Operational Research Project Management, Experiences, Challenges and Lessons Learnt
Introduction: Effective project management revolves around Strategic Management. Logistics seem simple and straight forward but, often the role it plays in scientific undertakings is overlooked. It is usually assumed that research starts and ends in the laboratory. It is a fact that, for research activities to be successful, it requires exceptional planning to ensure that, resources are available as per the approved work-plan. This entails determination of what, when, who, why and how it is to be done. Recent studies indicate that, logistics-related activities' impact on research undertakings significantly.
Objective: To document the project management experiences and lessons learnt in coordinating and implementation of East Africa Public Health Laboratories Networking Project –Operational Research (EAPHLNP-OR) activities in five East African countries, namely: Kenya, Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda and Tanzania.
Methodology: The operational research component of the EAPHLNP, KEMRI established an OR Secretariat to coordinate the project activities in Kenya and provide leadership to regional principal investigators. In consultation with the project Secretariat, the role of the administrator involved Work plan and budget preparation, planning, organizing, communicating, coordinating local and regional meetings, linking KEMRI research team with the study site (Hospital Administration) and Research Teams in the various counties. The site Teams obtained informed consent, recruited respondents, collected specimens, analyzed the specimens and shipped a portion of the same together with the results to KEMRI.
Key Activities Of The Project: Managing financial aspects (budget and financial report preparations), logistical coordination, and procurement of training materials, organizing for meeting venues, taking minutes, travel arrangements and participation in scientific report writing. Control mechanism such as dairies, ledger books, work plan charts and schedules, managing and monitoring the progress of the project activities.
Lesson Learnt & Challenges: Interpersonal skills were essential at all stages of the project. The critical stage was the forming, storming, and norming stages. Here, group dynamics and conflicts took center stage. This threatened to stall the OR Project. Timely and constant communication with the study site coordinators, prioritization of scheduled project activities, was essential. Ensuring all parties are kept informed on the progress of the OR activities. The information in user-friendly format dairies and schedules provided the necessary feedback at administrative level, on project performance and at research findings. Key challenges included fluctuating funding, group dynamic conflicts and staff transfers.
Discussion: EAPHLNP-OR was a Seven (7) years project undertaking, which for effective management involved understanding of the operating environment, strategic planning for short and long term goals, constant communication, review of priorities, documentation and practise of good
Conclusion: Successful project management in OR required an administrator to coordinate the utilization of the available resources both capital and human. This is the second supplement in this issue only aspects on findings from TB and Enteric studies done in Kenya have been addressed.
Three regional policy briefs on TB Enteric and malaria have been included.