4 Unique challenges of running a PMO in the Healthcare environment

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Each PMO is the same, right?  All you have to do is to simply copy what has been established at another company and you should be fine, correct? Of course not!  There are so many different reasons and charters that the industry can’t even agree on what the P in PMO stands for. Is it project, program or even portfolio? As if all that is not a challenge enough by itself, the nuances of an industry add additional complexities to the situation. Let’s explore the various dynamics of the highly fragmented Healthcare industry that need to be front and center for the PMO to be successful.

Constant Changes – can you think of another industry that is undergoing more changes at the moment? Is there actually a week that goes by where no new laws are going into effect? Even as the average consumer, you can’t turn on the news or check out social media without getting bombarded with terms such as Obamacare, Affordable Care Act (ACA), Repeal and Replace, Cadillac Tax, Affordable Healthcare and more. Are you getting the picture?

Healthcare PMO


Leading Provider of Contingent Healthcare Project, Program and Portfolio Management Staff. 

Now put yourself in the shoes of a payer, provider or employer and look at their project portfolio. Do you think it is stable and set for the next 6-12 months? If you answered yes, please re-read the above paragraph on Constant Change! Unless you want to be fined, there are ongoing regulatory changes that need to be incorporated into your portfolio – in many cases in near real-time. Ensuring the right portfolio mix (Regulatory – Transform – Grow – Maintain[JD2] ) exists to remain competitive while “keeping the lights on”, reprioritization and flexibility to re-plan and forecast are main priorities for any PMO in Healthcare.

Lack of Standards – In a world where room for mistakes is zero, things are not standardized. We are not talking about Project Management standards here, folks! Crazy as it sounds, although it is a highly regulated industry, how data and other information is shared and flows across the healthcare ecosystem is not standardized. The various stakeholders such as hospitals, physicians, pharmacies, insurance carriers, etc. along with various technology providers have not been able to figure out how to effectively share data. Try it out for yourself by heading to your nearest Urgent Care where they won’t even know what you are allergic to, or even what your blood type is – all information that is readily available from your primary physician.

So what does this have to do with PMO’s? You will not find any Healthcare PMO (if you do, will you please get in touch with me?), which does NOT have to deal with data. And since there are no or very limited standards, this essentially means that these projects are “custom” – which translates to less predictable, more complicated and sophisticated projects. If you are looking for cookie cutter projects you can execute with your eyes closed, Healthcare may not be the right industry for you!

The Super Bowl is called “Open Enrollment” – As I write this, we’re in Open Enrollment for 2018. It is THE major, annual event in this industry that much of everything revolves around. Employers – regardless of industry – have likely been “wheeling and dealing” for months to shop around for “better” insurance plans and are now scrambling to ensure their employees are (re)enrolling into the various mandatory and voluntary benefits they offer. Payers have worked feverishly to ensure all their 2018 “products” and rates (do they ever actually go down?) have been successfully loaded into the various systems. Benefit call centers are firing on all cylinders to help customers answer enrollment questions and helping them through the enrollment process. Pretty soon many employees will receive their new insurance cards – hopefully in time for their first doctor visit of 2018.

This highly cyclical industry has major impacts on the timing of initiatives healthcare PMO’s are chartered with overseeing or managing. Q1 is typically slow (still “recovering” from the previous years’ Open Enrollment), Q2 and Q3 are extremely busy, while Q4 is all about “running the business”. Resource planning & staffing models have to be ready months in advance and adjusted when necessary – in the case of call centers, hundreds of temporary staff have to be trained. It is not unlike the holiday season for retailers where this is probably not the right time to ask for some time off J

Mistakes could be deadly – and I’m not referring to just your career! Not to minimize the impacts of mistakes or missed deadlines in other industries - retailers may run out of product, financial transactions may be off by a percent of a penny, subways may come to a standstill (everything is powered by software these days, isn’t it?) – but mistakes in healthcare projects could be literally deadly for the consumer.  What if the wrong medication is dispensed, inaccurate medical history is being acted on or you are seriously ill but are unable to sign up for health insurance in time. Personally, I’ll even take the inconvenience of not having my new insurance card ahead of my first doctor visit in 2018 compared to the previous, potentially disastrous events.

Clearly, these dynamics impact your PMO. Imagine the necessary regulations, compliance needs and extra planning, mitigations plans and due diligence necessary on your projects. While healthcare is an incredibly dynamic and fast-changing industry, proven discipline is critical to ensure any and all potential impacts are eliminated or mitigated. Innovation is necessary but risks are high. While systems and process are key, don’t ever underestimate the “people fit” in healthcare PMO’s.

While there are many similarities of PMO’s across industries, the dynamics of each industry simply HAVE to be taken into account, and this starts with your overall PMO leader. You may have run a very successful PMO in the supply chain for a global manufacturing company, but that doesn’t mean you are (quite) ready to simply transfer these skills to Healthcare. Educate and immerse yourself in the dynamics described above – experience Open Enrollment first hand a couple of times– and you are well on your way to, once again, lead a successful PMO!

About the AuthorTobias Kederer, PMP is a Professional Services & PMO Leader who accelerates measurable business value and customer satisfaction. Decisive leadership and proven delivery expertise for a) software/solutions companies and b) Business & IT divisions in the enterprise software space by utilizing broad industry background, deep experience in consulting & internal operations while employing a high-energy, personable and practical approach.