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  • June 18, 2021
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Discussing the Role of an NHS Project Manager


Project or Programme Manager will plan, coordinate and delegate work packages and manage teams ensuring that work remains on track to time, quality and cost. They are not necessarily subject matter experts and use the skills and expertise of others around them to get the work done.  

There are there to keep any given project or programme on target to meet its goals within optimal parameters, manage risks and issues, dependancies and intra-dependancies, help stakeholder engagement and expectations, facilitate the change management, develop new capabilities, awareness and skillsets and measure the benefits realisations. It involves facilitating all the project/programme board duties that keep the work pipeline clear of roadblocks, bottlenecks and other challenges so that the rest of the team can deliver with success  

More than often this also means troubleshooting how to optimize the workflows already in place and devising more efficient ways of completing various stages of the project. In other words, when a business seeks to minimize waste and maximize output, project management is essential for that process. 

Project/Programme Manager roles are one of the more popular jobs that we work for our NHS and public sector clients. A nuanced role with a wide range of complexities and subtleties depending on the size and scale of the programme, we wanted to bring together a few Project and Programme Managers currently working within the NHS to discuss the role, what they think makes someone effective in a project management role and more. 

Crystal Dennis, Interim Operational lead for Digital – Empowered self-care, Our Dorset Integrated Care System 

Being in the NHS for most of her working career, Crystal joined the CCG back in late 2017 where she worked primarily on horizon scanning innovations for adoption and spread to help solve some of the challenges faced in health care. Realising the gap in the system regarding the embedding of digital health technologies that could be used at home in order to help solve some workforce challenges and improve the user experience for a patient and or a member of their support network she became the Operational Health For Empowered Self-Care. This involves large change management and culture change not just from a citizen perspective but also from a workforce perspective. The increase of doctor google meant the system had to change but no one was really leading this holistically and joining the dots. When COVID-19 struck, the scope of the type of innovations that Crystal work with was amplified dramatically within the @home agenda.  

Working on and having an oversight of the @home agenda for Dorset for supportive self-management spanning digital health information, long-term condition and disease monitoring, screening and diagnostic tools and how they drive new models of care and a better use of the workforce available both clinical and non-clinical. 

One of these projects, which has gained national focus and attention recently, centers around Improving CVD outcomes with BP@Home using a population health approach.  

“We’re rolling out blood pressure monitors and the software that a patient can use to receive advice and guidance as well as receive trend analysis around average blood pressure readings.” 

The objectives is to use a population health approach to identify patients who have uncontrolled hypertension and those at highest risk of developing uncontrolled hypertension, who are not optimally treated. There was a need to pay special attention to areas of inequality.  The team were to embed a personalised self-management approach, and work with a med tech company to help delivery of this digital/hybrid pathway. The technology was to help facilitate the use of workforce in a different way and further the remote monitoring model of care. The project also sought to enrich the data set for population health analytics and measure health outcomes. The project currently has 8 primary care networks involved in its first wave (out of 18 Primary Care Networks) in Dorset. This covers 38 of the 80 general practices in the Dorset region.  

You Need to be Translator & Be Able to Move Quickly 

The NHS, as an institution, covers all areas of healthcare across an incredibly diverse population. The long-term plan which sets the tone for health systems in terms of strategic direction covers a wide range of terminology . You may hear a type of terminology, phrases and acronyms across primary care that you wouldn’t hear in community care, elective care or social care. For those who work within those silo’s that wouldn’t be a problem, but for a, PM in digital – it’s important to help translate to ensure you can connect with your audience and find common ground quickly.  

” Our Health System is a not complicated it is complex. A maze becomes easy when you know how to navigate it but this level of complexity is from it constantly changing, people move around the system, priorities change, reprioritization happens, governance changes. … you’ve got to be able to absorb information and adapt very quickly. You need to have clarity of vision and understand the problems that you’re looking to solve strategically and what this looks like operationally. In digital, you have oversight of all the different moving parts as everyone’s going to have to digital problem solve at some stage of their transformation journey.” 

Take ‘No’ as the Next Opportunity 

In a highly regulated system like the NHS Health System and wider Integrated Care System, a project/Programme leadneeds resilience to respond to the change in priority and therefore missed opportunities that arise. It’s crucial, one learns to separate themselves personally from the project to manage disappointments. Time is a precious commodity in the health system and so there is a need to tell the same narrative until there is a clear direction. Linking digital opportunities and innovations to clear service objectives built from the problems that are needing to be solved and building digital requirements from there helps manage the risks around progression and helps take all stakeholders on the journey of digital. If the direction is ‘no’ then reminding yourself of it standing for ‘next opportunity’ is a better internal digestion as opposed to rejection.   

