by Patrick Marier, CMRP
Sr. Consultant, Supply Chain Operations Services

As a leader in your organization with responsibility for the supply chain department, it can be challenging to understand if your supply chain is performing to its full potential. You may receive monthly reports that indicate savings goals are being met and budgets are in line. Clinical staff aren’t reporting excessive stock outs. Your supply chain leader indicates that morale is great, and the team is firing on all cylinders! Then it happens. You see an article about a nearby competitor that has transformed its supply chain department and the outcomes are astonishing! As you read on, you start seeing “supply chain collaborates with clinical leaders,” “contract optimization,” “50% increase in electronic data interchange (EDI) utilization,” “staff development and succession planning,” “supply-cost reductions” and then you ponder, is it time for us to transform?

Making the decision to change and transform your supply chain is often the easy part. We all know that change is usually not looked upon with jubilance and joy, but rather dread and fear. One of the first decisions you’ll make is whether to challenge your staff to spearhead this transformation or bring in subject matter experts from the outside to assess the organization and develop the roadmap for change. Both of these options will present with their own unique challenges. Managing the transformation with internal resources will certainly put a strain on existing staffing levels may be hindered by the “this is the way we’ve always done it” mentality and perhaps most importantly, constrained by staff’s lack of expertise. Utilizing outside resources will have an associated cost and can often be looked at negatively by staff.

As you embark on this journey, keep your mind open. Know that there may be some setbacks and conversely, you may identify additional opportunities along the way. Though not intended to be all-inclusive, these are some insights from “lessons learned” that you’ll want to consider as you start your transformation vision.

  • Goals
    • This will be the most challenging part of the vision. Because you’re investing so much in this project, the natural inclination is to want to show a substantial return on investment. Be aggressive, but realistic. Keep in mind that a plan that met none of its goals was not a well-thought-out plan.
    • Don’t create your goals in a vacuum, involve others. Think about who might be impacted by changes in the current process. Bring a fresh set of eyes to the table. Sometimes we’re surprised by what’s on the other side of our blinders.
    • Ask yourself the following questions: “What was the problem?” “What got us here?” “Are we following best practice?” “How are our peers managing this?” “Can others help us with this?” These questions will help define the goals.
    • Understand the consequences of not meeting a goal. Could it impact the outcomes of other goals? Could the failure of this one goal paint the entire project as a failure?
  • Project plan
    • What will you use for your plan (Microsoft Project, Excel, Word, etc.)? Keep in mind, all of those interacting with the plan will need to understand the selected software and have access to it.
    • Clearly and specifically identify all tasks and subtasks. Where any task is dependent, call this out as a critical milestone.
    • Be aggressive with your timelines, but be cognizant of schedules, resources, hospital census, learning curves and other intangibles.   
    • Understand what your budget is for equipment, full-time employees, technology and other project-related costs. No one likes surprises.
  • Identify Stakeholders and Participants
    • Make sure that each member of the supply chain department has a role in the transformation. This goes a long way toward engagement.
    • Remember that supply chain is woven throughout the facility, so include others throughout the facility.
    • A steering committee made up of senior level staff will help drive adoption and show how important this transformation is to the organization.
    • It’s imperative that each person is fully vested in this project and understands their role.
  • Communication Plan
    • This is your organization-wide communication plan, so your first discussions around communications should be with the marketing department! They will be an asset to you. By keeping them informed of the project and its importance to the organization, they can help you get information out to the right people and most importantly, in a timely manner.
    • Identify what audiences you’ll need to communicate with (steering committee, staff, department leads) and how often.
    • Communicate the good and the bad, remember no one likes surprises.
  • Staff Engagement
    • There’s no question that this can be challenging. The common question you’ll be asked is, “When do I do my regular work?”
    • The longer the project the more difficult it becomes to keep people engaged, so make sure you’re having formal and informal touchpoint meetings with staff.
    • Remember, negativity can spread like wildfire, so it’s imperative to stay in front of this.
  • Measuring and Rewarding Success
    • When one major task is complete, don’t simply move on to the next. Take a moment to enjoy what the team has accomplished. Remember, the summit of the mountain is the goal, but a lot must go right before that happens.
    • Think of a creative way to celebrate each conquest. On one project, we used an illustration of Mount Everest on our communication board. Each major task was a stage as we worked our way to the summit. At each stage completion, we brought in lunch for the team.

As mentioned earlier, these insights cover a fraction of what needs consideration before you start your journey. Therefore, it is vitally important to spend time on the front end of the project understanding and creating the plan rather than in the middle of it.

Remember to engage others in the planning. Question everything and provide an environment for people to feel comfortable asking questions. It’s better to be in an airplane on the ground saying, “I should bring a parachute” versus being in the air saying, “Sure wish I had a parachute!” Perhaps most importantly, take it all in and learn along this journey. Supply chain management is ever evolving, and wouldn’t it be nice to have a playbook for your next transformation? Remember, no one likes surprises.

About the author.  In his role as a senior consultant, Patrick Marier, CMRP, provides expert guidance, mentoring and leadership to assist Vizient member health care organizations in transforming their supply chain operations to leading practice performance levels across supply chain operational functional projects, including item master, contracting, strategic sourcing, value analysis and procurement as well as technological projects, including item master & contract software and procurement MMIS / ERP systems.

Published: August 28, 2020