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Research Building Blocks: Keeping Your Team Organized

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Herding Cats

photo of many cats

Most people in health care settings who are trying to perform research are squeezing time to do it in and around busy, unpredictable schedules.  Even when you and your team have protected time in which to work on research, calendars and timelines get complicated and projects run off the rails. Keeping yourself and all of your team members on track is difficult, but important for the success of your project.  




"An idiom denoting a futile attempt to control or organize a class of entities which are inherently uncontrollable – as in the difficulty of attempting to command a large number of cats into a group" 

Herding cats, Wikipedia

Project Management Tips

  • Have a plan - write a research protocol and make sure everyone understands the goal, the plan, and why the plan works for the goal
  • Establish roles at the very beginning:
    • The "Lead" or "PI" is in charge of the project.
    • The "Senior Researcher" is the subject expert.
    • You might have a variety of other experts performing a variety of roles: statistics, ethics, library/search, etc. 
    • Other team members might not fill an "expert" role, but might take on a wide variety of non-expert roles. 
  • Establish responsibilities for each task at the beginning.  One option would be a RASCI table. RASCI stands for Responsible, Accountable, Supporting, Consulted, Informed, and can help you plan which team members will be responsible for different tasks and which team members as well as outside stakeholders should be consulted or informed at different stages of the project.
  • If you haven't done this type of research before, find estimates for how long different stages of this research method takes, for instance the Cochrane Handbook has a table describing the expected timeline of a Cochrane systematic review.
  • Establish goals and mini-goals: break up big, time-consuming aspects of the project into smaller tasks and set dates for them that will allow the team to meet larger deadlines.

Big Goal: screening 15,000 citations for a scoping review in 6 months. 
You need 2 screeners per citation, and there are 4 busy people on the team doing screening.
Mini-goals: all of the screeners should aim to screen about 315 citations per week, and adjust for planned absences like vacations and conferences.

  • Communicate!
    • Make sure everyone on the team knows to let the Lead know if they run into trouble, have any questions, etc.
    • Regularly update everyone on the project's progress, any problems, and any necessary adjustments to the timelines.
    • Regularly revisit the plan to see how you are doing and decide if/how adjustments need to be made, and how you will explain those adjustments when you are writing up your research.
    • Plan to regularly meet in person, on the phone, online, however you can make it work to discuss solutions to problems, keeping processes consistent, etc.