Blog Header Test 05 HealthWest Goes Agile: Dancing between traditional and emergent models

December 8, 2021

Peace, love and harmony are everything when we go groovy dancing.   

But more on this later. 

We at HealthWest are moving along a path of uncharted territory (or at least uncharted for us).  We are testing out the applicability of Agile Project Management methodologies in a health and community services setting.  We have done a bit of research on Agile but mainly jumped in to learn through experience.  In previous blogs we introduced you to the early stages of our journey. Now we have moved through ‘the middle’ and are heading towards an end (of sorts) of this initial experiment.  

For those of you following our trial you may recall last time we were beginning to know our unknowns, and whilst we still have many many questions, both practical and conceptual, we’re beginning to work a few things out. 

And not least with the help of our friends from Paper Giant (who facilitated a team session on iterative approaches for us) and of course, through our continued and regular reflections on what’s working and what’s not.  We have also found our agile thinking merging into other realms of our work (beyond the specific ‘Recruiting for Diversity’ project we had initially decided to apply it to) and have needed to find some ways to manage this. 

Latest insights

On a practical level  

  • It’s important to be clear on what projects you will apply the agile approach to and which projects you won’t.  Identifying that some areas of work are more suited to agile than others reminds us that it’s not a ‘one size fits all’ approach.  Given this, we have done some thinking around criteria to help us make these decisions into the future.  
  • A review of Position Descriptions would be beneficial.  Position Descriptions that perhaps allow more fluid movement across work areas and have a greater emphasis on collaboration may be the way to go.  For HealthWest, who are about to transition to a new governance model, it’s not the right time but something to consider going forward.   
  • Have one Trello board for all our projects – colour coded to indicate different areas of work – and move away from individual boards for each project which really is terribly clunky!!  

Bigger picture / system level

  • Linear, causal thinking is deeply embedded paradigm in the health (and funding) sector and is what has traditionally and wholly driven planning and implementation.  There may be value in changing this narrative, to one that acknowledges there are multiple pathways to change, and, additionally, that we don’t always know the best approach at the start. Perhaps there is opportunity to promote the benefits of working in a more nuanced and iterative way.

Image by Virpi Oinonen, found at

Adaptive planning as “meeting in the middle”?

One of our biggest takeouts from our time spent with Paper Giantand from conversations with sector colleagues, has been the discovery of ‘adaptive planning’ and ‘adaptive management’. We are yet to understand exactly what adaptive planning and adaptive management involves but we get the sense that such approaches may be useful in navigating an ongoing query: how to work in an iterative, evolving way in the heavily plan-basedsequential-thinking environment mentioned above.

Brief initial investigations into adaptive planning and management suggest that it may be about ‘meeting in the middle’.   In traditional planning models, inputs, outputs and outcomes are fixed, with perhaps the ‘problem’ and the activities revised at yearly or end of program intervals. The adaptive approach may continue to see outcomes as fixed – an agreed ‘end point’ you are aiming for, however allows for movement across all other project domains: inputs, outputs, ‘the problem’ and activities. 

In a sense, from the governance perspective, safety and planning (that is the current paradigm) can be found in a shared understanding of and commitment to where we want to arrive, but a letting go around how we’re going to get there.  

Dancing between the traditional and emergent

Our training day with Paper Giant started with a creative ice-breaker activity: create a story with each team member taking turns to contribute one word at a time.  We were welcome to take the story in whatever direction we liked with our one-word-at-a-time contributions.  Perhaps our story has something to teach us: Perhaps peace, love and harmony are everything when we dance between both traditional and emergent planning and management models.  



For more info

Contact Kate Baker, Evaluation Project Manager

This is Blog #3 in our series, HealthWest Goes Agile! Read Blog #1 and Blog #2