A few years ago we signed up for what promised to be an exciting adventure: Extreme Fitness Vacation in the Grand Canyon: Hike from the Rim to the River and Back in One Day! Sounds fun, right? If you think so, or if you’re just curious what this has to do with project management, read on!
This excursion was led by a gym owner, manager, personal trainer, and beefcake in his own right. The trip was seemingly well planned; our routes were outlined and our host promised to take care of all the incidentals – including a relaxing lunch at the bottom of the canyon before beginning the arduous hike back up. What could possibly go wrong? Unfortunately, lots.
To start, it turns out this particular hike (or at least the upwards part of the journey) is actually noted to be one of the 10 most dangerous hikes in North America – not for the faint of heart, and certainly not for the faint-of-fitness. This little tidbit was not known to our excursion leader, who himself was somewhat of a hiking newb, and thus there were no clear fitness or hiking experience guidelines or requirements laid out for those who were interested in signing up. All that was required, as it turned out, was the ability to pay the less-than-modest fee. This resulted in a rag-tag group of pleasant, yet ill-equipped and ill-informed individuals joining the excursion.
The temperature in the Canyon at that time of year (June) often exceeds 110F (or 43C for my Canadian friends), which means a few things: first, you’ll need lots of water and electrolytes (critical to muscle function) because you’re going to sweat. A lot. Second, you won’t feel hungry during the hike, but trust me, your body will be. This means you need to bring lots of light snacks to eat along the way – even when the last thing you feel like doing is eating – to ensure your energy levels are maintained to support your level of physical exertion.
To make a long story short, because of his lack of experience and knowledge of the physical and environmental demands of a Grand Canyon hike, our host made a few critical errors:
- He did not bring adequate or appropriate snacks for the number of people in his group (seriously ‘Arnold’s extreme protein muscle fuel bars’ are really the last thing you want to be trying to digest under these conditions)
- He assumed there was water along the trail – which would have been great because it meant we wouldn’t have to carry it ourselves! However, water was only available halfway up the return trail, so for 75% of the hike there were no viable re-fill options for empty bottles and thus many among us ran out of water…quickly.
- He failed to provide or educate participants on the importance of electrolytes, which are lost with sweat and must be replenished to ensure your leg muscles function well and long enough to haul your butt out of the canyon (as many-a-sign said, down is optional – up is mandatory)
- Lunch was promised at the bottom of the canyon, but he didn’t pack anything as he expected he could purchase sandwiches at a river side cafe. The problem? There was no such cafe, and nowhere to purchase sandwiches (unless you want to travel another mile or so off-route to the famed Phantom Ranch, and you’ve booked ahead…)
The result? Heat exhaustion, severe muscle cramping, and even delirium were experienced by some. I’m happy to report we all made it back out without serious injuries – no thanks to our leader, who himself could barely walk due to leg cramps near the end.
So what does hiking the Grand Canyon and Healthcare IT project management have in common? Simple. In this example our fearless (to a fault) leader acted as the project manager. He defined the scope of the excursion, the paths we would take, and the schedule we would adhere to. He was an expert in health and fitness, so the participants trusted his judgement and his plan – and thus followed him on what turned out to be a dangerous and misguided adventure. What he wasn’t, however, was an expert on the specific challenges presented by a Grand Canyon hike and therefore was ill-equipped to identify and navigate the unique terrain and conditions the group encountered.
Proving that even the best laid plans go awry, this (albeit extreme) story provides the perfect parallel for healthcare IT project management. Certified project management professionals (PMPs) are intimately aware of all associated best practices and methodologies required to steer general project initiative and are an important part of any project team. However, unless they also have the subject matter expertise that comes from hands-on experience in clinical and technical healthcare settings they are not equipped with the knowledge or tools needed to craft the most efficient and effective plan or steer the project flawlessly to success.
In addition to knowing how to run a project a PMP who is also a true subject matter expert brings immeasurable added value by additionally understanding the needs of clinical stakeholders, how data flows and systems interact, and knowing what pitfalls may lie ahead – thus allowing them to take proactive steps to help ensure their healthcare IT projects run smoothly, and are delivered on time and within budget.
For more information on our health IT project management methodology download the Six Steps For Effective Health IT Project Management Infographic.
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