Healthcare Project Management
If you are selling a healthcare IT solution, then project management is essential to landing and keeping new clients. In today’s podcast, I speak with Crystal Richards of Mosaic Resource Group, who is an expert in project management in the health sector. We dive into key issues that all vendors will encounter – like building relationships and providing great customer service.
In our chat, you’ll learn:
- Why relationship-building is critical to effective project management
- How the health sector holds itself back from learning best practices
- How sub-specialization in healthcare impacts both project management and lead generation
This is an episode of the Leading with Health podcast, formerly titled “Healthcare Lead Generation.” In this podcast, healthcare IT disruptors, innovative healthcare providers and health sector company leaders join host Jennifer Michelle to discuss growth strategies and navigating change.
Jennifer Michelle, MPH, EMT is a marketing consultant specializing in the healthcare sector. President of Michelle Marketing Strategies, she has a Master’s in International Health & Epidemiology and currently volunteers as an EMT. Her unique background allows her to bring unexpected insight and depth to every interview.
Jennifer – Hi, everyone! I’m Jennifer Michelle of Michelle Marketing Strategies. Today on Healthcare Lead Generation, we are talking with Crystal Richards of Mosaic Resource Group. Crystal provides project management training, professional development and advisory services to project management teams. In a nutshell, she trains people to be better project managers.
So Crystal, welcome! I’m so glad to get to talk with you! I know I’ve gotten to talk with you a few times before and I’m glad to share the experience with others. What I wanted to start with was really a little bit about your background because I know you have like 15 years in healthcare management. Why don’t you share a little bit about about that aspect of your career and how that led to what you’re doing now?
Crystal – Sure and, again, thanks for having me on your podcast. This is exciting as always. My background … well, I started out in hospital administration. I saw that I really enjoyed the internal consulting work that I did as a fellow when I first started out in my career. And after working in operations doing internal consulting, I wanted to go out into an actual consulting firm. And I did so with a small boutique healthcare consulting firm. Did a lot of travel – what you call the road warrior – and I realized I did not like that extensive traveling.
And so I found something a little more local doing federal contracting or consulting work here in the Washington, DC area, which is where I’m based. And I enjoyed that a lot, tremendously, but still there was this little bug in me that I wanted to create my own career path. I decided to go on my own in 2015 to provide project management training and advisory services to healthcare organizations. I saw that they were lacking in the [ability to put] all the pieces together. Seeing the bigger picture of project management is something that I wanted to kind of do on my own and work with healthcare organizations both hospitals, biotech firms, life sciences firms. Help them improve their processes there.
Jennifer – Well, I find that fascinating, especially as I’ve got a background in healthcare and one of my turning points was when I worked for a healthcare IT company and project management was something that came up a lot. It was often a bit of a sticking point. In the tech world, you start out with this big push towards developing the software, the technology and then this big push towards selling it, and there’s a lot in between that often gets patched in there. I wanted to talk with you about what you think vendors and that part of the healthcare world need to understand about the space and how project management fits in.
Crystal – Healthcare is very complex and where I see the value of solid project management skill sets is that you break down the complexity into manageable pieces. You push forward the team, lead the team, work with your stakeholders to get those small wins. A lot of times, with initiatives I’ve seen in healthcare, it’s like all hands on deck. Everyone’s shooting from the hip and and we make it work. But there’s casualties at the edge of that, right? You have bitter relationships. People are bitter about how someone reacts, interacts with them. You know, they went over somebody’s head as opposed to having coordinated conversations and that’s really a lot with project management. It is helping you take that big picture initiative and get into smaller, achievable parts so that we can see those wins and see us to success. And because of the fact that healthcare, just in and of itself, is so complex, I think that’s where project management is really right for helping organizations get to where they aren’t yet.
