In a recent blog, we wrote about some of the key matters management and leadership should consider in advance of engaging a consultant. In this second of three related articles, we explore the factors that can influence the outcome of an active project and identify the cadence of a typical engagement to highlight opportunities for alignment and success.
Project Kick-off Call/Meeting
The initiation of any active consulting project begins with some level of discovery, even when the consultant has had prior engagements with a client. It’s important to convene appropriate stakeholders whose perspective should inform the framing of issues and the exploration of solutions at the outset. The kick-off allows participants to review the objectives of the engagement, clarify the scope of the project, align around roles and responsibilities and agree on milestones. Details to be addressed include: determining what data will be necessary to inform the discovery and development of findings, identifying interviewees whose perspective can inform on issues, and deciding how stakeholders will be engaged as project leaders, interviewees, committee participants or decision makers in the work ahead.
Governance of Work Streams
Depending on the depth and breadth of the project, multiple work streams may be appropriate to ensure both timely and meaningful results. Client leaders and their consulting partners should designate sponsors for each work stream, creating clarity regarding accountability as well as ensuring domain knowledge, subject matter expertise and prioritization of the work is secured. Work streams for different parts of a project may have sequential or overlapping timelines reflecting the dependencies inherent around data availability, decision making requirements or the need to spread out work tasks over time to accommodate organization and leadership bandwidth. To use the example from our prior blog, an engagement seeking to align provider compensation models with the shift to value-based care may require several work streams to accomplish the tasks necessary and to engage enough stakeholders to drive buy-in on both the process and the output produced.
The role of the sponsors should be consistently applied across different work stream efforts. This typically consists of assigning tasks and reviewing progress, analyzing data and relevant research, soliciting the input and expertise of affected parties and outside experts; and ultimately shepherding the team forward to develop findings and recommendations for decision makers.
Decision Making and Establishing Clear Due Dates
Inherent in any consulting engagement is the desire to get to the point of decision making, when information is understood, opportunities weighed against risks, options clarified, and a path forward culminates with plans and activities for execution. In the absence of a clear due date, many a project has been derailed by “analysis paralysis,” scope creep, or a lack of urgency to make decisions. Having a deadline such as an upcoming board meeting or the end of a fiscal year can be helpful in forcing parties to get to the heart of a matter, make a series of decisions and move on. How decisions will be made on matters great and small, in what forum and by whom must be agreed upon from the project’s outset. To prevent dragging out decision making, leaders should agree upon the timeline, criteria or answers that need to be addressed prior to decisions, then stick with those agreements. This not only ensures timeline and budget considerations are met, but also ensures that decision makers’ authority is credible and trusted.
Developing an Implementation Plan
As part of the recommendations evaluated in a decision-making process, or in a step immediately following key decision milestones, action plans for the implementation of recommendations and strategies must be formed. Similar to how work stream activities can be undertaken, a divide and conquer approach which delegates accountability, timing, resources and authority to specific individuals or teams ensures clarity regarding next steps and keeps the project team engaged as their plans come to fruition. Ownership for implementation is a crucial step in the transition from one phase of an engagement to the next, and just like the transfer of a patient from one care setting to another, requires a thoughtful handoff to prevent an adverse outcome. Once again, the attributes of the owner responsible for overseeing implementation should be rooted in knowledge, subject matter expertise, understanding of the recommendations and their operational implications. In circumstances where the implementation owner did not participate in the development of the recommended program, a formal hand-off meeting, including a briefing regarding the engagement is essential. Providing the implementation owner with access to the engagement team, project artifacts, the external consultants and expert advisors promotes a sense of confidence and shared understanding which may be critical to the ultimate success of the implementation effort.
The particulars of an active engagement have many moving parts, bringing a structured approach to framing the issues, managing work efforts, setting up credible decision-making processes and actively managing implementation efforts will help organizations get the most out of a healthcare consulting engagement. In our next blog post on this topic, we will address how organizations can ensure success after the engagement is concluded. Be sure to subscribe to our NextGen Advisor blog to receive updates.