Project Status: It’s Not Easy Staying Green

Is your project’s status report green….really??

Healthcare executives typically get color coded “cliff notes” on the status of their projects. These small cheat sheets, snippets of a status report, as I like to call them, summarize major blockers and anticipated or past accomplishments.

These cheat sheet snippets are presented at monthly status meetings, however, when red is detected, there are ad hoc meetings to quickly address the issues that led to red.

The project’s status looks great, green in every executive meeting and then, a major deliverable is due and suddenly the color changes to red.  You begin hearing statements like, “the business did not engage,” “the executive sponsor didn’t make decisions,” and a personal favorite of mine, “IT didn’t listen, and once again (deep, heavy sigh) did whatever it wanted.”

The perfect storm

Invariably a question gets asked: how did it get this far, and we did not know?  Let’s starts with the executive sponsor who delegates project oversight to the department head, who delegates to his manager (who is also working on day-to-day production issues). This manager has a group of employees and, the kicker is, consultants, too.  The manager figures that since the company is paying a premium for these consultants, they are the experts. However, unless the consultants worked for your company at some point recently, it’s unlikely that they will know the unique challenges your company faces or the entire scope of the issues the project is trying to solve.

How do you prevent these perfect storm conditions from occurring? Make waves.

Whether the project is agile, waterfall or some variation, the project team will have unforeseen challenges and opportunities.

Here are a few tips to finding out early if your status reports are accurate:

  1. Ask for a copy of the minutes from the last two meetings. You don’t need to read them end-to-end, just look to see how long it takes to get them to you (it should take no more than 24 hours, on average). Check to see if they include a list of action items with due dates and resources who are working on those items. If the minutes are missing any of these elements, you have identified the first penalty flag.
  2. Tell the team you want a demo of what’s been accomplished, so far. NOT a PowerPoint; an actual live demo. Invite a business representative to the demo. If the team cannot demonstrate what they’ve done or explain it so that the business representative can understand the accomplishment, you have another red flag.
  3. Ask for a milestone list from the project schedule and compare it to the last status report. If the accomplishments on the status report don’t match the milestones on the schedule or they stay the same week after week, then something has changed, and one document or the other is not up-to-date…another indication that things are off-track.

Now comes the fun part, since you’re the executive, you get to make the rules.  You decide that one flag means the project gets moved to yellow. Two or more flags and the project is moving to red.  Let your team know that they must do a live demo every week until the project is back to green. You can also recommend the team members who delegated to others, will now be invited to participate in the demo.  Ask them to take on the role of guest and subject matter expert and explain how to realign the project.

When to trust the color

When do you know you can trust that the project is green? I’d say you can trust that it’s green all the way through, you just need to make sure you are verifying it along the way.

IQVIA’s Healthcare Center of Excellence is not just providing consultants, we’re actively managing those resources. And, if a project slips to red, we act quickly, getting a solution architect involved, helping the project get unstuck and back to green status.

The solution architect plays an important role, including taking a few steps back to determine what caused the project to become stuck. The solution architect may also re-evaluate the entire project and determine where it went off-track and take into consideration any project inter dependencies. With any project, you want to look inward and outward to see what other initiatives the project touches, and actively escalate for those risks along the way.

A project may move to red, but with a horizontal view of the project, you have ensured it doesn’t negatively affect other initiatives.

A successful project is designed by the organization with the support of IT to achieve completion. It is not solely an IT project. The business needs to actively verify the project is evolving as expected.

Communication is key

If the color changes to red, the business needs to see what’s going on and promptly address the issues.  Communication and listening are important to getting a project back on track. This includes making sure the business is communicating with all parties, IT, and if any risks arise, that must be communicated to the project team.

We understand that delegating to directors, managers, and others takes place on every project, if there is visibility by the leadership, there should be no one surprised if the project turns red.  Have  a question… or just want to share your tips and tricks for keeping a project in the green?  We’d love to hear it.

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.