Posted by & filed under Guest Blog Post, Quality Forum 2016.

We all embark upon a new project with excitement and anticipation. We think this is going to be the one that will address that important issue, or solve that longstanding bugbear. Sometimes it actually works out the way we hope, and we are rightfully overjoyed. Much more commonly, though, we experience unplanned or unknown challenges along our way.

We have to recognize and address the challenges – in our own contexts – for the project to have a chance at success. Sometimes they can be overcome, but other times fine tuning and small tweaks are unable to deliver the good outcomes we expect. When even drastic measures fail, we may find ourselves an unwilling parent of a “zombie”: a project that sucks resources and initiative without any hope of succeeding.

Bernd Petak’s breakout session, Help! Our Project is a Zombie!, brought his knowledge and experience from the fields of business and engineering to address common issues that plague project design in health care. How do we prevent a project from being sucked so far into a vortex of negative progression that it ends up as a member of the walking dead?

Bernd spoke of how projects need to be structured around both a hypothesis and an innovative approach, as well as recognize the interlocking roles of governance, management, and execution. With a solid plan in place, an improvement project can reach for lofty aims; and of course, the more ambitious a project’s goals, the higher the risk of not achieving them. Managing expectations can reduce risk, but it will inevitably limit how innovative you can be.

In his session, Bernd redefined what it means for a project to succeed. Instead of just completing the work as planned, he suggests that success should include reaching for ambitious outcomes, with the acknowledgement that this may lead to less than optimal results. He also stressed the importance of being honest with ourselves about our success or failure.

Ultimately, a successful project achieves its planned outcomes; if a project is not progressing, making changes or redirecting efforts and resources can get it back on track. If nothing seems to be working, then it is crucial to accept that the project as it stands is not viable – and kill it promptly before it goes on to become an ongoing drain – in other words, a zombie!


Dr. George Watson is a General Practitioner who has practiced on the Northcoast of British Columbia for thirty five years. He is a Doctors of BC appointee to both the General Practice Services Committee, and the Shared Care Committee. His particular interest is in the development of Quality Initiatives in Rural and Remote Settings.