Agile working in the NHS: How can you benefit?

When we think of ‘agile working’ we don’t immediately associate it with the NHS. Yet agile is increasingly being used within the health and social care context.  For example, agile working is often mentioned in Matt Hancock’s speeches, it is present in NHS England’s People Plan and is frequently referenced in NHS Digital’s transformation blogs. In fact, many recently developed national services have used agile project management as their primary delivery approach.

So, what is agile working?

Agile working is an approach to project management where solutions evolve through the collaborative effort of self-organising, multidisciplinary teams and their customers or end users.

Is agile relevant for you?

Agile working could represent an effective approach, if you have asked yourself some of the following questions:

When considering the care or service you deliver…

  • How can we really design care around patient needs?
  • How can we be responsive to changing demands?

When considering the way you work to deliver your service…

  • How can we create ownership in teams?
  • How can we move away from a blame culture to one of collaboration and shared responsibility?
  • How can we reduce the fear of failing so that it does not hinder our capacity for change?
  • How can we learn from failure instead of burying it?

How is it different?

At Attain we have applied agile to advance many teams within the NHS to deliver greater value to patients, even when faced with rapidly changing demands and high-levels of uncertainty.

The NHS usually delivers projects using the ‘waterfall’ method, which starts off with a thorough planning period, where the different activities to be undertaken are laid out in a linear flow, under specific timelines (often presented as a GANTT chart). This gives a sequential approach and a nice visual of how the project will ideally pan out. However, in reality this approach can hinder the team’s capacity to respond to change, and often the planning period can take so long that the project objectives have changed.

Agile project management has emerged as an alternative delivery method. It advocates a more adaptive approach to planning, as well as focusing on early delivery, continuous improvement and a rapid and flexible response to change. So how does it do this and what are the benefits?

Achieve value through early delivery to stakeholders

With agile project management, you don’t have to wait until everything is finalised and perfect until you share the work with stakeholders. It promotes the delivery of small bites of information at a time that engages stakeholders to ensure they have helped shape the final product.

Welcome changing requirements

It is almost impossible to know from the outset the exact detail of all the solutions that your project will deliver. Environments are continuously changing and so are the needs of stakeholders. By being flexible and responsive to change, your outputs will stay relevant and useful to the end user.

Progress is measured by delivering to the end user

We often measure progress by the number of tasks that have been completed.  However, from the end user’s perspective, progress is measured by the value you have added to their experience.

Create a blended delivery team

Agile moves away from the organising of teams by skillset (e.g. analysts, clinicians, managers). It merges together the same team, with different skillsets and encourages collaboration. Essentially, to create a highly functioning team, you need to encourage and value the contributions from a range of different expertise.

The agile approach to project management has helped many teams within the NHS to deliver greater value to their patients, especially when faced with rapidly changing demands and high-levels of uncertainty.

For more information about the agile working approach, contact us to find out more.

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