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Multi-Team EHR Projects: Three Keys to Cross-Team Communication and Leadership

Author: Stephanie Murray, Architect, Epic Services

EHR projects often touch every facet of a healthcare organization and therefore involve multiple teams, resources, software providers, and support desks. Working with Epic EHR systems and analytics is no exception. While most teams adhere to the foundational pillars of project coordination (expectation-setting, accountability, and communication), the dynamics and communication styles become more complex and nuanced as the number of teams increase. Here we’ll discuss the keys to navigating multi-team communication and processes for more successful healthcare technology projects.

Understand how, and from whom, to request resources.

Have you ever felt frustrated when someone didn’t follow your team process and (for example) called directly to prioritize their work ahead of others’? In the context of obtaining resources from other teams, you could also be doing this unintentionally if you don’t understand another team’s process for resource allocation requests. Similarly, not understanding what level of leadership needs to be involved with a team’s resource allocation can cause issues in the middle of a project if the resources weren’t appropriately assigned.

To avoid unnecessary frustration or delays, investigate the appropriate method of resource allocation for each team:

  • Is it as simple as entering a request in a ticketing system?
    • If so, ensure that the correct type of ticket is put in. Some organizations have different types of tickets (i.e. a break/fix vs a request for change vs optimization) – putting in the right sort of ticket will expedite resource assignments.
  • Does the team have an approval process the request must go through?
    • Some teams require formal submission of resource requests, as well as a meeting to discuss which resources are needed depending on the scope of work. If this is the case, be sure to bring the correct personnel to that meeting to give an accurate and thorough description of the project so that the right resources can be allocated the first time.
  • Does a certain level of manager or supervisor need to be included in the resource allocation for approval or awareness?
    • Some teams (Operations, for example) will not have a ticketing process to kick off the resource allocation process and/or get the project on the radar. In this scenario, ensure the right level of leadership is involved in allocating the appropriate resource (i.e. leadership with the authority to do so).

Regardless of the team’s process, it is important to ensure the right level of leadership is involved from each team for awareness, buy-in, and the opportunity to give direction or input.

Additionally, ask questions about each team’s turn-around time and lead-time expectations. Some team skillsets are in high demand and therefore have limited resources to address their queue of projects. These teams may have a lead-time requirement, or a turn-around time expectation before they will be able to address a request.

When planning out a project, especially for those with multiple teams involved, aligning resources and timelines on each of the required teams can be a daunting task, but following each team’s processes to get resources assigned will allow for a more firm commitment to your project, and increase its probability of success.

Understand the purpose, team responsibilities, and most importantly, the common goal.

Whether you utilize a RACI chart or another method, it’s essential to understand from each team representative what role each resource will play. If there is more than one resource assigned from a certain team, be sure to understand how they will be dividing the responsibilities (or if there is a primary/secondary arrangement) so that you know who to hold accountable for which piece of the work.

The project team as a whole should be working toward a common goal that everyone has at the forefront. Articulating each team’s role and responsibilities for the larger group is important to creating a cross-team understanding of the common goal, helps paint the picture of how the project will unfold, which teams may have to work directly together, what the timeline will look like, and who will be on point with each step.

Whether a project is short or long, a project team is formed until that common goal is met. And most likely, team members will work with one another again on future projects. When team members have that common goal and the accompanied project team rapport, it facilitates cross-team collaboration, and potential innovation, that will only benefit your organization.

Foster professional rapport between teams.

The importance of building rapport between project team members cannot be stressed enough. When there is rapport between team members, they are more likely to voice questions or concerns, as well as collaborate on ideas.

While you may shudder at the idea of fostering team rapport through ice breakers or get-to-know-you sessions, there are also logistical ways that will help you foster these team dynamics:

  • Stress the importance of transparency
    • Let team members know their feedback, concerns, and ideas will all be met with an open mind, including those from other teams.
  • Clearly outline paths of escalation
    • While each team may be used to their own method of escalating if something isn’t going to plan, emphasize and reiterate the project’s path of escalation. Without this, a team member may bring a concern just to his/her manager instead of bringing awareness to the project team, which prohibits the project team’s ability to mitigate or adapt to the situation.
  • Meet with the project team consistently, gaging frequency as the project evolves
    • Adding yet another meeting may seem unnecessary, however, without consistent points of communication, it is easy to lose sight of project deliverables and tasks amongst other projects and duties. The frequency of meetings will vary on project priority, timeline, urgency, etc., however they should be consistent and not scheduled ad hoc.
  • Take and send out notes
    • This may seem obvious, but I am often surprised by the inconsistency of what people take away from meetings. Taking notes, sending them out, and keeping them in an accessible place (not just email) for teams to reference, takes the guess-work out of expectations. In today’s world of multi-tasking, team members need to have a way to access action items without having to rely upon their memory.
  • Discuss preferred communication methods
    • Different teams have different expectations on communication, typically based on their own team’s communication methods. Discuss preferred communication methods early in a project so that each team understands how they will be informed throughout the project. This includes where items will be stored, how notes will be sent out, whether a team space will be created, etc.

EHR integrations, cross-platform analytics, and Epic workflow projects are dominant on our current schedules. The impact of these initiatives on the delivery of healthcare is paramount. We owe it to our fellow team members, organizations, and patients to set up clear multi-team communication processes that result in a timely and successful project.

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