Insights November 2016

Project Management Skills At The Point of Care Can Empower Staff and Drive Change

Peter Ash

This letter is part of series of Open Letters from Canadian leaders in Healthcare. To see the complete series please click here

In my role as project manager at a large healthcare organization, I have had the privilege of working directly with point of care clinicians. I am constantly impressed by their dedication, their professionalism and their skills. In fact, I have questioned what I can offer to such talented and experienced colleagues. However, I have found over the course of working closely with these team members on quality improvement projects, there is a need for project management skills.

Project management doesn’t always come to mind as a skill set in healthcare. There are many projects happening at any given time in healthcare organizations – and many, such as quality improvement initiatives, often involve point of care clinicians. For these team members, the prospect of being part of or even leading a project can feel overwhelming. Often, they tell me that they don’t know where to start, or how to manage their time with the project work. 

This is where some basic project management concepts can help immensely. Having introduced these topics, I find that the point of care team really embraces these concepts and can quickly see how they can help with project or other team work they are involved in. 

Where to start?

Project management itself is a broad field, and training courses offered are often spread over multiple days for even introductory level content. For point of care clinicians this can be a barrier to obtaining these skills. So how can you simplify a broad and involved area of study in a way that will be meaningful and applicable to a clinical audience? I have found three concepts that resonate the most with clinicians, and have gotten feedback on the most helpful points. 

Three essential concepts

  1. Scope: One of the most essential concepts in project management is scope. While it may seem obvious, it is crucial for team members and project leads to have a very clear understanding of the scope of their project – what are they hoping to achieve, what are the deliverables, and what is out of scope. Having people create a scope statement that clearly defines their work is an important step, and a great place to start. Discussing the concept of scope creep, or uncontrolled expansion of scope by others or themselves, is also useful. Scope creep is also something that almost everyone I’ve worked with at point of care experiences has had to manage, and having a clearly defined scope statement and understanding of feasibility of their work can help manage expectations.
  2. Stakeholders: Understanding who your stakeholders are often seems like an easy and quick task. However, encouraging people to think more broadly is a useful exercise. For example, if a nurse is working on a falls prevention project, often they will list nurses, allied health, and patients as their stakeholders, but have they included housekeeping and transportation staff, and families and caregivers? Having a template to list stakeholders, their level of engagement and communication needs is helpful.
  3. Timelines: Managing project time is the most involved of these three concepts, and often the one that I find people struggle with the most. Often people tell me they don’t know where to begin. I introduce the project management concept of a Work Breakdown Structure, which essentially is a listing of all the tasks and groups of tasks that are needed to achieve the project objectives. Having people list the major milestones or ‘buckets’ of work that are needed is a good place to start. From there, they can start to think through the details and tasks needed for each activity. They can also assign times and dates, turning their work breakdown into a simple gant chart – an essential project management tool. This is one concept I get the most feedback on as being useful to people’s projects. It is well worth the upfront time preparing a well thought out timeline of a project.

If clinicians walk away with an understanding of these three concepts, It can help them in their work, and move projects and initiatives forward. These can be delivered in short training sessions – I’ve presented them in about 30 minutes, although the more time for activities, practice and questions, the better. Not only do I see that it gives a framework to manage projects, but I’ve heard how it can be empowering to staff  to actually lead change in their work.

About the Author(s)

Peter Ash, MBA, B.Mgmt, is an Innovation Project Manager at University Health Network in Toronto, Ontario. He Co-leads a health professions fellowship program, supporting point of care clinicians to develop and implement quality improvement initiatives in their clinical areas.


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