By Michael McLeod, Chief Operating Officer, Integrated Project Management Company, Inc. I’ve been working with a team lately on exploring why stakeholder alignment is such…
Facing unusual disruption from the pandemic, healthcare organizations rose to the occasion. As the crisis subsides, they should apply the same “all hands on deck” urgency and speed to their most important strategic initiatives.
In many industries, organizations were built around the need to execute quickly and pivot effectively to develop new products or services. Healthcare providers, on the other hand, have been built to deliver high quality healthcare 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. So healthcare organizations have lagged those in other industries in their capability to identify, prioritize, plan, and execute large, complex initiatives.
But the ability to execute quickly is more important than ever. Healthcare organizations’ transformational strategies rely on achieving large portfolios of complicated endeavors: integrations, technology implementations, access and growth initiatives, clinical quality programs, and margin improvement efforts. Many were backburnered due to COVID and now need to be implemented with even greater urgency to recognize future revenue and cost improvements.
Healthcare executives tend to assume key projects will be completed, but they don’t measure the opportunity cost. For more on this, read the complete article →
Healthcare organizations’ informal approach to execution has slowly been changing in recent years, initially in the flurry of capital projects implemented to remain market competitive. As technology and data usage increased, IT departments developed planning and execution competencies that spurred enterprise-wide efforts. The ability has also matured as process improvement groups turned to disciplined Lean and Six Sigma methodologies to improve safety, quality, and efficiency. Finally, maturity has grown due to the need to implement large mergers and acquisitions.
Yet it’s been a slow change that hasn’t taken root at the enterprise level in most organizations. As a result, they continue to struggle to deliver their strategic plans.
The pandemic response has clearly illustrated what healthcare organizations can achieve when there is intense focus. But without intervention, they will shift back to their normal state of operation: trying to do everything at once.
The reality is, you can’t do it all at the same pace at the same time. Resources are finite, so you must prioritize to focus them on what counts the most. Not all initiatives have the same strategic importance, and they shouldn’t be treated the same. And nothing leads to executing ideas more slowly than diluting the efforts of the organization across too many parallel initiatives.
Even after a portfolio of must-do initiatives has been aligned to the strategy and prioritized, healthcare organizations still struggle with execution. To their detriment, many execute strategic initiatives like a large orchestra without a conductor or sheet music. They rush to get to work without effective planning; they simply set deadlines and start working. Instead, each initiative should follow these five keys to rapid and sustainable execution.
Healthcare organizations often assign a clinical or functional leader to lead important initiatives on top of their everyday work. Putting the head of nursing, revenue cycle, or other department in that position is like having the first chair violinist also be the conductor. They still have to do their day job of being first chair violin, limiting their time to conduct the orchestra.
And they are selected to conduct because of their technical expertise, not based on leadership skills and an ability to conduct. The conductor role requires a critical set of skills.
Many strategic initiatives require a full-time project leader to continually motivate the team, keep them focused, identify and address potential pitfalls, and provide course corrections when needed. So when you’ve identified the right person, ensure project leadership is their day job, not an additional assignment.
Deadlines serve an important purpose, but motivational urgency is what sets the tempo. Just look at what healthcare has been able to implement during the pandemic. Effective project leaders tap into similar—if less intense—motivational forces to create a sense of urgency around an initiative that the team understands, believes, and can rally around.
Whether the motivation is a critical internal mandate or based on external factors (crisis, market forces, patient safety, mission, etc.), a driver that speaks to the team’s minds and hearts propels action.
Applying the right process is another missing piece in executing the typical healthcare strategic initiative. It starts at the beginning: planning.
Planning is foundational, and it is progress in and of itself. At a high level, the process is a logical one, but it’s rarely followed: Define the target and the work to get there, plan the work (roles, tasks, communication, risks, change, decision-making, and more), and use the plans to drive and adapt as needed. There is some science to building effective plans, so ensure you apply that experience and knowledge.
Healthcare organizations tend to force-fit preordained processes. At any given time, the initiatives in the organization’s strategic portfolio are incredibly diverse. Be flexible in your approach to apply the right process based on initiative need, not on methodology dogma. Being married to one methodology will inevitably result in some initiatives being off, maybe even failing. If you are applying the right process across the portfolio, you will see a variety of methodologies at play.
The project leader needs to drive the team’s efforts with discipline. Don’t hand out sheet music to the orchestra and say “play.” The musicians need a conductor to guide them.
A disciplined leader provides clear expectations on what is required and when; tracks actions and decisions; monitors risks and applies the risk management plan; ensures that follow-up happens; evaluates progress; and gathers the right information and people when issues come up.
Healthcare organizations tend to struggle with stakeholder engagement on their strategic initiatives. They often bring in key stakeholders too late, such as for training at the end of the initiative. Engagement should begin well before that step and extend beyond. Stakeholders’ ongoing engagement is a critical output of the initiative.
To complete the metaphor of implementing a strategic initiative as an orchestra playing a symphony, the skills and discipline of the conductor, who guides the musicians with the appropriate tempo and emphasis, will improve the quality of the performance. Entrusting skilled project leaders and enabling them to plan, implement, and sustain your most important initiatives will enhance performance and realize those critical strategies.
Author: Greg Kain
Managing Director, Healthcare, Integrated Project Management Company, Inc.
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