Crystal – My background gives a more deep dive. It is what’s called revenue cycles, so we’re focused on the billings and collection and registration. And I get tickled pink because, after 10, 12 years of being in the field and kind of stepping away, I’m back in again. And we’re still talking about the same issues of correctly coding, correctly capturing patient information. And I can tell you from my experience that we probably are still all hands on deck. But we’re not really breaking it down into smaller pieces and I think that’s where the project management skill set and mindset really can be of value.
Jennifer – Absolutely, in fact, I know that you’ve often talked about it as a relationship business and I always find that interesting because my focus, obviously, in healthcare at this point is lead generation. And it amazes me how many confusions there can be about that. But, to me, at the heart of it, lead generation is about relationships. And so, when I hear you talking about how project management is the same, to me … if you’re trying to connect with the client, if you’re trying to grow your company, if you’re just trying to organize the growth of your technology better, building the relationship between everybody involved is paramount. And I just wanted to know a little bit about where do you see healthcare needing more help with that relationship building? When it comes to project management, have you seen that there are some big leaps forward in that in the last few years? Or is that still something people are maybe needing to work on?
Crystal – So, it’s kind of twofold. I find healthcare is very much a relationship business. When I mentioned earlier that I stepped away a little bit from the revenue cycle and I inserted myself back, I could tell [from] the conferences I went to [that] people have known each other for years. And so I was trying to insert myself here and like, “Hey, I have all these credentials.” And they’re like, “Whatever; we don’t know you.” So, I don’t think the relationship aspect per se is a challenge within the healthcare terrain. When you go to these conferences, even the local ones, people are very much dedicated to the mission of the organizations. To providing quality health care to patients in the community. And they’ve all kind of grown up together, if you will, in the same community and know each other.
Crystal – What I find for vendors who want to implement a new IT or a new business process and they have a project management background, that relationship is a big part of winning your stakeholders over. And, even though they brought you on for specific need of this new IT technology or this new initiative, you still need to get to know folks. And you still need to get to know them on a personal level, so they can understand why you’re in here in their face. Why you’re messing up the things that they’ve always done. Because I’m sure it’s just like in any organization. But I definitely find that, in healthcare, it’s “we’ve always done things this way.” When you bring in a new technology or new anything, you’re really messing with people’s minds. And if you’re not getting ready, if you’re not willing to get to know them and build that relationship so that you can understand where they’re coming from, it’s going to be very hard for you to convince them why this is a good idea. Even though the CEO may have said “this is a mandate, we’re going to do it,” you’re still going to come across resistance. And that resistance trickles down and impacts the success of the project, the timeline, takes the budget that you’ve set aside. Because there’s been so much resistance around the initiative in the first place.
Jennifer – I can totally relate to that. In fact, I think the lead gen perspective is also similar because people say, “Oh, yes” for bringing in this technology or bringing in this vendor, but sometimes at the level of actual implementation … it might be a great idea for the whole company but maybe no one’s explained to the person who’s actually going to be involved with it how that’s going to impact their day-to-day job. And that can make people very nervous and very hesitant and not as welcoming as you might want. And so getting to know what’s going on there, I think helps all around. So tell me this … you’ve been on the inside of healthcare organizations but you’ve also worked with vendors and you know from the outside coming in as a consultant, what do you think are some of the biggest confusions have people have when they’re trying to approach the healthcare sector? Because you’ve seen it from so many different angles.
