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Ensure successful health IT project management with these 10 tips

Healthcare CIOs increasingly need cross-group skills to be successful. These best practices can help.

Healthcare provider IT staffs are either spearheading or participating in many different projects at a given time, from patient data security to overseeing the installation of a new data system across several clinical departments. It's important that IT leaders take all the appropriate steps to ensure the success of all projects.

There are several factors that directly impact the success rate of a project. These items must be defined and observed as standard practice when taking on any project. The following are 10 best practices that help ensure successful health IT project management:

Define project scope and build team buy-in. As any project comes to the table, the first step is formal or informal discussion around the initiative, whether it is a direct result of a business requirement (such as engaging in meaningful use and EHR data gathering) or a regulatory compliance need (ICD-10 implementation). During this step, a group of individuals are evaluating the general feasibility of the project, as well as creating momentum and support for it.

Solicit the requisite organizational or departmental support. Once the project moves from the conceptual and brainstorming stage into a formal project, it becomes more important to get the support of the different stakeholders who will provide resources or will be required to give approvals for the project. During this phase, it's a good idea to define the roles of each participant in the project. The project manager, the different resources required from the departments and potential vendors should be identified at this stage.

Begin with the end in mind. Similar to the second habit of the same name from the late Stephen R. Covey's The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, the project must have an end goal defined, as well as a formal outline and breakdown of the deliverables and general activities necessary to get there. This is a critical stage in the project; it creates structure for the project and a key to garnering the approval of the sponsors.

Assemble the project management tools. Now that the project has taken shape, it is recommended to use some of the project management tools to assist with its management. Some use Microsoft Excel spreadsheets; others take advantage of advanced resource planning features within project management software applications that help centralize and track the different tasks associated with the project.

Establish accountability and measurements. For the project to be successful and meet the budget and timelines, it is very important to estimate the amount of time and resources required for completing each of the tasks within the project. You can't know what "on time" is or hold different project participants responsible without creating benchmarks from the start.

Continually review progress. In order to keep the project on track, all stakeholders must periodically review the status of activities and schedules. This allows the team to make any needed adjustments to ensure the project manager is able to maneuver around unexpected setbacks and that actions are taken to stick to the project's original schedule.

Plan from the start how to handle exceptions. Whether we like it or not, there have been many occasions when CIOs face challenges and setbacks in their hospitals. These obstacles, which are often created by vendors, internal teams or sudden resource shortages, become an unwelcome event that must be handled carefully. Set up a standard process and have stakeholder meetings to handle these changes and develop the appropriate activities to manage around them.

Solicit feedback from those impacted by the project. IT projects tend to impact many stakeholders at many levels. Nurses, administrative staff, as well as patients are all key to the success of the many of the IT projects implemented by hospitals. This means that collecting their feedback and reviewing the impact the project is having on them is a must as the project progresses.

Close out the project. As the project comes to an end and sponsors sign off on what's been delivered or accomplished, all the different stakeholders can now appropriately hand off any items that need to be communicated and have been documented as part of the lifecycle of the project.

Conduct a review and lessons learned. Healthcare IT projects tend to be part of much bigger projects in which a provider engages. They likely will impact future projects. Looking at some of the projects, such as hospital EHR implementation or meaningful use stage 1, there are always follow-up projects after a project is completed. To ensure that upcoming projects avoid mistakes of the past, the stakeholders must perform post-project reviews and performance evaluations and make a list of lessons learned.

About the author
Reda Chouffani is vice president of development with 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 or contact @SearchHealthIT on Twitter.

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