The healthcare industry is in constant flux, with sweeping changes occurring on a regular basis. In fact, in addition to the current COVID-19 outbreak, a major challenge facing healthcare organizations in this climate of reform is managing costs while still delivering excellent patient care. To accomplish this, operations management must constantly keep up with demand and deal with the unexpected.
Big data and digital technology are playing a key role in the modernization of healthcare. More and more, the industry is realizing the importance of making data-driven decisions. Undoubtedly, digital analytical tools are critical in helping to identify cost-efficient ways of running a healthcare organization. John Lynch & Associates estimates that over 75% of healthcare leaders are currently investing in advanced analytic tools; nonetheless, most of these organizations are struggling with the implementation and productive use of these products. Unfortunately, few companies master the competitive advantages of advanced analytics. To use these technologies efficiently, healthcare organizations should, therefore, plan strategically before starting a project and should seek the appropriate information on how to execute their new project.
There are two key elements needed to develop an organization that is reliable and can deliver on the promise of quality care: a clear strategy that relies on a deep understanding of the nature of the organization’s work and how it is accomplished; and flawless execution of every project within the strategic plan. While planning a project may be relatively easy, managing a project to completion can be complex and time-consuming. In fact, the execution phase of a project is typically the longest.
There are five techniques you can leverage to ensure the successful completion of any project: be clear about project requirements, select the right team and the right tools, break down the project into deliverables with precise objectives and timelines, identify potential risks and prepare mitigation plans and prepare a communication strategy to keep all stakeholders in the loop throughout the project.
Every project has an end goal or deliverable. Whether you are launching a new practice on the other side of town or writing a large proposal for funding new medical research, knowing what the ultimate end result will look like is imperative. Therefore, grab a pen and paper and sit down with your stakeholders. This is the time to envision your goals.
Make sure you understand the project requirements and spell them all out in some detail. Keep your goals at the forefront while you execute the project. They will remind you what is important and what is peripheral. Make sure every stakeholder is reminded of the end goal and has a clear understanding of the steps you laid out all the way to the finish line. Although you should keep an open mind, major changes along the way are not a good idea and could introduce risk to the project. If anything, discuss the project thoroughly at the time of goal-setting to make sure everyone is on board and agrees with the plan of action.
Every project needs a team of people that see it through to the end. The right team has a variety of expertise, is excellent with communication, is highly organized, self-assured, accountable, and, most of all, completely and enthusiastically on board with the project. To achieve great communication, team members should be able to trust one another and be willing and able to work on potential conflicts effectively.
Selecting a highly qualified project manager is particularly important and the individual must be capable and respected by all team members. A person that can see the strengths of each team member. A person who is willing to recognize the team for every success and hold it accountable for poor performance. Take the time to hand-pick your team, and make sure you bring them on board early in the planning process. Ideally, you should engage them from the get-go and encourage their feedback. Make them feel invested in the project and provide them with the right incentives to participate fully.
The tools to complete the project are as critical as the choice of team members. Technologies should account for financial resources, satisfy regulatory requirements, lower overall costs and improve effectiveness. However, increasing the speed at which healthcare is delivered does not always mean better quality of care for patients. This essential element should always be taken into account. Therefore, make sure your choice of tools is founded on solid data.
Milestones are a road-map to project completion. They break a project down into smaller manageable sub-units and provide the team with a sense of accomplishment along the way. For each of the milestones clearly identify who will accomplish each task, when and how. Identify reasonable deadlines and possible hiccups. Plan for reasonable delays. The project manager must be pro-active in tracking all milestones and update timelines wherever necessary.
Evaluate the pros and cons, opportunities and challenges, strengths and weaknesses of each step of the project and recognize the potential risks. What if scenarios are a good way to proceed: are there alternative solutions if the budget runs out for unexpected reasons? What if the investors pull out of the deal? Could upper management change direction in the middle of the project? Try to predict small and large hiccups and develop a Plan B.
Establish a strong communication plan with go-to people for a variety of scenarios. Decide the chain of command system for the project and, for every goal, spell out critical personnel and the modalities of communication: when, where and how. Communication is a fundamental skill in the healthcare industry. Use the same standards of communication you would use in a patient-provider relationship, communicate often, in a concise manner, and make sure you follow the communication plan your team spelled out at the very beginning. One major cause of resentment in teams is poor communication or lack thereof.
While well-applied technology is invaluable to keep pace with the expanding need of the healthcare industry, the physician-patient relationship may suffer from automation. Patients need open channels of communication with their health care provider and this will never change, no matter how good technology gets.
Therefore, careful planning during project management will help you get to the ultimate goal of providing excellent patient care by making everything you do in the planning process be about the patient. Highly reliable organizations constantly adapt and re-adjust to resolve the small challenges that are inevitable along the way. If left unaddressed, small issues may percolate through the system and develop into larger ones.
At John Lynch & Associates we take a “hands-on” approach to project management and pro-actively address your questions regarding project planning and how to choose teams and tools for your specific project.
Join hundreds of industry leaders and get our perspective on critical issues healthcare organizations face in a demanding environment, delivered to your inbox.