Crystal – I think it may be just not having a clear understanding or appreciation of the complexity. That’s also kind of twofold as well because, dealing with different types of healthcare organizations – I’ve worked with community health centers, I’ve worked with academic medical centers, I’ve worked with trauma centers – and they all want you to have a specific niche in each one of those strengths. Like if you’ve never worked with the community health centers, we don’t want to talk to you. Right, but then you actually do get in and you find out their issues are no different. It’s just there are definitely nuances about how they may operate. But it is still very much a part of those different types of organizations and who they are and and if you at least humble yourself and appreciate [them]. So that’s something I had to do, even though at the end of the day I still chuckle and say you’re really not that different. I, at least, take the time to appreciate and research about what makes them unique in healthcare and in hospitals, in particular. It’s not widgets. The type of concern at 35 years old versus a 65-year-old with the same type of health condition, it’s different. Likewise, with your physicians, your clinical staff, it’s a different set of nuances and intricacies. If you humble yourself, which is something I’ve had to do and go in with the mindset that I know enough to be dangerous but I don’t know it all, I’m going to do the due diligence to make sure I understand what their particular pain points are. I think they’ll appreciate that so, even though you may be green in their hospital or in their terrain, if you show in your conversation that you’ve done your research and pinpointed the things that you have learned about them, it goes a long way. That they’ve realized, “Wow, you’ve really taken the time to get to know what my pain points are.” That goes to the saying “people will do business with you for who they know, like and trust.” If you have created the environment that you are someone who’s trustworthy and who’s willing to do a little bit extra to get to know what their concerns are, that will be a tremendous value to the potential vendor who wants to do work with that healthcare organization.
Jennifer – Do you find that that’s one of your talents, in particular? Being able to build that trust with all the different stakeholders that you work with in a given group?
Crystal – I do. I really take it upon myself not to take anything for granted. That, even though I may have worked with this type of client before, I want to get to know who they are individually and specifically. Doing that research and asking them questions that probably most vendors don’t take the time doing, from what I’ve
seen. They kind of step back and say, “Oh, you really did your homework and I appreciate that.” So I think that has definitely set me apart a lot of times when I follow up with clients and say, ‘Hey, I saw this and I thought of you.” Or, “I learned about this new mandate or this new legislation and I wanted to know if there is going to be any kind of review in your newsletter that you’re going to come out about it.” And they may say, “Well, we didn’t think about that or we didn’t know about it, thanks for sharing that information.”
Jennifer – Oh, very cool. I know that when you talk about those nuances you also have mentioned that you do think healthcare can learn from other industries. And I know from my experience, healthcare sometimes is a little hesitant to do that. There is very much the idea that healthcare is its own thing. And there’s a lot of truth to that … it is certainly, but there can be more back and forth maybe. How do you feel that plays out in the project management world?
Crystal – So, there’s a term in the project management body of knowledge called “tailoring.” And that means that you take best practices and then you utilize them to what makes sense for your organization. And I think that’s something that healthcare organizations can learn – that, “Hey, here are best practices.” And, instead of putting our hands up, saying “No, we can’t do it,” let’s see what those best practices are and then tailor them to our specific needs. How do we make it work and what makes sense for our organization?
Crystal – And I just feel like sometimes there’s a resistance that, because it didn’t come from healthcare, we can’t think about it. But instead of saying because it wasn’t born from a healthcare organization, let’s say, “Well, here’s something else maybe we didn’t think of.” And sometimes it’s where the best mistakes … you know, hopefully not life-threatening mistakes … that the mistakes where we can learn to be better are. When you just try something completely. Not as business as usual … the saying where sometimes it’s better for someone who doesn’t have necessarily the experience to ask the hard questions because those folks who are “subject-matter experts” will just kind of go in with their own biases and assumptions. And they won’t ask those hard questions because they already know what those answers are. And I think that’s the value of coming in with those best practices outside of healthcare. It can force us to ask those questions. “Well, why do we do this this way?” “Can you give an example of where you’ve seen that work out?” I’ve seen it work out where people were resistant and stretched themselves a little bit, and replaced it [with a best practice].
Crystal – That’s honestly where I find the roadblock is, that I have yet to see people be willing to do that. It’s still, “No, we want to see it from another healthcare organization” as opposed to, “Wow, we want to see how it works out from a non-healthcare organization.” I think it’s hard, too, because of the customer base, the patient population. If you think about it this way … I am happily going to give you all of my information, my shipping address, my credit card information for DSW, for Target, for Kohl’s … but I really don’t want to give you my information on your patient portal; that’s just too much information. That’s where we can take those ideas.
