The Opportunity for Continuous Improvement in Activation and Transition Planning
In Brief: When the excitement of moving into a new facility fades, will your organization fall back on old processes or continue to pursue new efficiencies?
Transitioning to a new and upgraded space presents an opportunity for healthcare organizations to reset and “reinvent” operations to realize new efficiencies. But a new facility alone won’t improve a department’s processes or change its culture. The excitement and optimism that accompany a move to a new space are fleeting; leaders need to promote a culture of continuous improvement to ensure that the advantages of a new space aren’t squandered by a gradual return to the old way of doing things.
The seeds for that culture are planted at the beginning of an activation and transition planning (ATP) project by defining the vision and setting guiding principles for operational excellence. These elements serve as the North Star for all planning activities—they are integrated into project materials, reviewed at key meetings, and championed by executives.
Creating the new facility’s vision and guiding principles demonstrates the organization’s willingness to embrace change and support frontline staff, which in turn encourages department leaders to adopt a continuous improvement mindset during operations planning activities. When done successfully, this enables departmental staff involved in operations planning activities to get creative and reevaluate how their processes can and should change.
As the opening date of the new facility comes to pass, it is always accompanied by a flurry of excitement and various activities to welcome patients to the new care setting. It can be easy for staff to return to their old habits and processes once operations in the new space reach the new steady state, and the activities completed and ideas shared during operations planning can be at risk of being forgotten.
Often, workarounds and other deviations from the agreed-upon plans prior to opening can become permanent fixtures, which is less than ideal. It is crucial that new or refined processes developed during operations planning, as well as the defined vision and guiding principles, are continually reinforced through training—not only prior to the first patient, but routinely and consistently. This can be achieved through a combination of simulation exercises or in-person training activities to maintain standard workflows and protocols; perhaps more importantly, this can enable the continuous improvement mindset to persist.
Organizational leadership must encourage and enable departmental leaders and frontline staff to utilize existing forums (e.g., daily huddles, regular staff meetings) to reinforce these principles and best practices. Additionally, maintaining select committees established during operations planning (e.g., Opening Readiness Committee) for three to six months after opening day—the stabilization period—can further supplement these efforts.
Sustaining the Mindset
ATP projects typically involve the transition or expansion of existing departments into new spaces. It can often be difficult to capture and sustain process improvements in legacy spaces, so transitioning into a new facility presents a significant opportunity for service lines to “do things the right way.” Reinforcing the new facility’s guiding principles through training and maintaining forums established during operations planning are effective means of sustaining a mindset of continuous improvement. However, it is crucial that these elements are not targeted at one or a few select services in the new facility—these must be broadly applicable to all services and ingrained in the fabric of the entire building. All stakeholders must not only have the ability to contribute, but also feel empowered to do so.
As such, it is incumbent upon organizational and service line leadership to adapt to change and identify new methods for encouraging the adoption of a continuous improvement mindset. How this can be achieved will vary between organizations, but establishing some ongoing structure or process to sustain this cultural change (e.g., creating formal committees comprised of facility service line leaders, conducting facility town hall events) is essential to realize long-term results. Ultimately, organizational leadership must want staff to adopt this mindset, and identify and capitalize on the opportunities available to do so.