Home » Change Management » Lessons Learned From The Elizabeth Holmes Ban

Credit: Fortune

Credit: Fortune

The cause of [Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS)] considering a ban as the result of investigations by federal regulators of how Theranos clinical business operates, may be summed up by a series of the following headlines in a long 33-page letter CMS sent to Theranos: “The laboratory’s allegation of compliance is not credible and evidence of correction is not acceptable.” In a nutshell, Theranos had told federal regulators, “Ok, ok, now we’re following the rules,” and CMS looked around said, “The paper trail shows you aren’t following the rules.” Then Theranos said, “All right, all right! We’ve fixed the problems we caused by violating the rules,” and CMS said, “We looked at how you’re actually doing things, and, no, your fix was not acceptable.” What Elizabeth Holmes’ 2-Year Ban Really Means, Forbes.com, July 13, 2016.

My job was managing IT departments, computer programmers and programming projects.  However, I was often tasked with evaluating other projects.  I was in the Air Force and these other projects were both internal projects and external commercially contracted projects.

My approach was always pretty straight forward.  I would listen to what they would say they were doing, and if that sounded OK, I would then go look for evidence that they were actually doing it.  Needless to say, on many struggling projects, management could often “talk-the-talk” but inevitably could not “walk-the-walk.”  If they could, then they would probably not be in the crisis I was called in to help solve.

See more at How To Get An “A” On Our Project Management

The findings in the Theranos case seemed very familiar to me because I had seen similar cases many times before.  Management would paint a picture of how things had gotten better but in fact under closer examination, and sometimes not requiring a very deep examination, things were often no different than they had been before.

Don’t get me wrong.  In most, if not all cases, management had in fact tried to make changes.  They had tried to get back on track.  Often it boiled down to the fact that these managers just really didn’t have the experience to do these projects. Other times they were just sure they knew what to do and so they tried to slap on top of what they were already, unsuccessfully, doing the changes they were told to implement.

For more on how this happens see A Successful Manager Without A Successful Project?

As with the Theranos case, we need to dig deep to ensure that the changes we make are real changes and that they meet the intent of the reason we are making these changes.  I’ve never seen a Powerpoint presentation, no matter how well put together and delivered, ever solve a real problem.  If we find ourselves spending more time explaining than in doing, we know — and others know too — that we are probably in deep trouble.

Are your improvements really doing what you say they are doing?

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