Healthcare Project Management: Finding a Way that Works for You

Healthcare organizations need to manage across many locations, consolidating and standardizing their processes. Hospital leaders are increasingly employing the skills of project managers to oversee new initiatives spanning locations. We sat down to talk with Bailey Hinkle, Clinical Project Manager for the Nutritional Services Department at Florida Hospital Orlando, a health system with seven facilities in the greater Orlando area. It is her job to implement a standardized patient menu across each of the seven locations in this healthcare system. Sounds simple, right? Not exactly. Bailey shared her experiences and offered practical advice and tips for project managers at other hospitals, large and small.

Don’t Be Afraid to Improvise

Bailey is leading the menu implementation project because she is a registered dietitian; her knowledge of food products and production, regulatory compliance standards, and her familiarity with the hospital system brings valuable input to this long-term project. Her team was encouraged to read Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time by Jeff Sutherland. This guide stresses the importance of teamwork and transparency as the keys for success. As a self-taught project manager, Bailey identified advice that worked well for her team, and other advice which was incompatible to their healthcare environment. “Scrum recommends a daily meeting,” Bailey says. “But we could rarely find a time when all members were available. We chose to start with weekly meetings and adjust their frequency as needed.”

There are a wide range of online project management tools and programs developed for large-scale projects to improve communication, encourage transparency of tasks, and track progress of each team member. Project management tools like this can be very helpful, but ultimately it will boil down to tailoring your ways of working to get the best performance from your team. Don’t be afraid to improvise with the tools you have. Bailey was pleased with Trello, a free online system designed to display current and completed tasks for everyone involved. Unfortunately, Bailey’s team found they were more likely to use applications already installed on their workstations compared to tools that require a separate login step.

Communicate and Document

Communication and documentation are essential to your team’s success. “Whether you have a designated project manager or you rely on each team member to communicate progress, it should all be documented,” says Bailey, “Preferably in a single document or in a shared space.” Consistent communication also needs to be transparent. Because of the size and scale of long-term healthcare projects, it is essential to have a written account of all changes to procedures, adjusting to unforeseen complications and project modifications.

Everyone involved in the project needs to be aware of their assignment and how their individual tasks contribute to the project as a whole. “Your odds of success are improved by breaking tasks into small bits, assigning them to members based on core competencies versus titles or positions, and documenting them in a shared space.” Bailey’s team also achieved greater momentum by reducing its size. “We gained efficiencies by trimming our team size down, but the correct number for your team depends on the nature of the project and your environment,” says Bailey. She adds that “the key is to complete a realistic assessment of your team members and identify their competencies related to the project tasks.” Large teams can actually decrease velocity; you may want to build a small core team and communicate with a larger group of stakeholders.

Final Advice: Always Move Forward

Large scale, long term projects involving multiple locations with team members committed to other projects are going to face many challenges; understanding that “improvement is a cycle and not a linear goal” will keep a project moving forward, always. From the beginning of any project, it is best to understand and appreciate that inevitable setbacks and do-overs will make your team stronger and provide insight into your operation. Bailey’s final advice: “Find a way that works for you; don’t be afraid to try something new as you take a realistic look at your team, tasks, and environment. Identify your challenges early and always celebrate your successes.”