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Project Phases –

There is much to be said about Project Phases. Typically, they are PLAN, DESIGN, BUILD, TEST, TRAIN, and ACTIVATE. Some PMs like to add additional phases, and that is perfectly acceptable. How many Project Phases you have depends on the PM and the situation. As long as they phases exist to help keep the project organized, go for it!

Phase Overlap

In this article, I want to discuss what I refer to as “Phase Overlap.” Most projects use a waterfall concept with Project Phases. One phase completes and feeds into the start of the next phase. Like one waterfall feeding a river that eventually meets another waterfall. It’s a good visual and happens to make sense with EMR Project Phases. Have you ever been on a project where one phase begins while the prior phase is still incomplete? It can be like trying to drive your car with the gas nozzle still attached! Despite your efforts to build a great project plan, unexpected things can happen.

Causes of Phase Overlap

So what can cause Phase Overlap? Not building slack time into your plan. Your vendor delays a delivery or bug fix. You encounter more issues than expected. A team member has too much on his/her plate and fails to complete tasks. These are just some of the common events that can cause “Phase Overlap.” Sound familiar?

So, What Do We Do?

1. AVOID ANNOUNCING THE ACTIVATION DATE TOO EARLY. Don’t publicize your go-live date to the entire community when you kickoff the project. Instead, announce that you’ll go live in the Summer of 2019 or the fourth quarter of 2020. You and your executive team should avoid announcing an exact date until you absolutely have to.

2. BUFFER and PRODUCTIVE TIME. Build in a time buffer to each phase by budgeting people at 32 hours of productive work per week. Don’t expect a pace of 40-50. Most team members still have other jobs to do. They typically won’t be able to be productive on a project 40 hours a week. Priorities change, vacations arise, roadblocks are encountered, etc.

3. DEFINE PHASE COMPLETIONS. Clearly define what constitutes the end of each particular phase and don’t deviate from that. For example, it isn’t good enough to simply say that the DESIGN phase ends on Nov 15. You have to clarify that the Design phase is over when 100% of all design documents have been signed off by the user champions, and that will occur no later than Nov 15. Also, set mock signoff deadlines prior to each phase completion date to pinpoint potential trouble areas.

4. PHASE CELEBRATIONS. Schedule a MILESTONE celebration at the end of each phase. This lets your entire team know that they have accomplished something major. Having incentives in place does more than motivate us. It continually shines a light on the due date and the expectations of the PM.

5. THINK TWICE ABOUT OVERLAP. Think very carefully before you decide to start a phase when the prior one has not been completed. Why would anyone want to start building when design hasn’t finished? Or start testing when building is still going on? The answer is that you don’t – but even the best-intentioned leaders will convince themselves that they have no choice in order to stay on target.  Don’t fall into this trap. I’m not saying that it should never happen – but it can put a lot of pressure on your team to play catch up.

Most of these are simple suggestions. Keep in mind that many projects do get away from the best PMs. Atlanticon approaches each client and project as unique – and we try to build in safeguards to help keep projects on track. While nothing ever guarantees perfect success, these simple tips can make a big difference.

If you would like to discuss Phase Overlap in greater detail, please reach out to me at

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