Eight pitfalls of healthcare project management

Healthcare project management can be a long and involved process. To keep a project on course, learn how to communicate long and short-term goals and concerns properly.

Healthcare continues to see more than its fair share of change. Implementation of new technologies has been the norm for some time, posing challenges to healthcare project management. Nearly all project managers and sponsors are paying close attention to user adoption of technology and are working hard to avoid any unforeseen obstacles that could impact it.

The installation of an EHR system is one example of a healthcare technology initiative that has failed because of poor project management and planning. Though it's not hard to find EHRs that are buggy and not user-friendly, even some of the most challenging EHRs can be made to work.

As an organization begins an important technology implementation, it must select the right team for the job to ensure that the right combination of skills is put into place to lead the initiative. Soft skills and technical and clinical aptitude are among the key attributes most organizations seek when filling out a healthcare project management team.

What are some of the common pitfalls that create dissension and cause projects to derail from their intended course, putting them at a significantly higher risk for failure?

Lack of communication. A failed project can be the direct result of poor communication. While communication does not always have to be perfect, any weakness in it during the course of the project can lead to missed deadlines, lack of understanding of critical issues and poor visibility into where the project stands at a given time.

Technical know-how doesn't guarantee success. There are cases where I find myself looking at the world in zeros and ones. That's one reason why technical folks aren't always the best fit to manage projects that may require communication with less technologically inclined clinical and administrative employees. Not everyone involved in a project needs to know how everything works under the hood. Technical expertise does not always yield better project outcomes. It could be a recipe for disaster if a project manager lacks basic teamwork skills.

Top-down approach. If any project is to reach a high level of adoption, it needs to be accepted by the end users who will likely spend most of the time interacting with the technology or product. Forcing solutions on end users without seeking their input could drive resistance to change. This is simply a formula for failure. Whether the project is about adopting a new EHR, lab system, mobile app or other new devices, educating end users about how it will impact the organization and its members will keep the project moving in the right direction.

It's more than a software install. While several recent healthcare projects involve new application installations, there could be a significant danger in treating these projects as simple upgrades. Within the IT world, technical staff members see upgrades as frequent projects that require very little involvement from the end users. When dealing with larger populations, end users must be made aware that their workflows and processes could be affected. This typically involves technical staff walking end users through the new procedures, and requires that they interview stakeholders and users to determine how their current work will be altered.

A project with an undefined goal and insufficient planning is likely to experience delays and cause confusion down the road.

Don't juggle too many projects at once. In a perfect world, multitasking would be the norm for everyone in or out of IT. Unfortunately, when it comes to projects and initiatives that impact a large portion of an organization and its patients, it's critical to allocate the appropriate resources and to get the task accomplished efficiently and without errors. Assigning employees to an important project without reducing their exiting workload can divide their focus and yield mistakes that can have negative consequences for the project.

Long status reports. A project with an undefined goal and insufficient planning is likely to experience delays and cause confusion down the road. Some project managers waste time writing emails with long explanations of non-critical items, and miss their opportunity to expand upon issues that are central to the success of the project. Project managers should lead meetings to create discussion around project concerns and redirect any business conversation that veers too far from the issues at hand.

Blaming the unexpected. Dealing with the unexpected is a reality of almost any project. Ignoring that fact or not knowing how to handle exceptions can shake a team's confidence in their ability to perform. Project managers should be easily adaptable to whatever is thrown at them in order to keep moving toward their goals.

Unrealistic expectations. Rolling out a new product or software takes time. It requires planning, resources and funding. Organizations sometimes set unrealistic expectations based on how much money they have invested in a project. What they don't understand -- and what's hard to calculate -- is that human capital is their strongest asset. It's not uncommon for larger hospitals to seek outside resources with extensive experience in the products they are rolling out. Smaller hospitals don't always have the resources for this and must plan and execute a rollout on their own.

Healthcare continues to see a tremendous number of technological innovations. More executives are turning to some of these new technologies to enhance patient care, cut costs and increase efficiency. Successful healthcare project management at every step of the process is the surest way to achieve the intended results.

About the author:
Reda Chouffani is vice president of development at Biz Technology Solutions Inc., which provides software design, development and deployment services for the healthcare industry. Let us know what you think about the story; email
editor@searchhealthit.com or contact @SearchHealthIT on Twitter.

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This was first published in August 2014

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