Crystal – Right, you don’t know. Still resistance … being someone in the healthcare field, being as technically savvy as I am, I have about 20, 30 different shopping accounts. I have gladly given them my information so I can get that convenience but I just do it with my primary care doctor.
Jennifer – I understand that. Like, I trust that Amazon is protecting my information even though it is not. It’s the dumbest thing but if you’ll get me some stupid box of cat treats in two days, I’m okay with it.
Crystal – But if the hospital doesn’t … [you wonder] “What are they using? Is this going to my dad?” So it’s …
Jennifer – And to me that comes back to a marketing thing. Like, why do we have trust in a big conglomerate that probably doesn’t care about us as much as our doctors? Where did that happen? And, yes, I do think that’s funny because so much of it is how the whole thing has been presented to us. When you talk about how everybody wants to see it from their own industry, I have to smile because I was talking with a client today and we were talking about, how we are going to communicate some of their findings to their target audience. And it’s a whole huge swathe of different kinds of nurses. The thing is, from the outside you might think, well, talk to nurses; that’s one group. But we all know when you’re within healthcare that’s a lot of different sub-specialties. And people in Ob-Gyn do not want to hear what’s going on in Oncology. They want to hear what’s specific to them and vice-versa. So, I very much see that that very specialized approach, which can be so useful in so many aspects of healthcare, it can make it hard to to expand. And to gather best practices from other sectors.
Crystal – There’s that that wall that goes up, I think. Right, I think the other thing, too, when you talk about examples, some hospitals I’ve heard through case studies … if you’ve heard about Zappo’s, the shoe company, and what the customer service is. They are given a lot more leeway to provide any gift cards or any kind of benefits to pay to customers if they’re not happy. And some hospitals have tried … I can’t think of one off the top of my head … where they try to get their customer service clerks or their front desk clerks a little bit of that leeway. But it’s challenging. Because it’s very much command and control. It’s an issue again, it’s a different type of customer base. You know, you can’t promise a free surgery procedure.
Jennifer – Right, right and then the customer service aspect of healthcare is something that is, I think, causing a little bit of resistance also. In fact, I was at the Orthopedic Value-Based Care Conference in February and they were talking about how customer service is more and more a part of value-based care. Because it helps in how patients interact with you. And there is still, just from some of the questions raised and some of the research people were presenting there, still resistance to having medicine seem like that. People want healthcare to be different from running a hotel or running Uber or something like that. Yet, there’s also this big push that people want it rated and people want a certain level of customer service, like they would get at Target. And it can be very hard to wrap your brain around it if you’re a physician who was not taught to expect that.
Crystal – You’re absolutely right. I mean, it’s just so different. I don’t know if it this is still within your the topic and I think this it is just a great topic overall to talk about, but it is just so different. I mean, what makes a great customer service experience is everything, right?
Jennifer – Yeah.
Crystal – So I love my dentist, really do. I think he’s great. But I’m kind of mad at him because I had a procedure recently and my mouth hurts. And he was great, he was nice … but I don’t remember him telling me that [it would hurt]. I’m kind of salty about it. It’s three weeks and my mouth is really sensitive to hot, to cold. We are so finicky when it comes to our healthcare. We may have had the greatest experience but, if something happened to us body-wise, it is a terrible experience. Or, if we came out and they were great but the front desk clerk had a bad day, and they were just really nasty with us, then I’m never going back to the healthcare center. So that’s bringing it all back to the complexity of the healthcare system. Not only with the people who work so tirelessly to make sure that we come out of there better, but also for the patients that come in. You’re dealing with the health economics, socio-economics. I mean all of that, it just adds to the complexity of each and every individual healthcare center. And that’s something I do want to appreciate. At the core, we all have the same issues but, on the fringes, you do have some things that makes each individual healthcare facility a little bit unique. Whether it’s their customer base, the physicians, the nurses, the front desk staff, all of those add in complexity that it’s worth understanding when you come in there.
