In this column I want to talk about one person and one project at New Hanover Regional Medical Center. I know it is not one person who gets a $55 million project done, but one person needs to provide the leadership. I have never met Avery Cloud, but someday I hope I get that opportunity.
The headline for the article I read earlier this summer in the Star News said, “Technology Lead at NHRMC to leave, led transition to digital records.” It’s probably a story that went largely unnoticed by a lot of people. It wasn’t about a crime, or a scandal or how someone had screwed up and cost a company a lot of money. The story was about a guy that was leaving NHRMC for a better opportunity in Houston and then almost as an afterthought mentioned that Cloud had led the transition to digital records at NHRMC. You had to bother to read to understand that this was a huge project, $55 million. That project is bigger than a lot of medium-sized companies.
The other thing that was mentioned, and I don’t think a lot of people appreciated, was what if the project failed? The article did mention that other hospitals had similar projects that had cost $100 million or more and were not successful. I worked for a Fortune 100 company that tried to implement an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system. It was a total disaster, cost millions and led to absolutely nothing.
I thought it would be worth a few minutes to speculate on the skills that Avery Cloud used to lead a successful project. I have talked in past columns about technical and behavioral competencies. A lot of times people assume that what you need to be successful on a project like this is technical expertise. That has not been my experience. I don’t believe that was the case here. Cloud had to have a technical background and some knowledge of EPIC (the software system being implemented). He had technical people on his team who could drill down into the technical detail. He had to know what EPIC was supposed to be able to do and be able to talk to the technicians. He also had to describe in clear English to his senior management customers what was happening.
I am now going to talk about the behavioral competencies Cloud needed to demonstrate. He had to have enough business acumen to understand the context in which this software was being implemented and what his customers were trying to accomplish. He had to demonstrate strategic thinking and maintain a “big picture” understanding of the project and how if fit together with other projects at NHRMC. He had to convince everyone that this new system was going to be much better but would require everyone to do some new things. He had to get people to embrace this change.
This project took 12 months to implement. It had to have an overall plan with a number of milestones. Probably some people on the team had never worked together and needed to so there was some relationship building that needed to occur. There were times when deadlines needed to be reached and tensions were high. The leader of the project had to have in place a process for problem solving. At times people were going to have different solutions and there needed to be a way to resolve conflicts.
It is a delicate balance to drive people toward results while still being interpersonally sensitive and using the right amount of influence. A part of this is by always conducting yourself professionally. The glue that surrounds these behavioral competencies is communication. There are a lot of stakeholders with an interest in knowing some aspect of the project. Communication needs to be written, verbal, small group, large group and one-on-one. You can never communicate enough.
These are my conclusions about what it took to run a successful project, as Cloud did. It would be interesting to hear from him or people who worked on the project to learn how close or far away my assessment was of what really happened. My sense is that Cloud will be hard to replace, but I suspect that if the same folks who chose Cloud choose his successor, NHRMC should be in good shape.
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