Seeking the approaches that enable faster change in the complex world of health and social care
Ever been in need of a method that eliminates significant delay in your projects, if so, this is the story of my first ever sprint, which did exactly that.
This is the first in a series of stories that outline some of the notable sprints that I’ve been involved in and the learning that came from these. If you’d like a quick overview of what’s meant by a Sprint, click here……….
Today, I start with the story of my first ever sprint, which was incredibly successful and spurred me on, despite later sprint failures.
The context to this sprint is important, both from a personal and organisation perspective. From a personal perspective I was fresh from a University course planning module, where we had studied Agile Project Management, supported by a couple of experienced Boeing staff who had traveled to the UK specifically for the 3 day residential. It was an eye opening session that demonstrated the simplicity and effectiveness of the basic concept and broad process of a sprints alongside some Oobeya concepts. It left me with a strong desire to try out this different approach. I’d also recently arrived into a project that was seeking to make rapid changes to a clinical service that had received a very critical report and had lots of attention from both senior management of the organisation and external regulators. I’d inherited the most complex plan I’ve ever seen, which the team were following, but didn’t seem to be able to prioritise the critical elements. So I took a risk and proposed a two week Sprint focused on the element of the project that seemed to be creating the greatest stress, was discussed at length in a weekly meeting, and was already 9 months behind schedule. Thankfully, they agreed and the Sprint was scheduled to start the following Monday.
Monday arrived and the hastily established ‘sprint team’ arrived in a small office, the only absence being the clinical consultant, who, although keen to get involved, had limited time. We had, however, scheduled some of his time later in the week. In the two hours we had on the Monday morning we achieved three key things, that set us on our way;
Then the work began. Every day, as many of the team as possible reviewed the blockers and remaining activities, moving and changing the ‘Post It’ notes on the wall in the process. Although not everyone could physically be in the room for these short reviews, an audio conference facility was setup so team members could be involved. By using the photo facility on our phones, team members could be kept up to date with the plan and blockers board as it flexed and evolved.
The team worked well, sometimes working alone on activities, or in small groups and for many activities they needed other ‘non sprint team’ people to do work. Although it wasn’t planned, some of the review meeting time was spent commenting on and contributing to some of the documents or outputs developed during the sprint, this was really important as it helped draw on the wider expertise of the team, but also allowed engagement with some of the key stakeholders, external to the team. One of the roles that emerged during the two weeks was one of unblocking some of the blockers identified on the board, I found that I spent much of my time liaising and negotiating with others external to the sprint to support progress. For example, one of the biggest blockers, was an apprehension around the term ‘sprint’, a number of people thought we had gone completely mad and were initially unsupportive.
At the end of the process we held a review meeting to agree how much of the original objectives had been met and what to do with the remainder. We also reviewed the sprint approach and the following outlines the messages that emerged from the review or sprint wrap up:
As is often the case, the original objectives were way too ambitious, but around 75% of what we set out to achieve was completed within the two weeks, but this was many times more than the achievement of the previous 9 months. The sprint had been a huge success and had made a significant dent in work that had been creating such anxiety.
To complete the work, the team felt that most of the remaining work needed to be undertaken by a clinical consultant. A follow on one week sprint was then arranged six weeks later (in order to meet rules regarding cancelling clinic time) and the remaining work completed within that timescale. Thus the delay had been completely eliminated and a for me, a new powerful tool was born.
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