It’s been a long run, but the Princess Máxima Center for Pediatric Oncology is here. A unique project that resulted in the setup of Europe’s largest specialized children’s hospital. On May 18th, the first children were transferred, and on June 5th, Dutch queen Máxima will officially open the center. IG&H has contributed significantly to the realization of the Princess Máxima Center, a project that is close to our hearts.

Success has many fathers, which also goes for this success. Therefore, we are starting a blog series to discuss all the aspects involved in realizing a dream – together with the special men and women whom we collaborated with.  Today, we look back on the past few months: what had to be done to set up an entirely new hospital and get it running within an eight-month time frame?

From dream to debate

There had been a long-running debate on concentrating special care in the Netherlands. Pediatricians and parents had a dream to combine care and research in one place. This would allow them to take the necessary next step in the fight against childhood cancer. But this dream was met with a range of objections. It ended in a heated debate whose outcome was, to say the least, uncertain for a very long time. This alone is reason enough to call the center’s opening on May 18th a small miracle. Of course, the debate was about the position and distribution of people and resources. At this phase, the pediatric oncologists, who go to all lengths for their patients with undiminished energy and motivation to realize the best in care and research, have been decisive.

From ‘just doing it’ to ‘getting it done’

When the Princess Máxima Center finally got the green light and the business case appeared to be complete, the center entered the realization phase. At the time, there were only a handful of project staff, several drawings, a start budget, and a board. Needless to say, going from a green polder in Utrecht to a top-notch children’s hospital required a lot of work.

At this phase, IG&H was involved in the project. By then, the center was already well underway, as was its construction. As a hospital is always a complex puzzle, everyone in the steadily growing organization had started fleshing out their own piece pragmatically. Together with the center, we initially assessed whether it was on the right track via a transition readiness audit. While performing this audit, we ultimately defined hundreds of requirements: conditions that were critical to guarantee a safe opening. Then, we organized their completion in the form of 11 separate workflows that jointly made up the organization. We needed to assist in turning from pragmatism (‘just doing it’) to a focus on results (‘getting the safe opening done’). Organizing collaboration and setting priorities were essential in this regard. The main question remained unaltered: Is this absolutely crucial to a safe opening on May 18th – and if so, who do we need for this purpose?

The fact that the Princess Máxima Center had already grown into a multi-project organization at the time proved to be a challenge. When several projects are running alongside each other, it is no longer self-evident that you ‘quickly’ align things with each other. Subprojects may diverge in terms of content and timing. Therefore, it was very important to fill the gaps and promote collaboration. IG&H worked to achieve this goal as well as joint coordination and decision-making. Focus was also placed on following up milestones. In addition, we paid great attention to partial deliveries of the 11 workflows.

Coordination without a location

The combination of organizing, coordinating, and supporting the organization took place without a physical meeting point. After all, the building was still in scaffolding, which meant that those involved were divided over locations in Zeist and Utrecht. Additionally, the Princess Máxima Center is the central hub in a national network of general and academic hospitals. It was not possible to drop by and consult with each other face to face, so much was done through digital channels and by phone. We acted as a connecting factor between all these internal and external players.

This took quite some getting used to, as the center had started out with a small group of people who knew each other very well. The growth of the project involved more and more people, which increased pressure. We worked to continue to understand, follow, and help each other. In an energy-laden process that bears such importance, you need to stay close to each other despite the lack of a single location.

Doing what you need to do

Moving shoulder to shoulder in the workflows means that everyone goes to all lengths to get things done. Not only does this require genuine commitment, it also demands that you take responsibility and take on all tasks that need to be completed. In other words, we had to go to the limit. Over the past eight months, IG&H’s people have regularly put their shoulders to the wheel in the most literal sense of the word: we put on gloves, carried boxes, and drove across the country to organize training courses as well as information transfers. Our motto, ‘Hands-on where required,’ has allowed us to contribute to the Princess Máxima Center’s major milestones: transferring the first children from the Wilhelmina children’s hospital on May 18th, transferring the patients and child oncologists from the University Medical Care Centers Utrecht on June 1st, and the official opening on June 5th.

What specific challenges did we encounter? What approach did we adopt to meet the seemingly impossible timelines? We will discuss these and other topics in our next blogs, allowing the special people with whom we proudly collaborate to share their views and experiences. Will you go on this journey with us?

Bart ter Horst

Author Bart ter Horst

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