Project Smart ~ Exploring trends and developments in project management today

Calendar icon
Adobe PDF icon

What a Heart Surgeon Could Learn From a Project Manager

~ By Ty Kiisel

Close-up of a female surgeon

Driving into work one morning, I was listening to surgeon and author Atul Gawande talk about a study he's done at the Harvard Medical School. I found the NPR story titled, Atul Gawande's 'Checklist' for Surgery Success, interesting - I think you will too.

Our great struggle in medicine these days is not just with ignorance and uncertainty, Gawande says. It's also with complexity: how much you have to make sure you have in your head and think about. There are a thousand ways things can go wrong.

Because doctors are human (just like everyone else), they sometimes miss things. So Gawande looked at other fields that deal with complex circumstances and visited, among others, Boeing to see how they make things work. He cites the "pilot's checklist" as a good example of how other complex tasks are completed outside of medicine.

Unlike a pilot, there is no checklist in surgery, just the surgeon's experience and intuition that dictates how a procedure is performed. So as an experiment, he brought a two-minute checklist into the operating room of eight hospitals-after having worked with a team of folks that included Boeing to show them how to put the checklist together.

How did it work?

We get better results, says Gawande. Massively better results.

We caught basic mistakes and some of the stupid stuff, Gawande reports. We also found that good teamwork required certain things that we missed very frequently.

Something as simple as making sure that everyone in the operating room knew each other by name turned out to be incredibly valuable. Isn't it interesting how similar some of these issues sound to the work management issues project teams face every day?

Not unlike some project managers I have met, many of the surgeons weren't originally too keen on operating with a checklist. However, when all was said and done, 80% of the surgeons saw the value of the checklist. And, although 20% said they didn't need the checklist, 94% said that if they were going to have surgery they would want their surgeon to be using a checklist.

I realise that heart surgery and project based work don't have a lot in common. That said, the surgeon could learn a few things from project managers about how to create a sound work management (surgery management) methodology. Project managers could also learn from this study. We caught basic mistakes and some of the stupid stuff, Gawande reports. We also found that good teamwork required certain things that we missed very frequently.

Despite all the evidence, Gawande wasn't sure that using a checklist would help save the lives of his patients-after all, he was from Harvard. However, he started using the checklist and says, I was in that 20%. I haven't gotten through a week of surgery where the checklist has not caught a problem.

Like surgery, capturing best practices and formalising processes are critical for success. Like the surgeon's checklist, the right project management tools can help. Fortunately, there is a lot we can learn from Dr. Gawande's study. As well as what a heart surgeon could learn from a project manager.

If you were going into surgery, would you feel more comfortable if you knew the operating team was using a checklist to make sure nothing got missed? I think I would.


Comments (1)

Topic: What a Heart Surgeon Could Learn From a Project Manager
5/5 (1)
Gravatar
Full StarFull StarFull StarFull StarFull Star
6th May 2015 8:11pm
Crystal (USA) says...
What a great article and kudos to you for putting things in perspective. We entrust in our pilots to be at the top of their game and be very knowledgeable. And yet they also rely on a checklist. Yet, we do not require the same from clinicians and we hear about so many medical errors. We could all learn a lot from each other.

Add a comment



(never displayed)



 
2000
Out of 90, 76 or 12, which is the smallest?
Notify me of new comments via email.
Remember my form inputs on this computer.

A Tale of Two Projects

Two serious businessmen working with a tablet computer

A business tale of what it takes to turn around troubled projects. How did PintCo recover their Customer Master File project when everything was going in the wrong direction.

Project Planning Essentials

Tablet computer with project manager app and documents with Gantt and financial charts

Planning a project requires putting a series of tasks in order and determining dependencies between them. In practice it's never so straightforward.

How to Get the Most From Your Project Team

Project team in a huddle

Project management is people management. Here's our reminder of how to make sure you get the most from your project team.

A Brief History of SMART Goals

Set your goals written on blue paper

In this history of SMART goals, I look at where the acronym came from, who developed it, what the critics say and why it has become popular.

PROJECT SMART is the project management resource that helps managers at all levels improve their performance. We provide an important knowledge base for those involved in managing projects of all kinds. With weekly exclusive updates, we keep you in touch with the latest project management thinking.

WE ARE CONNECTED ~ Follow us on social media to get regular updates and opinion on what's happening in the world of project management.


Latest Comments

Majaha commented on…
Introduction to Project Management
- Thu 13 June 8:51am

Nicola OSullivan commented on…
How to Create a Gantt Chart Using Microsoft Excel
- Sun 9 June 11:25pm

Surinder commented on…
10 Golden Rules of Project Risk Management
- Sat 8 June 7:22pm

Latest tweets

General Project Management • Re: Who do you share the stakeholder analysis with? https://t.co/5t1rJkz5u2 about 1 day ago

General Project Management • Who do you share the stakeholder analysis with? https://t.co/u226f2ETyf about 3 days ago

General Project Management • Re: Advice: What do you think about this PM software? https://t.co/3rnE6mUsR2 about 6 days ago