Realizing the Value of Agile in Healthcare IT

by Polaris Solutions on February 18, 2021

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In our series looking at the business value of Agile innovation, we’ve already explored Agile’s impact in financial services IT. For the past three decades, Agile methods have driven increased IT success rates across industries, with 75% of executives reporting that their Agile teams perform better or significantly better than teams following traditional methods. But much like financial services, healthcare CIOs and CTOs have their own considerations when it comes to adopting the methodology. 

To begin with, many healthcare and life sciences organizations have embraced Lean Process Improvement for their operational functions, but have not yet adopted those same Lean/Agile processes within their IT departments. In short, they’re overlooking a methodology that could have a significant and lasting impact on the overall health of their organization.  

 

What Can Put Healthcare IT In Critical Condition? 

Every healthcare organization is under extreme pressure to develop new technology solutions, support complex existing systems, and adapt to an ever-changing playing field. During my work as an IT leader at a major medical center in Chicago, our team had to manage over 1,000 different applications. On top of that, we had to respond to rapid changes including new regulatory impacts, like the Affordable Care Act’s mandate for robust IT infrastructure; changing patient care standards and safety protocols like those brought on by COVID-19; and frequent innovations and new medical devices introduced into the field.  

 Our organization had started to adopt Lean process improvement initiatives, but IT was largely a legacy project management organization using Waterfall tactics. Like most organizations, we began our pivot through Aggressive Prioritization of Initiatives and portfolio management. But moving to Agile was a daunting mission and we didn’t know exactly how to get started beyond that.  

 

Agile in Healthcare IT: Where to Start 

In a recent survey conducted by Bain, almost 79% of healthcare executives said they want to be more Agile, yet only 30% said their teams agreed on what that meant. This can be a huge blocker in the implementation or adoption of Lean/Agile processes. Here are five key steps–gleaned from my experiences and those of the highly trained Agilists at Polaris: 

 

  1. Identify your IT champion, usually the Director of the PMO or Product organization. This leader can help build understanding of Agile methodologies and establish a shared vocabulary.  
  1. Start with small projects. By nature Agile teams are small and self-governing, so your smallest projects make for a natural starting point.  
  1. Focus on areas where you need better visibility into progress and quality. 
  1. Work with a skilled Agile partner. Why? Your team needs to learn and build muscle memory, and it’s hard to do that while meeting the day-to-day needs of the organization. 

 

From there, once you’ve mastered Steps 1-4, you can begin to scale by adding more projects and more staff into your Agile program.  

 

Lean/Agile Processes: Your Prescription for Improved Quality 

If you take the steps above with your IT organization, while also seeking small wins and celebrating them loudly as you go, you’ll be on a good path to realize all the business value Agile has to offer in healthcare IT. This includes not only better technology delivery and quality, but also improved quality of life and boosted morale and engagement on the part of your team. Here are some of the other benefits you can expect to realize: 

  • Cost efficiency & effectiveness 
  • Increased collaboration and ownership 
  • Higher customer satisfaction 
  • Greater visibility into project performance 
  • Reduced risk 

 

These benefits of Agile operating models are well documented, but that doesn’t mean getting there is simple. If your organization is struggling with getting started, or with wider adoption of formal Agile methodologies and tools, Polaris can help. Our Agilists have decades of real-world experience and work with organizations daily to help them achieve their business goals more efficiently and effectively.  

 From there, once you’ve mastered the art of Agile within IT, you can extend the methodology out into other business units. The same benefits can be realized across your organization and it’s a powerful medicine to have everyone familiar with the methodology, speaking the same language, and following consistent processes. 


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Topics: agile in healthcare