Blog Header Test 05 HealthWest goes agile!

August 9, 2021

We at HealthWest are embarking on an experiment. An Agile Project Management experiment.

Originally a project management tool used in the field of software development, Agile, has of late, been crossing sector boundaries and finding its way into the social and community services sector.

HealthWest, always thinking about innovation, looking at the big picture and learning and reflecting on what works and what does not, provides a good environment for some careful experimentation. Whilst tweaking the way we manage our work has been on the radar for some time, it seems now the conditions are right for us to trial the agile approach. But more about that shortly.

Firstly, what is Agile Project Management?

The UK Association for Project Management describe agile in the following way…

“Agile project management (APM) is an iterative approach to delivering a project throughout its life cycle….Agile life cycles are composed of several iterations or incremental steps towards the completion of a project.  [A key goal of APM is] to promote velocity and adaptability since the benefit of iteration is that you can adjust as you go along rather than following a linear path.  One of the aims of an agile or iterative approach is to release benefits throughout the process rather than only at the end.  At the core, agile projects should exhibit central values and behaviours of trust, flexibility, empowerment and collaboration.”

The agile approach is often compared to waterfall project management methodology:

Why Agile for HealthWest?

Whilst the values of trust, empowerment and collaboration have always been in HealthWest’s sights, the value of flexibility has been key to deciding now is the time to give Agile, or at least a HealthWest version of it, a go. As our work context becomes increasingly changeable and uncertain, the need to be agile and flexible in the way we manage our work has never been more pressing.

State government restructures alongside a planned transition of the PCP governance model between now and March 2022, means long-term planning is out.  As we wait to learn more of the PCP transition process and what that will entail, we need to be working in an extremely adaptable way – to allow for multiple and varied work and organisational scenarios over coming months. Perhaps agile can help us?

Beginning cycle 1 of Agile

Through recent consultation with the HealthWest membership, we have identified two focus areas for the work phase July 2021 – March 2022.  These are in the areas of

  1. equitable recruitment practices (to support economic inclusion for health) – building on HealthWest’s recent efforts in this space; and,
  2. improving health communications in Melbourne’s west.

We have made a start with project 1 – a research piece that seeks to identify what hinders and supports human resource departments in the health and community sector, in Melbourne’s west, to adopt recruitment practices which are fair, accessible and equitable for people from migrant and refugee backgrounds.  Whilst it may take us from July to March next year to read that sentence (!), we have in the meantime completed our first iteration or cycle of the project – the first stage of our agile approach.

Our current process

At the beginning of each cycle of work, we identify

  • what we want to do,
  • how we will do it, and
  • how we will determine the outcome of that particular cycle.

We then spread the work across the team, making the most of individual skills and expertise.  Weekly meetings bring the team together to check in on progress where agreed tasks are listed and shifted on a multi-user Trello board that notes the task as ‘to do’, ‘doing’ or ‘done’.

When we complete a cycle, we note:

  • the outcomes of the cycle,
  • what we have learnt and need to consider for the next cycle and
  • any budget or communications implications.

As we are all a bit new to Agile Project Management, we are including opportunities to reflect, as a team, upon our APM experiment and what we are experiencing along the way.  Taking this reflection beyond that of HealthWest navel gazing, we want to share this journey with you.  We hope it may spark some inspiration and an opportunity for others to benefit from what we learn. So, with that in mind, here’s where we are at and some of the insights we have gained thus far.

This week we reached the end of our first cycle.  Exciting times! Next week we begin Cycle Two.

Reflections on Cycle One of our Equitable Recruitment Practices project

Cycle one for our Equitable Recruitment Practices project centred around developing the project concept and exploring potential partnership engagement in the project. It involved

  • creation and fine tuning of a project brief
  • discussions with potential partner organisations, and
  • the creation of a project logic model.

Alongside these project development processes, we have developed a Learning Enquiry Framework to give some structure to the learning part of our agile test.

Here are four key APM take-outs from our experience through Cycle 1.

  1. Trello and our Agile Planning Template have, so far, been really helpful in supporting us to work together as a virtual and agile team.
  2. Consideration needs to be given to the impact of your agile experiments on external partners! This was one of our biggest learnings and surfaced in a couple of ways:
    • As we are working very much as a collaborative team across the one project we have identified the need to allocate responsibility to one individual for communicating with external partners – so it is clear to them who they need to speak to and are receiving consistent messages
    • Knowing when and how much to engage your partner organisations in your processes is something to give a lot of thought to.
    • Overall, we need to first manage our own ship (i.e. agile experiment) without unnecessary impacts on external partners. e. don’t implicate partners in your somewhat ‘messy’ experiment!
  3. Agile is about letting go of our highly ingrained habits of making long-term plans – its all about taking small steps at a time and seeing what unfolds
  4. We are kind of winging it and might benefit from some formal staff training in APM.

Stay tuned for the next thrilling chapter in HealthWest Goes Agile. See you at the end of Cycle 2!


For more info

Contact Kate Baker, Evaluation Project Manager

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