Breaking Down Barriers

Wouldn’t it be great if your projects came mapped with all the barriers your team would face from beginning to end?  Though risk documents are incredibly valuable in planning for possible issues, I’ve never seen one that covered the real-life scenario of one executive who 100% hated another executive enough to deliberately delay a project to the tune of millions of dollars.

In the situation above, the attitude leadership demonstrated directly affected the team’s approach to problem solving. Active solutioning is a game, and a good place to start in the problem-solving process is at the end.  If the barrier was fixed, what does that look like? This approach lets you see the result in an ideal light and allows the entire team to share the vision.  Now back up and map the barrier contributors (more than one can apply):

Identifying Communication Barriers: Listening to each member of the team, starting with the players who have reported direct barrier impact first, then the ones that may not feel any impact.  The interviews typically help spot communication barrier patterns.  Sometimes strategic one-on-one conversations can expose contributing issues that don’t naturally surface when the entire team is together. Common themes that fall in this barrier category include:

  • Two or more leaders running an initiative who are not aligned on the outcome goal. This typically shows up with the team working on deliverables that one leader wants but are not on the other leader’s roadmap for success. The first project I inherited was $1.2 million over budget and a 12-month delay for this reason.
  • Team members who are entrenched in the way the company has always operated and provide direction to other team members on how the new solution functionality should work. New technologies and processes should support the business initiative for improvement, if what existed was working well, there wouldn’t be a need for investing significant time and money into new capabilities.
  • Significant amounts of emails being used to instruct and follow up on initiative tasks. From a practical standpoint, how much of your human capital is focused on creating, tracking and following up on emails vs. creating and managing processes and strategic deliverables?

Addressing Communication Barriers: The gold standard is to get the players playing like a team.  On the wall, map out the barriers together, exhibiting a high level of respect for each person’s opinion (no eye rolling).  Review the communication plans, kick-off decks, and check to see if everyone understands and aligns on the goals. Want to make sure the team knows the goals?  Create a charter cheat sheet that lists the project goals and leaves room for everyone to sign it, then distribute the signed document with a thank your note for attending the meeting.

Plan a luncheon, outing, diversity celebration or just bring bagels to the office and get the team mingling.  It is much harder to hold a grudge when you are face-to-face with someone and laughing.  For the remote workers, hold all day, open video/online meetings with the entire team for them to ask questions and just work together collaboratively.  There are quite a few technology solutions that can be leveraged to make the remote workers feel like they are physically sitting together. The only downside, we did have to listen to a Siamese cat that had decided its owner had done enough work for the day and needed to get up and feed her.  She whined for the entire meeting and eventually we heard an “ouch” from our senior developer.

These barriers often require a bit of creativity and even a culture shift. The massive amounts of emails need to be replaced by working relationships with team members feeling comfortable owning an issue and picking up a phone, walking over to a desk or just skyping each other to solve a problem.

Identifying Technology Barriers: Vendors typically like to point anywhere but themselves when technology isn’t working.  Add two or more vendors and a legacy team working on a solution and the pointing is almost audible.  The testing usually looks like one team member who will make a change and then waits for everyone else to test.  Lots of emails go out…wait…then look and see if the change doesn’t work, the entire cycle starts again.

Addressing Technology Barriers: This is an area where the “take no prisoners” methodology is incredibly effective.  Set a meeting around 4 p.m. (be cognizant of different time zones). Let everyone (includes anyone that could potentially impact the barrier) know as much about the issue as possible by documenting details and providing screen shots if available. The meeting invite is for four hours and invite the “everyone” from above, with the tag line that says, we don’t go home till this is solved together.  Inherited a VPN connectivity issue that had been going on for six months and fixed it in less than 2 hours. Half way through the meeting one of the vendors says, “okay we’ll test this tomorrow” and we answered, “now works really well.”

Identifying Decision Making Roadblocks: Decision issues become truly visible when any of the following happens:

  • Business requirements documents (BRDs) aren’t signed
  • Resources that have been defined as subject matter experts are not available to the team.
  • Every single decision requires at least three people to review and then several meetings which don’t end in a final decision (committee style)

Addressing Decision Making Roadblocks:  Addressing decision-making roadblocks can often be a roll up your sleeve’s moment. It’s the perfect time to create mockups and/or use an executive summary template.  What we find is new solutions are often hard to visualize for many people.  By mocking up what the “it” in the solution (report, input screen, dashboard, etc.) could look like, it gives the decision maker a foundation to start from.  The executive summary goes a step further, it briefly states the problem, the options and goes as far as to make a recommendation.

A great example where we deployed the mockup method was in helping to define additional data elements for a provider screen that went beyond the out of the box solution the client had purchased.  The client selected decision makers that were a cross section of managers, directors and Vice Presidents from various operations and IT functions. The 20 employees and vendor Subject Matter Experts spent two full heated days in meetings and could not come to an agreement.  Since this decision was critical to any further development, the implementation team mocked up what they thought would be a good starting point. One revision later, the entire decision had been made.

The more creative and collaborative you get, the faster you break down barriers.  Be open to suggestions from any area of the company, your vendors and clients. Use tools like Risk, Assumptions, Issues and Dependencies (RAID) documents, risk plans and communication plans to avoid common pitfalls, then roll up your sleeves and get to work.

Now, how we solved the problem of the two mortal combat leaders at the beginning of this story? That was fixed with an executive summary to a very, hands-on CEO.

IQVIA, navigating barriers and delivery on projects.

To learn more about the IQVIA’s Healthcare Technology Strategic Planning and Digital Healthcare practice, please reach out to Ted Marsh, vice president, strategic planning and digital healthcare practice.