Planning: The Importance of Project Management

Start with finding the project champion. Every project needs a champion who can bring together the resources to make it happen. Your champion must be someone who is passionate about the project, believes it will make a positive impact on the organization, and is willing to put in the time and effort to make the project succeed. It could be an executive director, an administrator, a clinician, or anyone who understands the client data requirements. Begin by identifying the project champion. Try to find someone who is a leader within the organization. As with most iniatives, the chance for success is better if the project receives support from the people at the top. Make sure your project champion is always kept in the communication loop. Involve them in all of the major decisions regarding the project. Let them know when key milestones have been achieved and invite them to celebrate with the rest of the team.

Designate a Project Manager

In addition to a champion, your project needs a project manager. This is the person who will be responsible for setting the objectives for the project, keeping the team on track, and making sure the goals are achieved. A project manager is accountable for continually balancing the golden triangle of time, money, and system features. All three of these must be reconsidered and prioritized several times throughout the process. The project manager must be given enough time in their workday to devote to managing the project. Some of their duties may need to be temporarily reassigned until the project is completed.

Identify the Subject Matter Experts

Within the organization are many people who have expert knowledge of your current client data management system. Some may have actually designed and built the system. Others may not have developed the system, but use it on a daily basis. And still others may never use the system directly, but receive important reports, spreadsheets, and other bits of information that are produced by the system. Subject matter experts from all of these groups need to be represented within the project team. The SMEs (pronounced smee) can tell the system developers what the system needs to do, and how they intend to use it. They also participate throughout the process in testing the system design to make sure it is fast, accurate and user friendly.

Arrange for Technical Support

You might need to bring in outside help to design, develop and/or purchase a new client data system. Or you might have people within your own organization who can create it. Either way, once the system is completed, someone with technical knowledge will be needed to keep it up and running. Identify this person early in the process and consult with them often while designing and building the new system. Ask for their input on hardware, network and security issues. If you don't have someone on staff with this kind of technical expertise, be sure to find someone who will volunteer or who can be trained to be the adminstrator of the new system. This may involve create user logins and passwords, writing reports and querires, making modifications, doing backups, and handling updates.

Develop a Communication Plan

Once you have your team in place, you will need a plan for how you will communicate with each other about the project. There are many options for this, depending on your access to technology and the internet. You can use phone, email, or collaborative websites. Decide as a group who needs to be informed of issues and included in decisions. You will also need a shared calendar for arranging meetings and setting target dates for project milestones.

Once you have your team assembled and your communication plan in order, you are ready to take the next big step: Creating the Vision Scope Document.

Creating the Vision Scope Document
What Does Your System Need To Do?

Define the Problem

The key to improving your Client Data Management System is understanding the problems with the current system. What do you need to change and why? The more you understand about the problems you have now, the more likely you are to develop a successful solution for the future. Begin by asking the people who use the client data in your organization to assist in writing a Complete Problem Description. Have them write down their answers to the following questions. Try to get a wide range of input. Email or group meetings can make the task easier. Be prepared for a variety of answers.

  • What are the problems with the curent system?
  • Who is affected by these problems?
  • Why are the problems important?

Continue the process by prioritizing the list of problems. Decide which problems must be addressed soon, which problems can wait till later, and which problems can be safely ignored. It may help to organize the list into categories and sub-categories in order to search for duplicates and overlapping areas.

  • What are our priorities for solving the problems?
  • What are the benefits of solving the problems?
  • What are the consequences of not solving the problems?

Analyze the responses and combine the list into one unified document. This is your Complete Problem Description. It will be used to create a vision for improving your Client Data Management System. If the document is complex, you may need to address the problems in phases, over time. It's often better to start with a small Phase One project which is more likely to succeed, than to try and address all of the problems at once in a single project.

Create the Vision Scope Document

Graphic of binocularsOnce you know what problems you are trying to solve, you can develop a vision for the kind of solution you would like to create. The problems you choose to address will become the paramenters for the scope of the project. Problems you choose not to address are outside of the scope. Discuss these two areas and use your answers to write a Vision Scope Document that defines the project.

  • What are the main problems that we want to solve with the project?
  • What problems are outside the scope of the project?
  • How does the project meet the strategic goals of the organization?

Devise a Strategy

Now that you have a clear vision for your project, it's time to think about a strategy for solving the problems. Once again, there are many issues to consider, and many stakeholders interests to be addressed. You will need to answer the following questions:

  • How many phases will the project have?
  • What is our timeframe for the project?
  • Who can help us create a solution to the problems?
  • How will we fund the project?


The documents you have just written can be used to seek approval and funding for the project. By demonstrating that you have carefully analyzed the problems with your current client data management system, you will be well prepared to meet the challenge of making your vision a reality.

Prepare for Change

The use of technology has greatly impacted the way torture treatment centers collect, store and retrieve client data. Many organizations are making a complete move from paper charts to Electronic Medical Record (EMR). Others are making smaller changes with custom databases for client demographics or treatment plans. As most of us know from experience, change is often difficult. Even a change for the better can be hard. As one clinician put it, "Moving to an EMR system was like getting elective surgery, a painful process, but in the end it was worth it."

One way to minimize the pain involved with changing your client data management system is through careful planning. It's easy to become overwhelmed with planning phase. Go slow, think things over very carefully, include the stakeholders at every phase of the project, and make sure that you are solving the right problems. Just remember that many organizations have done this successfully, and you can too!

Workflow
What are the Steps Involved in Managing Your Client Data?

Graphic of two people working together, one holding a phone and the other looking at a computerA careful analysis of your workflow from the inital phone call to the last payment for client services is very important to the success of your project. The process of developing a workflow is simple, but requires a highly detailed walk-through of all of the steps involved in delivering and managing client services.

  • Eligibility Determination: Review case history to determine if potential client is eligible for services.
  • Patient Flow: Review processes of patient visit to chart more efficiently.
  • Procedures/Labs: Processes involved in ordering, processing and completing tasks.
  • Telephone Triage: Capturing and reporting calls.
  • Referral Process: Managing the initial contact, tracking and reporting of referrals.
  • Forms & Letters: Composing, sending and storing letters.
  • Prescription Refills: Steps involved in refilling prescriptions.
  • Billing Process: Examine the current processes involved in documenting, processing and completing the billing cycle.

Legal Requirements

Minnesota and Massachusetts have passed legislation requiring the use of EHR systems. Keep an eye on your state laws to see if a similar initiative is happening in your area. 

  • Minnesota Statutes 62J.495 - Health Information Technology and Infrastructure, By January 1, 2015, all hospitals and health care providers must have in place a qualified, interoperable electronic health records system within their hospital system or clinical practice setting. The electronic health record must be certified by the Office of the National Coordinator (ONC).

Resources for Project Planning

Below is a list of tools, articles and websites for more information on planning your project and writing the Vision Scope Document. Many of the resources have been designed for electronic medical records projects in ambulatory and behavioral healthcare. Nevertheless, they have much to offer to the world of client data management for Torture Treatment Programs.

Check out the next section of the toolkit: Products for Managing Client Data

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