NEHIMSS: Baystate taps project managementtwiceto streamline IS projects

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PROVIDENCE, R.I.--Portfolio project management (PPM) failed the first time it was launched at Baystate Health due to a lack of coordination, said David Rice, PMP, project planning coordinator, information systems project management officer at the Springfield, Mass., healthcare system. As a result, he provided advice to other providers on how to effectively implement a PPM.

Rice and Kiron Bondale, manager of client services at Solution Q, spoke about PPM during a presentation at the HIMSS New England (NEHIMSS) “Healthcare 2010: Effectively Managing Projects in Turbulent Times” symposium on May 7.

Baystate Health's first effort failed because of competing projects and the lack of a consistent project management framework across the organization, which comprises three hospitals, 777 beds and more than 50 practices and clinics.

“We have the ‘just get it done’ mentality,” Rice said, "but without a formal framework and project managers there were big variations in project management skills. It was hard to get everyone speaking the same language.”

In its favor, as an organization, Baystate is strategically geared toward IT initiatives. For example, Baystate has had an EMR for more than 20 years, Rice explained.

However, work was managed in silos, and conflicts developed over resources. Some managers paid close attention to how their time and money were spent, and others did not, said Rice. “Everyone had too much on our plates, but didn’t have good way of explaining why we had too much on our plates”  because they lacked the data to make their point. In addition, there was duplication of efforts because there was no central planning database, he said.

Baystate’s leadership decided to try PPM again, and implemented Solution Q’s Eclipse, a web-based PPM software tool. “We wanted to use PPM to move projects from start to finish [because] PPM solutions by and large give you a great way of showing…everything you’re working on,” said Rice.

“Our executive leadership wanted to know where we were spending all our time: What are we doing to just keep the lights on? To maintain biggest technical and application areas? What are we doing to support projects? What are we doing to support other areas?” Rice said. The PPM software allowed Baystate to answer these questions.

“By capturing that time in our EMR, we’re capturing time spent on Cerner work items and projects.” Baystate defines a project as something that is expected to take more than 40 hours to complete, he said; a work item is something that takes less than 40 hours.

Although there was initially some resistance, Baystate's second attempt at PPM implementation was a success. “In two years, we’ve put 3,400 projects [and work items] into our PPM system, and all the time has been tracked all the way through from start to finish,” Rice said.

Getting managers to account for 100 percent the time needed for projects throughout the system was a big change, but it was not that difficult to implement, and the benefits include easily viewable metrics, a centralized repository and centralized reports. Management and allocation information is all in one location, he said.

"We’ve established a common language. Now everyone in our organization understands what initiating, planning, executing and closing are," Rick said. "They understand what milestones are. This is not something that existed before we implemented PPM.”

Rice's advice to others implementing a PPM system:

  • Enlist leadership in the PPM implementation effort: “Having a solid executive sponsorship in the process is critical,” said Rice.
  • Provide training early and often: “It makes a big difference in people’s willingness to use the system and accept the administrative burdens that can go with a system like this," he said.
  • Ensure open dialog with PPM users: “If you don’t have open dialogue, people will begrudgingly use it," he said, and this could limit its efficacy.
  • Leverage the PPM system to sell the system and its benefits. In Baystate's case, these include more open communication among managers, streamlined project management and reporting processes and a better grip on where and how resources are allocated, according to Rice.