CHIME: Project management + IT equals cultural change, cost savings

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SAN ANTONIO—A facility-wide effort to improve systems and processes began at Lawrence & Memorial Hospital in New London, Conn., back in 2007, which led to the creation of a project management office, said Kimberly Kalajainen, vice president and CIO, during a presentation last week at CHIME11, the Fall CIO Forum. “We had a cultural change with a lot of technological change. It boiled down to a lot of risk and we turned that risk into great benefit. I cannot tell you the value we get from the project management office on a daily basis.”

In the first phase of the effort, the organization crafted a vision statement, which included “the brilliant application of IT and deep adoption of process innovation principles.” Those elements went to the core of the CEO’s beliefs, Kalajainen said.

Process innovation leads to less redundant, meaningless work and more meaningful work. “I don’t want to underestimate the amount of work it takes to change culture,” Kalajainen said. To meet the demands, the hospital created a blue belt class—a four-day program that presents tools for process innovation and project management, and taught students how to accelerate change management and team-building skills. “This was mostly for the front-line staff and we wanted to make them comfortable with change.”

As of August, 280 employees (10 percent) had taken the class in 15 sessions. Once employees have taken the course, the challenge is to sustain change. "We want them to use their new skills on the daily basis," Kalajainen said.

Michael Schlesselman, director of IT program management, said he made an effort to educate vendors about the facility’s process innovation. He also worked to create an environment “where we encourage and reward risk.”

The hospital is in the midst of a seven-year journey to refresh all its technology, he said. The kick-off required a communication plan for every major project, the identification of stakeholders and efforts to keep them involved all along the way. The next step, mapping, building and testing, required staff to conduct value stream analyses and gap analyses and identify prework needed before a go live. “We had to integrate plans,” said Schlesselman. “Project management and IT had different timelines and deadlines and we needed to synch those up.”

Lessons learned include the need to allow for ample lead time and understanding the enormity of projects. “We need to break off chunks into manageable projects,” he said. “Better advance planning is needed. We could engage the vendor further in advance.”

The facility has been successful, however. Closed projects have saved $2.7 million from the annual budget and the hospital has experienced more than $5 million in one-time savings, Kalajainen said. Also, the organization has moved from “pushing innovation onto the staff to the staff pulling for more. They now ask for it.”

She is now planning for a master blue belt program to help optimize results post-process innovation event. About a year after implementation, metrics slip, so the project management efforts can combine with IT to maintain change.