Balancing Strategy and Operations: Insights from Healthcare

If you want outside-the-box thinking, it pays to spend some time living outside the box most consider to be conventional strategy and corporate structure.

Daniel Keene, Director of Strategy & Operations, has taken an unconventional route—with stops along the way in aerospace engineering, CPG sales management, and general aviation—to his current role in healthcare where he oversees the operations and strategy of large patient support systems. He has leveraged these experiences to transform fragmented strategy and operation models into unified and efficiently executed visions. Daniel shares his insights on some of the easily-forgotten project management fundamentals and core strategy principles, along with some high-level learnings he has discovered during his time in healthcare.

Effective planning means understanding you can’t solve every problem before it happens

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A podcast about the space between savvy strategy and practical execution, including everything that can go wrong on the way. 

At the beginning stages of the planning process, folks often try to come up with infinite back up plans and solutions for every contingency they can think of. Yet, we all know it’s impossible to look into the future and get everything right on the first try. 

That being said, it is never wise to go in underprepared. 

When thinking about strategy development, how do you find balance between planning and doing? How can you tell when the plan is good enough to move forward with implementation?

“Understanding that if you start seeing the same themes in market research or when speaking with customers in the field, those themes are probably right has helped me in my career,” Daniel says. 

Don’t get too caught up trying to solve all potential problems before you have the chance to see if they’re actually problems. The key to strategic planning is getting really good at 95% of what your day-to-day strategy is and planning for the other 5% to be covered by the operational ability to go in and respond to minor issues without them turning into major problems. 

“Planning your strategy is not so much about understanding everything prior to execution but understanding you need to have a plan for the things that you aren’t going to see as part of your initial strategy development,” Daniel says. 

When it comes down to it, strategic planning is similar to making a series of educated bets, and spending the extra time to get educated during planning will ensure your company doesn’t look poorly six months into execution. 

Place better bets by laying your fears on the table

The desire to solve all potential problems during the planning stages before they can even occur typically stems from a place of fear. While it is impossible to ensure 100% efficiency on the first try, you also can’t let fear paralyze your planning or decision making processes. 

The best way to break through that fear paralysis is to lay all your concerns on the table early on in planning. 

“It’s a very pragmatic and mature approach to just say here are the things we don’t know, or may not know, and here’s how we’re going to deal with it,” says Daniel.

In dealing with it, it’s also important to remember to be flexible. Research can change at any moment, especially if there is a new entry to the market. 

You will be able to hedge better bets in your strategic planning process if you’re already prepared to change course or make some corrections to handle any bumps in the road during the transition to execution.

Do versus don’t: maintaining focus among potential distractions

Moving from planning and development to execution is likely to be a whirlwind. Are there best practices for keeping teams focused and steering them away from potential distractions and what ifs?

Daniel has seen success when keeping track of both the things the team will do and the things they won’t do in execution as well as maintaining a specified set of 4 or fewer key focus areas.

“I try to align everyone to a core set of principles and weed out all the nice ideas that aren’t really going to move the needle. Grounding is really helpful up front to keep people focused,” Daniel says. 

During the transition to execution, choosing what your team is not going to do is just as important as choosing what they are going to do. 

“A big part of our launch readiness reviews for some of our recent launches was choosing what not to do. It was seen as a huge benefit because everyone is always trying to do more with less, but more isn’t always better,” says Daniel. 

When key players agree on what to walk away from and agree those elements aren’t critical, there is stronger alignment toward upholding core principles of what the overall plan is trying to achieve. 

It’s one thing to know and agree on what you’re not doing, but how are you supposed to justify not doing it?

Make sure what you’re not doing is backed up by foundational research—whether that be market research or financial analysis. When communicating with leadership and team members, there has to be a solid reason, such as a net neutral or possibly negative predicted outcome, an idea was tossed out. 

The role of effective project management offices in strategy execution

A successful PMO or project manager keeps functions together and ties up all interdependencies. 

“A good PMO knows it’s not just about creating a project plan but being a partner in putting all the pieces together and making sure everyone gets their work executed on time,” says Daniel. 

A good project manager has mastered the basics of how to work effectively with others—communication, proper meetings structure, performance monitoring, etc. 

Effective project management means making sure teams meet when they need to meet, ensuring there are no missing links, maintaining record of all discussions and future plans, and encouraging buy-in from other team members and colleagues. 

When it comes to project management, effective communication—not just communication but effective communication—is about 85% of the job. The main reason most endeavors fail is an issue of communication whether it be lack thereof or miscommunication. 

One way you can ensure more effective communication is to implement an intentional meeting structure which guarantees time to discuss next steps and how to move forward. In an hour-long meeting, dedicate 45 minutes to brainstorming, planning, troubleshooting and so on and leave the final 15 minutes for next steps. 

This structure will help ensure you and your team don’t get stuck in brainstorming or planning phases without reaching a resolution. Team members leaving meetings with an effective structure leave with a sense of resolution and direction and are more likely to buy into operational goals. 

Interested in learning more about strategic planning, execution efficiency, and effective communication in project management? Listen to our full conversation with Daniel, where he shares insights and advice gathered over the course of his unconventional career journey on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or your favorite podcast player. 

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Meet the Author  Jonathan Morgan

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