Blog Header Test 05 HealthWest goes Agile #4: Does agile have a place in our future?

February 2, 2022

In our last blog about HealthWest’s foray into Agile Project Management approaches we left you in a groovy place. We had:

  • come a long way in adapting some of our day-to-day processes
  • clarified the applicability of iterative approaches by developing selection criteria
  • begun to identify some of the specific benefits of working iteratively
  • And begun to learn about adaptive planning and management and how these may bridge traditional and emergent project management styles within the primary prevention system.


Our learning questions

As we then came to the end of the first project where significant agility has been applied, we revisited the learning questions we had set at the start of our experiment. Using the triple loop learning model, our learning framework set out key questions that we hoped to gain insight into:

  • Is the agile methodology working for us?
  • To what extent are agile methodologies fit for our purpose?
  • What has been our experience of trialling this new way of working
  • Does Agile have a place in our future?

Our staff group retrospective was crunch time! What “conclusions” would we arrive at?


The retrospective session involved three key elements:

  1. Journey Mapping – a group brainstorm on the key milestones and pivot points through the ‘journey’
  2. Discussing sentiments, insights and reflections captured along the way, using a variety of tools, and organised into themes around our key learning questions, and
  3. to involve our creative selves, a photovoice activity where staff shared a symbolic ‘before the agile experiment’ image and an ‘after the agile experiment’ image.

In a small window of COVID luck we were blessed with the opportunity to get together in-real-life for our retrospective session.  Oh the touch and feel of those real life sticky notes!

And so, based on our initial key learning questions, here is where we have landed…



Is the agile methodology working for us?

Essentially, yes.

  • We have worked in an iterative way using a framework of ‘short’ cycles to guide our work.
  • Our strengths in this area have been around the establishment of systems and structures that support us to work together including meeting structure and the use of Trello and an Agile Project Management template for managing and communicating project progress. Individuals within the team have worked in a cross-functional way.
  • Limitations include challenges around how to apply learning from one cycle to the next when the content of each cycle is different; and Trello boards being very task focussed and less reflective. Inefficiencies include cumbersome processes that don’t seem to make the best use of time and / or long meetings / discussions.
  • We have applied elements of the agile approach more appropriately over time. We have set up criteria to help determine which projects we will apply Agile to (which will help increase efficiency).
  • We will continue to learn more about:
    • The relationship between strategy / leadership and the agile way of working
    • Roles, responsibilities and decision making within the team


To what extent are agile methodologies fit for our purpose?

We are aware of the increasingly changeable and complex environment in which primary prevention takes place. Because of this context, there is a need to work differently. Through the ‘agile experiment’, we have shown to ourselves, as an organisation, that we are able and have the capacity to work in new ways. By trialling agile as an approach and conducting a learning inquiry, we have a deeper experience of what it takes to integrate learning within work processes. Using the agile approach has enabled greater staff collaboration within HealthWest and fits well with our principle of ‘continuous learning and improvement’.

Overall, we see this work as an extension of our commitment to innovation.

  • Agile is helping us to be more adaptable to project learnings, staff capacity and our changing environment. Overall, we have found more strengths than limitations in using the agile approach. One of the most beneficial areas where agile has helped HealthWest to be more adaptable is in the area of staff capacity. It has enabled us to step in and support each other at a practical level – in ways we have not been able to do before. It has enabled us to make better use of skills across the team.
  • Other strengths include an ability to be more purposeful in our reflection, adaptation and decisions, and the documentation of this. It seems that the agile approach is well suited to the reality that our work is complex and changeable.
  • Difficulties in balancing the need for long term vision and plans with an iterative approach is noted as an ongoing challenge for us to navigate.
  • Engaging and working closely with community is a key value in the way we work. We have a bit of work to do – to understand how to blend this value with iterative ways of working.


What has been our experience of trialling this new way of working?

Undertaking the agile experiment has been a different experience for different people in the team. It has been / is a great opportunity for professional development through lived experience and an opportunity for staff to embrace different talents and work-style preferences.

Staff have, however, also acknowledged some adjustment challenges throughout the process. As a group, we have agreed that we are moving through some of our initial concerns and that with some greater knowledge about iterative processes and continued fine tuning, we will continue to benefit from using agile approaches. A strong sense of trust and, safety around our vulnerabilities, have been valuable for staff throughout the process.


And the big one …. Does agile have a place in our future?

Yes – with some more knowledge and some further adjustments. The more we understand about agile for HealthWest’s transition to a new governance model, the better placed HealthWest will be to both implement and advocate for iterative project management approaches. We want to explore further how agile could be applied to other areas of our work, including in a commissioning environment.

HealthWest have also identified there would be benefit in the continued exploration of how iterative approaches can better inform the design and shape of project outcomes and associated measures both internally within HealthWest’s work and across the sector more broadly.

In conclusion

With significant change occurring within state government health portfolios and more broadly across the primary prevention sector (not to mention COVID), now is a perfect, perhaps necessary, time to embrace more nuanced, flexible and sophisticated processes.  In many ways we don’t have a choice. As our world vastly changes, as we experience this change at a great pace and as health disparities grow, a primary prevention system that is able to reflect, learn and quickly adapt seems essential.

Coming back to the concept of triple loop learning … is it time we move beyond ‘are we doing the thing right’ (single loop learning) to ‘are we doing the right thing’ (double loop learning) and to questioning the world views (and assumptions) that guide how we operate (triple loop learning)?

Experimenting with new ways of working that require varied world views is the call of our times. Agile, alongside reflective learning may be some ways to take us there. As Einstein so wisely put it “no problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it”.


For more info

Contact Kate Baker, Evaluation Project Manager

This is Blog #4 in our series, HealthWest Goes Agile! Read our other blogs: Blog #1, Blog #2, Blog #3

Evaluation, News@HealthWest