Accelerating Change Programmes

Seeking the approaches that enable faster change in the complex world of health and social care

The Delay Eliminator (Sprint Story 1)

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;

  1. An understanding of sprints. A short briefing on the sprint concept and why this was a helpful way to work was given. The brief was broadly along the lines of one of my earlier blogs.
  2. We agreed a set of objectives for the 2 weeks of the sprint. This was written on a flipchart on the wall in the office.
  3. We planned out the required activities needed over the next two weeks, including 30 min sprint reviews every day. As part of planning we also identified a series of blockers (mixture of risks and issues) and actioned these. The plan and ‘blockers board’ were developed using ‘Post It’ notes on the wall. For each activity on the plan, a lead team member was allocated the task and an estimated number of units of total time needed made (I recall that the units of time used, were half days). Both of these were written onto each activity ‘Post It’ note.

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:

  • All things are possible, however big and insurmountable they appear!
  • We have learnt the importance of engaging with other partners.  We have now established excellent working relationships with the library.
  • Whilst we didn’t meet all the objectives there has been a huge leap forward in the progress of the guideline issues, including; wider staff engagement and improved professional interface, clear plan for the remaining unreviewed guidelines, clear plan for guideline management in the future, improved culture, and ownership of responsibilities in relation to guidelines.
  • Plan ahead to allow focus on the sprint, there is a need to give sprint team staff some notice (particularly clinical).
  • Agree a reduced business as usual commitment for participants.
  • Get the right people for the team, who are committed, but spread the load as it is a very intense commitment.
  • Gain line manager support for team members, in case day job slips.
  • It is intense, but rewarding, productive and a positive experience.

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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This entry was posted on 04/04/2016 by in sprint, Sprint Story and tagged , , , .
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