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  • Susan Snedaker

One Page Project Status. Yes, Really.

In healthcare IT (HIT) project management, you usually get one shot to get it right. Of course, you'll have plenty of opportunities to go off the rails and miss, that's the nature of healthcare IT. With that in mind, I've been thinking a lot about project management in healthcare and HIT in particular. It seems that the number and complexity of projects is expanding at an almost exponential rate. Yet despite the number of projects, we don't seem to have gotten much better at communicating project status, until now....(read on).

The Standish Group publishes a report every couple of years called the CHAOS report. It discusses trends in project management and always provides the Top Ten reasons projects fail. These reasons tend to rearrange themselves in the Top Ten list each year, but they usually remain the same ten. Among these ten we usually see executive support and project management skills listed. Also a statistical fact, if you look at projects in their purest sense (on time, on budget, in scope with the required level of quality), about 80% of all projects fail. So, this alone should convince you that project management is a serious skill set that needs to be amped up to enable organizational success.

I think about the projects my teams are working on. I look at what goes right, what goes wrong and how we can do more of the former and less of the latter. Recently, I've started focusing on communicating project status. I believe that a large underlying reason for project failure was communication failure, so I'm always looking for better ways to communicate about project status, project risks, etc.

I'm a big fan of visuals and I love great infographics, but you can't really convey project status in an infographic....or can you? After looking around, I found a resource that I really have to recommend, though it's a bit of a competitor to my own IT Project Management book. But this is about process improvement, not book sales, so I'm adding this book to my list of go-to books. There are a number of flaws with this book, including the title (more on that shortly), but the book and the templates you can download online are invaluable resources for the right audience.

The New One Page Project Manager is the title of the book and it's written by Clark and Mick Campbell. These guys have serious PM chops and they've distilled a lot of information into a relatively short book (about 200 pages). The title is a bit misleading, from my perspective, because I believe what this book best conveys is how to communicate project status in one page. The authors would likely argue that you can manage a project this way, but in my healthcare IT experience, this method would leave a lot of gaps. That said, this is the most elegant method of communicating project status I've come across and I happily ponied up the money to purchase the book and the electronic templates. I read the book in a few hours, opened the Excel template, made a few modifications, popped in a project that is currently underway (and over budget, therefore a failure by strict standards). I printed the resulting document out and brought it to three of my peers.

Here was the test. I handed them the document and without further explanation said "Based on this document, what can you tell me about the status of this project?" All three were able to work their way through the 8.5 x 11 sheet of paper (to be fair, I also printed on 11 x 17 for easier reading) and say "It looks like Major Task #6 was delayed and it cost more than budgeted. The subsequent tasks appear to be on time and on budget and the project appears to be slated for an on time but over budget completion." Bingo. More importantly, perhaps, was that I was able to create this file in under 30 minutes. Updating it on a weekly or bi-weekly basis would take a project manager a matter of minutes. Save it as a PDF, pop it on the project intranet site and email out the link. Done.

So, have you ever received a project status report that told you all of that information at a glance in less than 3 minutes? I never have. I'm sold on this format.

The book provides some great additional project basics, which are quite helpful reminders. Unfortunately, the book gets lost here and there, so you may have to just speed through portions that don't meet your needs. That said, the book does walk you through using all the elements of the Excel file and helps you understand how all the parts are related and can be used.

In my organization, we're working on Lean initiatives. One of the things we've learned is that it's important to select the right Lean tool for the job. Just like you can't tighten a bolt with a hammer, you can't use just one Lean tool for all your needs. This visual project status communication tool is similar to an A3 or a strategy deployment document, but it's tailored specifically to project status communication.

If your project managers struggle with clear, concise project status communications, this may be the right tool for your organization. I'm sold and kudos to Clark and Mick Campbell for boiling the gnarly details of project status communication down to this easy-to-use format.

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