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Reflective practice within Agile project management

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At MEERQAT, we are witnessing the benefits of reflective practice in the health sector, where frontline clinical teams have used our basemaps to reflect on, and improve their practices in relation to the Australian national healthcare quality standards.

It is interesting to see the challenges of using reflective practice in another domain, namely Agile project management.

Agile is an approach to project management that is now widely used in the IT sector for the development of new software products. It focuses upon small iterations of work by teams, which are then tested with end-users and aims to deliver a “minimum viable product” as an important phase in product development.

Agile has 12 core principles, one of which is: “at regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behaviour accordingly”. These reflections are called “retrospectives”.

John Yorke, an experienced Agile practitioner and coach, has recently written on the benefits and challenges faced when conducting retrospectives.

“I believe every team – not just technical teams — should take a break and reflect regularly. Regardless of what you do, you can improve, but you need an environment conducive for that thought process. If you can learn to reflect effectively, an hour away from your normal environment may end up being the most productive hour of your week.”

Yorke acknowledges that a key challenge in facilitating and conducting retrospectives is “getting past the noise to get at the real issues”.  He notes that “sometimes team members are afraid of disagreement so shy away from difficult topics, however differences of opinion are where the real change happens”.

Yorke concludes with the well-known adage: “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you always got”.

Another experienced Agile practitioner, Toni Tassani, has commented upon the “common pitfalls” of retrospectives, which are “stale and unproductive retrospectives using the same format every sprint, or retrospectives with unconstructive lengthy conversations leading to no clear improvement or no action at all”.

Tassani suggests the remedy lies in keeping the focus on the essence of Agile retrospectives, which was always continuous improvements, and adding known and established continuous improvement activities.

MEERQAT offers Agile project managers just such a tool for ensuring they can get the most out of their retrospectives. Structured conversations powered by MEERQAT enable teams to reflect on what they do, what works, what doesn’t and why.

The outcomes from each retrospective can be stored within the application, providing an important repository of information that can be reviewed as the team progresses through different phases of a project. Importantly, MEERQAT also enables a seamless translation between the outcomes from a retrospective into an evidence-based quality improvement plan. The drag-and-drop functionality of the Action Planning Tool (which is actually modeled on a concept used in Agile called “Kanban”) allows you to prioritise, organise and track your improvement activities.

This is another example of the way MEERQAT can add value to important team-based, quality improvement activities.

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