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Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Epic's Principles, Part 2

See Part 1 here

Epic's next two principles also go together really well, so they'll share a blog post.

3. Expectations = reality.
4. Keep commitments.

If I remember correctly, Judy explained number 3 as "What the customer expects to happen is what they judge us [Epic] by." She went on to give an example, paraphrased here: If they expect flying monkeys to jump out of the screen and hand deliver an AVS to the patient, they'll be disappointed when that doesn't happen and that will reflect poorly on Epic when KLAS scores are being given. Therefore, Epic employees should manage their customers' expectations.

The fourth principle is like it: If you say you're going to do something, do it. I.E., if customers expect you to do something, make sure that you do that thing so that reality matches the customers' expectations.

Epic has a hit-or-miss track record with this, and it all depends on how much Epic overworks its customer-facing employees. When I was hired, one of Epic's differentiators was that they had umpteen employees per customer, instead of having each employee oversee several customers at once. As we all know, the ratio has changed somewhat--there are still more employees than customers, but pretty much everyone in a customer-facing role oversees several customers at once. During my tenure, this worked well for the lower-maintenance applications, like Cadence or Identity. It emphatically did not work for Epiccare Ambulatory or Inpatient, especially since the purchasers of those applications expected undivided attention from their TS.

The major clinical applications just have too many issues, too many customizations for one person to handle multiple customers. Deadlines will inevitably slip, one very verbal customer will get more attention the the customer with the extra-savvy analysts, and all customers will get upset because they're not getting the attention that they expect to get. Expectations did not match reality, and commitments could not be kept.

The work you promised to do to your one customer doesn't get done because your other customer had an unplanned downtime in addition to being affected by a new patient safety escalation.

Epic is not set up such that commitments can be kept or expectations can be met. They need to hire TS at the same rate as they take on new customers, and they need to retain the employees they have. A lot of burnout could be prevented by Epic having realistic expectations for its employees, and the voluntary turnover could be ameliorated somewhat. The involuntary turnover would be less of a problem as well, due to less burnout-induced mistakes.

Epic's 2 for 4 on their principles. They are NOT following these at all, and are, in fact, setting themselves up for failure on these fronts. It would be so easy for them to hire/retain/retrain the employees to meet the demands of the job; it just seems like Epic isn't interested in that.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Epic's Principles, Part 1

The first of a series, as alluded to in this post. In this mini-series, I'll explain where I think Epic is following its own principles, and where Epic is falling short. Since I haven't worked for Epic for several years now, my recollections may not reflect current reality. If this is the case, I humbly ask any current or recently-freed Epic employees to set me straight.

In this first part, we'll consider Epic's first two principles:
1. Do not go public.
2. Do not be acquired.
So far, success on both counts.  Hooray!

Ever since I first saw these principles plastered all over campus, I thought these were odd principles to put in front of the rank and file. Cerner can't write a check to me to buy the company. They'd have to go through Epic's army of lawyers, and Judy Faulkner and Carl Dvorak specifically. Neither of these principles are things that I will ever be in a position to break.

So why include them for all employees? Why not just leave them on a plaque in Judy's office, or as explicit instructions to the decision-making board in the event of Judy's retirement or inability to continue running the company?

Almost all the explanations I can come up with are cynical (surprise!). Those two principles could be included as a roundabout way of implanting the idea that even you, the lowly rank-and-file grunt, might be running the company one day and you WILL be in a situation where you'll have to think on these and make a decision.

It could be a roundabout way of discouraging other companies from even asking about potential buyouts or public stock sales. Epic goes through a lot of employees, and eventually those ex-employees leave Dane County and go to medical or tech organizations throughout the country. Judy knows we're all very intelligent (she's said so on numerous occasions), and she knows we will likely rise in authority in whatever company we find ourselves in. Since we've been implanted with these two principles, we know that when we become the CEO of X, we won't just be able to buy Epic outright. If I owned Epic, after all, there are a few DLGs that my users have been whining about that I'd fast-track for the next major version. 

I understand why Judy doesn't want the company to be acquired or to go public, and her reasons are sound. If it were a public company, then decisions would be accountable to a larger, possibly much less informed board. In practice, stockholders care more about dollars than about the company's mission, and I get the impression that Judy truly believes in Epic's mission (the part about providing better healthcare, not the part about galactic domination). Epic wouldn't have as much freedom to take risks or to adapt quickly to industry changes were it beholden to a board of stockholders.

"This company was founded on the principles of not going public and not being acquired," said no business owner, ever. They're good guidelines for the decision-making cadre, but I don't think they're worthy of being principles that the proles have to follow.