“There are so many conflicting priorities, so it’s rare that an innovation. is going to land value with stakeholders the first time and appreciate that there is going to be some level of ‘change fatigue’ taking place. A successful project manager will judge themselves on the good conversations you’re having rather than your impact on day one because these projects take time.” 

Carly Ings, Project Manager at NHS Dorset Clinical Commissioning Group 

With a history in digital transformation, Carly joined the NHS just before the pandemic hit and has been using her digital transformation skills, in addition to her passion for everything digital to lead on several digital projects in the NHS.  

We spoke to Carly about the role of Project Manager and what she thought were some of the non-negotiable skills a successful project manager needs in the NHS.  

Communication Skills are Incredibly Important 

With most projects in the NHS requiring a project manager to speak to many different people, from consultants to patients, throughout the day – communication skills become one of the most important tools in a project managers toolkit.  

“We’ve got the comms team, we’ve got the information governance teams, there are so many different people you need to bring in to support you. And it’s about truly understanding that only by working together, are we actually going to be successful. So, you know, one of the things within my team that’s really strong is that we are an integrated care system. So we’ve got great links, and a lot of that is through what Crystal has started – great links through to the Council, Live Well Dorset, Help & Care, all these people that can come together to support us. And I think if you’re able to communicate really, really well, people are more willing to help you.” 

Don’t be Afraid To Say You Don’t Understand Something 

Considering the wide range of different stakeholders a project manager has to engage with and the even wider selection of different specialties that a project manager need to be able to understand on at least a working level, you’d think that a project manager needs to be an unwavering expert in all aspects of a project.  

That, as Carly explains, simply isn’t true. 

“Don’t be afraid to say that you don’t understand something. That’s something that it’s taken me a long time to learn. And I’m really fortunate that it was role modelled by Crystal that she will always speak up in a room full of whoever, she doesn’t care who’s there. And she will speak up and say, I’m really sorry, I have no idea what you’re talking about. Could you just explain that to me? It’s just being brave enough to say that. Rather than keeping your mouth shut, people assume you know what you’re doing? And then you waste an hour, maybe two trying to find the answer.” 

Alison Ormerod, Head of Programme Management Office at North West Ambulance Service NHS Trust 

Starting her project management career in the Information Technology Services Agency as a project support officer, Alison set her sights early on a Head of PMO role. Moving from this government agency , Alison worked project roles in a number of different verticals from other government agencies, HMRC, corporate blue chips, insurance and more. 

With a lifelong passion and love for the Emergency Services, Alison was excited to progress her programme management career with a 10 year stint in the Fire and Rescue service before joining the North West Ambulance Service NHS trust. 

Wider Collaboration an Increased Engagement 

In what has been an incredibly challenging past year and a half that has seen life for many turned upside down, there have been few silver linings. One of those silver linings has been the way that organisations, large and small, have taken the imposed work from home restrictions and turned them into truly flexible working environments that have enabled professionals up and down the country to work smarter, faster and more efficiently.  

The rollout of MS Teams throughout the NHS is something we’ve covered in great details from a variety of different contributors throughout the NHS. For Alison, teams has allowed her and her project teams to reach further into organisations and make more of an impact. 

“There’s no way that we will ever go back to a pre team’s environment because it’s really improved the way we work. From a project perspective, the use of teams over the last 12 months has given us an opportunity to have wider collaboration and increased stakeholder engagement because so many of the barriers have been taken away.” 

In addition to the reach and consistency of communication, wholesale adoption of Teams has allowed Alison and her teams to deal with issues and risk on their project or dependencies a lot quicker than they could in the past. 

Through the initial stages of the pandemic, one of the projects Alison and her teams were working on was an electronic patient record (EPR). Over the past 12 months, the project has started successfully, with all  frontline staff equipped with a Digital Getac rugged device to receive the EPR solution. Now partway through rolling EPR throughout the whole trust, the trust is moving on to looking at interoperability with their various partners to share ata – something that is an aim for all NHS trusts.  

Engage People at All Levels 

For Alison, an effective project manager at any level must have the ability to effectively engage professionals and stakeholders at any and all levels of an organisation.  

“The uniqueness of it is being able to adapt those engagement skills to the different types of stakeholders that we have because everyone has different approaches to project work. Some people are more familiar with project work than others. So it’s of vital importance you can adapt your engagement skills.” 

Alison also believes that a large helping of resilience is needed if you’re going to succeed in the project space.  

“We’re always reacting and adapting to new and changing situation. So, I think whatever project plans we have, the only certain outcome is that they’re going to change. So, it’s absolutely imperative that anyone in the PMO is resilient to that. ” 

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