. Among the company's 50 technology employees and 211 employees overall, a variety of project management tools were in use, including Microsoft Project and Microsoft Visio. At this time, the company began developing a complex new product line called the Ix HealthMastery Campaigns. This is a series of information programs that send a variety of e-mailed information, questionnaires and reminders to consumers on topics like asthma, back pain and smoking cessation, during the course of about a year. The project would require close communication by a diverse group of people.

"We had a team of people working on this project ranging from doctors to writers to project managers to technical people," says Lisa O'Toole, a software engineer for Healthwise tasked with the HealthMastery launch. (O'Toole reports not to Benz but directly to the company vice president responsible for new product development.) "We needed a way to develop the ideas so that we could all see where we were going," she says. The company briefly tried group meetings with sticky notes on a board, she adds, but while sticky notes can paint a picture of related ideas, they can't, of course, organize the related electronic files.

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