Jennifer – Just a couple minutes before you said that this might be a little off-topic but I think one of the nice things about this podcast, for me, is being able to talk about some of the broader issues. Because, to me, lead generation does connect with both relationship-building and customer service. I think it’s inherent in it but I also think that when you look at healthcare in terms of the vendors and the interactions, the technology, project management is required or a company can’t provide that good service to the healthcare company itself. Or the healthcare organization can’t for its patients. So I think it’s all part of the conversation and I think that’s much more interesting than me sitting here giving you 12 lead generation tips … though we might occasionally do that, too!
Jennifer – But I do appreciate what you’re saying about customer service in these industries. Where do you think some of the new insights will come from for healthcare in that direction?
Crystal – I think it will still have to be from a healthcare organization who was bold enough to use [best practices from] outside of healthcare and say “It works.” So they’re still looking. We’re still looking for that guinea pig to say, “Okay, it works and here’s how we did it.” We’re slowly seeing that. Everyone loves to talk about Chick-fil-a and having the the Chick-fil-a “my pleasure” attitude. Hiring for fit, whatever that means sometimes in an organization … but that’s just one aspect of it. Because we think about customer service externally and there’s also the internal customer service. And that’s something that I’ve learned as a project manager. Everybody is my customer. What we call the stakeholder. But everyone’s my customer and I need to figure out what their concerns are and try to meld the two together. It can be challenging sometimes. The external and internal customers have differing needs, conflicting needs.
Jennifer – Right, how do you handle that?
Crystal – And I wish I could say there was a silver bullet or a magic approach. You just kind of have to figure it out and, through time, through experience, there are things you’ll figure out. What’s the best way to deal with both parties.
Jennifer – I totally agree with you. I think that’s very insightful. One thing I want to do before we wrap up is … I just find it always interesting to ask what books you’re reading now, or if there’s a particular show that you’re following. What would you think is something that people who want to know more about project management, or more about the kind of work that you do, in general, should go get? What would you recommend?
Crystal – Sure, so I’ll pick two of my favorite books. One is a project management book called Scrappy Project Management by Kimberly Wiefling and I kind of just found her by accident. Found her book on Amazon. I lead a peer mentoring group and I was looking for a course for them. And this lady is hilarious and she just absolutely puts project management in real-life terms. I think, especially the IT folks, would really appreciate it … she doesn’t know it but she’s my mentor … just really has encouraged me. If I were to write a book, and I’m kind of trying to do that now, this is what I want to write like. I don’t want to write something just boring. This is project management in real-life terms. The book is Scrappy Project Management; The 12 Predictable and Avoidable Pitfalls Every Project Faces.
Jennifer – Awesome!
Crystal – And I mentioned a second one too. So I’m lately learning how to play golf. A good friend of mine wrote a book about business golf. It’s called 9 Holes, 9 Goals by Patrina King. There are 18 holes in golf but the first sets the tone on your golf business. She has these unspoken rules. Just have a conversation … it was just fascinating. Don’t feel like you have to ask or make it like an interrogation but it’s nice folks and you know the beauty about golf is sometimes it’s okay to play it in silence. And go with the flow. But, if you’re there to make connections and get to know people, her rules of thumb for each of the first nine holes of the game are to set nine goals that you want to achieve. So it’s by Patrina King. I’m happy to give her that shout-out because I really did enjoy it and read it with my husband because we’re both taking up golf.
Jennifer – Crystal, thank you so much for sharing your insights with us. It has been wonderful having you on the podcast. I’m so glad you were able to join us! For everyone listening, you can learn more about Crystal’s work at Mosaic Resource Group . And, to learn more about lead generation strategies for healthcare companies, you can visit MichelleMarketingStrategies.com. See you all next time!