06 Sep Meriter IT team builds project performance through internal relationships
MADISON, Wis. – Ownership and accountability is the way of life at Meriter Hospital, a not-for-profit, 448-bed community hospital in Madison that provides medical care to southern Wisconsin. Meriter includes a hospital, clinic, retirement living facility, laboratories and a home health care service. Formed from a merger of Madison General Hospital and Methodist Hospital in 1987, Meriter includes more than 430 active and associate physicians in over 30 medical specialties.
So, what about IS project performance—cost, schedule, deliverables? Where is Meriter on the continuous improvement journey?
CIO, Peter Strombom, IS Director, Mark Bundner and an IS staff numbering in the 70s eschew formal continuous improvement models for good old fashioned communications and a “tight—loose—tight” management style. Senior management sets the tone of the organization’s performance improvement effort by establishing tightly defined goals typically driven by overall strategic direction. Project managers are loosely directed and given creative license to generate their own ideas for performance improvement while being supported by management’s ability to remove roadblocks and set priorities. Once the goals are set the project managers develop plans to achieve the targets and senior management establishes a tight system to monitor progress. Senior management has the opportunity for periodic progress reviews. If an improvement initiative falters, it can be guided back on track to ensure that goals are met.
According to Strombom, communication is the grease that makes this engine work. He calls Meriter “a family that works.” Low staff turnover and many long-term associates contribute greatly to the atmosphere. An open-door policy means anyone will and does fix a problem or initiate an improvement without the need of a formal process—they just do it. Regular management meetings provide a forum where successful strategies are reinforced and failures can be analyzed and remedied. Mentoring of new associates by incumbents insures the standard methodology and process, based on the Project Management Institute’s Body of Knowledge (PMBOK), is uniformly applied to all projects. Repeatability is established by example. Standard templates are provided for consistency. Meriter hasn’t felt the need to embrace a PMO although the project managers/business analysts do operate in a matrixed environment, reporting to Mark and assigned as needed. IS provides project disciplines across the whole organization through training and education, considered a high priority. Post project lessons-learned is done on major projects.
Perhaps a good summary of Strombom’s improvement philosophy was demonstrated when he held up “The OZ Principle” (Connors, Smith & Hickman, published by Portfolio, 2004), which encourages accountability not only for individual results, but for the results of the team. When confronted with poor performance, most people form excuses why they shouldn’t be held responsible. This blame shifting undermines productivity and competitiveness. Instead, a willingness to accept responsibility will lead to individual (and organizational) accountability. The truly accountable person asks, regardless of circumstances, “What else can I do?” to achieve the desired result. The organization is managed to maximize team performance.
They have also utilized Deming’s TQM over the years and informally embrace the Deming/Shewhart Cycle, the four-step continuous improvement process: plan to improve the process, do the plan, study the results and act on what has been learned. At Meriter, TQM is applied informally at the individual rather that the organizational level.
Like other organizations, IS at Meriter remains under the gun to deliver new technology. They will do over 230 projects during the course of a year with a fair share coming “out of the blue” as the year progresses. Their application strategy is to use vendor software instead of custom in-house developments. Internal staff is used to build interfaces between the applications and develop reports to fit user needs. Vendor consultants are used to augment Meriter staff. Microsoft Project is the major project management software in use. Microsoft Excel is used to maintain and manage the project portfolio.
So how is Meriter’s project performance? Strombom claims it’s satisfactory. The end users are highly satisfied. While the effectiveness of specific performance improvement initiatives isn’t measured, cost, schedule and deliverable performance is good.
In a world of complicated improvement models, extended implementations and a plethora of methodologies, Meriter has found an answer that seems to work for them. Will it work for you? While only you can guess, a few things to keep in mind. Meriter’s staff size is more conducive to the “family model” than a larger organization would be. Long service associates have a tendency to establish working relationships based on experience, trust and confidence. There is less of a need for documented roles and responsibilities for example. This family model is much more difficult to establish and maintain. An organization where each member feels confident enough to speak freely is very rare; Pete and Mark should be congratulated for their success at creating one. The use of vendor software instead of in-house developments forces a reliance on the vendor’s processes and methods. Improving the SDLC becomes the vendor’s burden.
At Meriter relationships are key to performance—staff, vendors, end users, the entire organization—working together without selfishness. The relationships are educating, finding solutions and continuously improving.
Michael J. Weymier, PMP, is founder of PM Maturity and a columnist with the Wisconsin Technology Network. He works with organizations to maximize their project performance through organizational and process excellence. Mike can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 920-488-2061.
The opinions expressed herein or statements made in the above column are solely those of the author, & do not necessarily reflect the views of Wisconsin Technology Network, LLC. (WTN). WTN, LLC accepts no legal liability or responsibility for any claims made or opinions expressed herein.