Creating a protocol isn’t easy. That’s probably not shocking news to you. It takes dozens of discussions and decisions – and results in an avalanche of emails, many loaded with attachments. Forget about worrying about the science or stats. Keeping up with conversations, finding everything you need, and monitoring progress in development can all be tough.

There’s got to be a better way, right? There is. And you should look to SWOG Cancer Research Network.

Thanks to generous support from The Hope Foundation, all SWOG offices now have access to Microsoft Office 365, a cloud-based collaboration tool. Access to Office 365 allows us to instant message each other via Skype, whether we’re in the group chair’s office in Portland, the operations office in San Antonio, the Hope office in Ann Arbor, or the stats center in Seattle. Thanks to Office 365, we also can seamlessly share documents across offices through the SharePoint platform.

But the Office 365 tool I’m most excited about is Planner, a simple way to organize a team – and develop a protocol. Next month, we will begin to roll out this application to committee chairs, and, eventually, to study chairs. It could really revolutionize how we create our protocols, by making the process easier, faster, and more inclusive for everyone who has a hand in the process – investigators, protocol coordinators, legal analysts, budget and contracts staffers, and patient advocates.

Nathan Eriksen, our chief of administration, presented Planner at the committee chair’s meeting in Chicago and will travel next week to San Antonio to discuss it further with our protocol team. I wanted to share with you what this protocol development tool can do – and how it can improve our work flow.

Planner makes it easy for teams to create a planning spot for a new study concept, and on that site, organize and assign tasks, share files, access email, and get updates on progress.

The visuals are among the best things about Planner. When you get into a protocol, up pops a colorful graphic dashboard that displays the names of team members and the tasks they’re assigned to, as well as the status of those tasks – not started, in progress, late, or complete. It also includes a project timeline. Team members can access protocol-specific emails (each protocol will get a group email address) and shared files – 24 hours a day, 7 days a week – without rooting through old emails to find the latest version of a protocol or memo.

Casey Dawson, our assistant director of administration, will initially train our committee chairs in Planner, either in person or via a WebEx presentation, starting in November. Then, over time, study chairs and SWOG staff and other members will receive webinar training in how to use Planner.

This new protocol development tool is being rolled out as part of SWOG’s strategic plan. It helps deliver on two of the main goals of the plan – fostering innovation and team science, and using resources effectively and efficiently. It also helps us meet our commitment to continuous process and organizational improvement, all spelled out in the plan’s vision.

Stay tuned for updates on Planner and this new way to work.