Why Healthcare Needs More Project Management Professionals

Updated on March 13, 2023
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When the Covid-19 pandemic struck in 2020, healthcare systems and practices scrambled to implement telehealth systems to “see” patients who could no longer come into the clinic or hospital.

The fortunate ones already had some form of telehealth program in place. Others adjusted as best they could, jury-rigging solutions and adapting video technology to meet skyrocketing demand. Projects that normally would have taken 12 months to study, plan and implement were condensed into one month – in many cases, with predictable results. Healthcare systems are still fixing and modifying the telehealth technology and processes they implemented three years ago in an effort to arrive at something more efficient and sustainable.

The extraordinary circumstances and drastically shortened timeframes would have challenged even the most experienced project managers, but the crisis did expose the shortage of project management professionals in healthcare, particularly in software development.

A growing need

Healthcare is under increasing cost and quality pressure. The transformation to digital healthcare holds great promise, but there is little room for error in the adoption of new processes and tools.

According to an analysis of U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data, the largest and fastest-growing project management need will be in software development, with a projected increase of 14% between 2019 and 2030. A 2021 report from the Project Management Institute predicts much of the growth coming from the development of mobile applications, IT security and digital healthcare technology.

The need for project management will not be confined to the IT department either. Digital technology is transforming healthcare systems from top to bottom, and writing code is only part of the job. Processes that will change how clinicians and staff do their jobs need to be carefully researched, planned and implemented with buy-in from all affected parties and smooth onboarding.

However, many of these healthcare projects are assigned on an ad hoc basis to administrators who don’t have the necessary skills, time or experience to manage them successfully. The often-disappointing results waste precious resources and delay much-needed improvements.

Project management professionals have been trained to follow these guidelines:

Assembling the right team

Assembling and managing a high-performing project team is crucial. Having the right people on the job is every bit as important as having the necessary resources and correct processes. A good team can overcome almost anything while a bad one will almost certainly fail, no matter how well-supported.

However, the unfortunate truth is that project managers don’t always have the luxury of picking their project teams. Having the wrong peopleon the team, coupled with the wrong processes, is a principal reason why 75% of projects fail to deliver the intended results.

Project management professionals learn how to assemble the right team and, in cases where their team is chosen for them, how to manage that group in such a way that it will be successful.

Two types of project timing 

Timing is important for project management, and not just the overall deadline.

The first decision is whether it’s the right time for a healthcare organization to undertake a project. When considering a new project, companies and organizations need to ask themselves the following:

  1. Is the definition of “done” clearly defined and agreed upon by those who need to use the results of the project and those who are required to do the work on the project?
  2. Are the necessary resources available to do the project?
  3. Can conflicting priorities be reduced long enough to focus on completing the project?

If the answer to any of these is “no,” then the project should be postponed until the answer is “yes.”

The second timing question pertains to project tasks. Fitting the task to the time is important. Managers should consider the following when taking on or assigning tasks:

  1. Some types of work are more amenable to interruptions than others. Are there certain times of the day where work is more likely to be interrupted? What tasks can be started and then picked up more easily after an interruption?
  2. Some easily done tasks can be fit into minutes of free time.
  3. Some people have optimal times for creativity. Assign them tasks accordingly.          

Three approaches to project management

There are three common approaches to project management: predictive, agile and a hybrid of the two.

Predictive project management is when the scope of work and requirements for the project are clear and well-defined. Most of the planning is done beforehand and little usually changes during the job. The path to the end game is clear, with fewer unknowns but like most projects there may be surprises along the way. Examples of this are erecting an office building or designing a car.

By comparison, agile project management is best for a fast-moving, unpredictable environment in which even the final product might still be undefined. Project requirements and approaches can change and the goal might be a “minimum viable product” that will evolve, rather than a finished product. This approach is better suited for software development.

Hybrid project management is a blend of the two. It recognizes that some goals are fixed and likely to remain that way, while others can change and require flexibility on the part of those managing and working on the project.

While agile is the best approach for software development, hybrid can be more suitable for other projects.

Trained professionals are necessary

Healthcare projects are too important and costly to be led by those who don’t specialize in their management. Healthcare organizations that do not have enough project management professionals in place would be wise to invest in training current employees. This is a well-documented return on investment for improving project outcomes – which ultimately means better patient care.        

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Michelle LaBrosse

Michelle LaBrosse, PMP, CCPM, RYT, is founder and CEO of Cheetah Learning, a leader in Accelerated Exam Prep for the Project Management Professional exam (PMP®).  She is the author of Cheetah Negotiations, Cheetah Project Management, and Cheetah Know How. LaBrosse started her career as an Aerospace Engineer and an Air Force Officer. The Project Management Institute (PMI) selected LaBrosse as one of the 25 Most Influential Women in Project Management in the World. She is a graduate of the Harvard Business School’s Owner President Managers (OPM) program and holds an Aerospace Engineering Degree from Syracuse University and a Mechanical Engineering Degree from the University of Dayton.

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