A better way to manage healthcare technology projects

Clinical project liaisons—CPLs for short—helped ensure the success of one IT effort. Here’s how the teams worked.

Starting a project team is one of the key determinates to the ultimate outcome of the project. So often, lacking any general guidance and when asked to provide resources for a year-long project, leaders tend to naturally offer up employees who may the least missed by their work unit.

This may not be good for the project. If the employee is not a self-starter because he or she may be on the wrong career path, then reassignment to a multi-million dollar, interdisciplinary project team may not inspire a personal change.

On the other hand, a less risky approach may be to reward the employee who is respected by colleagues and would definitely be missed by the work unit because she or he continually seeks out new challenges. A project assignment might be exactly what will re-energize, challenge, and enable top performing employees to grow in to the areas required to the meet the new challenges. Such growth often leads to a larger role in the organization after the project such as clinical informatics or information technology application support.

When presented with this option, leaders' first response is generally to hire someone from the outside to perform in the project role in order to avoid work unit personnel reassignments and the cost to backfill current duties. In other words, add the outsourcing costs to the project overall expense so that work units can continue without project impact.

When this is the realty, money is better spent hiring extra pairs of hands to perform the backfill duties left by the top performer so that he or she can step up to the project reassignment because opportunities like these—to become part of an interdisciplinary team that drives organizational change—come typically only once or twice in a career.

Project team dynamics are complicated. Unavoidably, organizations have to work closely with unfamiliar vendor staff that introduce a new language, know the new application and their company's support escalation, but very little about the organization implementing the new software.

IT staff know the current organization's legacy application systems technology and corresponding vendor languages, corporate infrastructure, culture, and points of integration between systems, but do not live end user workflow, policies or procedures. Because knowledge of the current workflow and vision for improvements is critical to project success, only the high-performing current employee who is currently immersed in the workflow and culture is positioned to successfully drive end user adaption and acceptance.

The top performers are generally also the informal leaders and influencers. When they get onboard with a new initiative, co-workers tend to join them. In meetings, these are the folks who are actively engaged and present. If it is difficult to identify these individuals—to do so, call a meeting to introduce a new initiative and see who asks the most questions and who others defer to for opinion. These are the people you want on your project team. They are "one of your own" champions.

We referred to these team members as Clinical Project Liaisons—CPL for short—and made them highly visible throughout the project. We designed distinctive crisp, blue oxford shirts with a custom logo for visual identification during post-live implementation. For our post-live rounding, only our employees were allowed to wear the blue oxford shirts; not the vendor nor the consultants.

"Don't be penny wise and pound foolish when it comes to project personnel assignments and afford this opportunity to your most valued employees."I remember rounding with one of our CPLs within the first 24 hours of the live event when we checked in at the nursing station to find two frustrated nurses complaining about the new system. The two nurses were both staring at the screen complaining that they could not chart in it when one of them looked up a spotted the blue oxford shirt on her colleague. She then took a deep breath and said, "She's one of us. If she can figure this out, so can we!" The two nurses visibly relaxed and were receptive to the top performer's quick tip to get them back on track.

The reality of a wholesale system upgrade or replacement is that you will never afford the costs to redo what hindsight and the school of hard knocks teaches you should have done in the first place. Therefore, the most fiscally responsible approach is to do it right the first time, as quickly as possible in order to attain the expected returns early.

Without exception, in dozens of system conversions throughout the country, this approach supported a 30-day transition to a new workflow where even the most formerly resistant staff lost memory of the pre-implementation workflow and processes.

Don't be penny wise and pound foolish when it comes to project personnel assignments and afford this opportunity to your most valued employees. This is a win-win approach for the initiative as well as the individual.

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