“Operations keeps the lights on, strategy provides a light at the end of the tunnel, but project management is the train that moves the organization forward”—Joy Gumz (Anston, 2017, para. 6).
Project planning and management have a significant impact on the goals and workload of the nursing professional development (NPD) department. Think of the types and number of projects you are, or were, involved in managing or assisting with as an NPD practitioner. Nursing professional development practitioners are often engaged in projects, such as nurse residency programs, onboarding new employees, orientation and continuing education programming, research/evidence-based practice activities, leadership development, patient technology deployment, regulatory and accreditation preparation, quality improvement, healthy workplace environment campaigns, career development for staff, patient safety initiatives, and more. Nursing professional development practitioners may be members or facilitators on project teams, but many lead project teams as the project manager. Project teams in healthcare are often interprofessional and interdisciplinary in composition and charged with macrosystem organization-wide initiatives. Consequently, NPD practitioners need skills in managing projects, sustaining projects, and facilitating interprofessional and interdisciplinary project teams (American Nurses Credentialing Center, 2015).
According to the Project Management Institute (PMI, 2017a), a project is defined as a “temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product, service, or result” (p. 4) and project management encompasses the “application of knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques to project activities to meet the project requirements” (p. 10). As transformation in healthcare is necessary and inevitable, projects are common in healthcare organizations for innovation, problem-solving, and change. Projects are needed to address changes in the healthcare landscape, improve safe quality care, create value-based outcomes, and achieve business strategies with a focus on sustaining project goals and benefits over time. Both internal and external factors can trigger the need for a project. For example, internal factors that trigger projects include legal, quality, safety, or fiscal issues; strategic goals of the organization; human resource concerns; changes in service lines; and internal stakeholder needs. External factors that drive innovation and change may include available resources and funding (e.g., grants), competition and need to increase market share, health policy, regulatory and accreditation requirements, health problems, and external stakeholder needs (Casao & Smith, 2016).
The competencies needed by the NPD practitioner for project planning and management are found in many of the NPD standards of practice and professional performance as outlined in the NPD: Scope and Standards of Practice (Harper & Maloney, 2016). It is expected, as described in Standard 12, Leadership, that the NPD generalist “implements program and project plans” (p. 50) and the NPD specialist “designs project plans using project management tools and oversees implementation” (p. 51). Additionally, the change agent and leader roles, listed in the NPD Practice model, are key roles that pertain to project management (Harper & Maloney, 2016). Project planning and management require that NPD practitioners develop competencies needed to effectively operationalize phases of the project life cycle (see Figure 1) and use project tools (see Table 1) to ultimately sustain projects. The project life cycle phases in Figure 1 are similar to the project management processes described by the PMI (2017a): initiating, planning, executing, monitoring and controlling, and closing. Of note, some project tools may be used across project life cycle phases and many tools are familiar in healthcare quality improvement initiatives.
Time allotted upfront to establish the need and thoroughly plan a project to secure stakeholder and administrative support, resource acquisition, project implementation, and project sustainability is critical given the organization's investment in a project. Unfortunately, the annual 2017 Global Project Management Survey, conducted by PMI (2017b), found 27% of organizations reported “low project management maturity,” indicative of not achieving project goals (p. 1). Project planning must include a sustainability plan to ensure the change brought about by the project is integrated and hardwired into the work structure and culture of the organization. To bolster project success, consider the following actions:
- Conduct a thorough needs assessment to justify a project.
- Establish a project charter that clarifies the goals and scope of the project, reporting process, responsibilities, timeframe, resources, and measures of success.
- Identify the executive sponsor, stakeholders, and champions to market the project and garner support for the project and project team.
- Create a business case for administrative decision-makers to identify the what, why, when, where, how, budget, and subsequent value, or return on investment, of a project.
- Show alignment of the project with the organization's mission, vision, strategic plan, and goals.
- Procure and monitor resources throughout the project to include, as needed, human, fiscal, time, equipment, materials, and space.
- Manage and effectively engage project team members through phases of the project life cycle and use of project tools.
- Design an evaluation strategy to include both process and outcome evaluations.
- Develop a communication plan and consistently share project status updates with stakeholders.
- Create a detailed work plan to organize tasks, responsibilities, and associated timelines.
- Anticipate and manage project risks, such as loss of resources or overruns (e.g., time and budget) and scope creep.
- Establish a sustainability plan to integrate the project changes into organizational operations.
- Meet the project goals, scope, timeline, budget, measures of success, and business expectations (Casao & Smith, 2016; Glaser, 2004; Thomas & Bleich, 2016).
Given that the NPD department is actively involved in numerous projects across the organization, the NPD practitioner must learn to effectively plan, execute, evaluate, and manage diverse projects and project teams. Successful project planning and management resulting in value-added projects and outcomes for organizations require the NPD practitioner to acquire multiple competencies across the NPD standards of practice and professional performance and take on roles as change agent and leader.
The next issue's Leadership column will discuss Preparing Nurse Leaders in NPD: Technology Support and Management.
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