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Scrum processes are benefitting the medical field

Last post 06:14 pm November 25, 2019 by Terrance Collins
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06:14 pm November 25, 2019

Scrum practices and processes are being used to successfully manage more and more technology projects.  Now it is also being used to improve the medical field.

A few decades ago Jeff Sutherland and Ken Schwaber started the adaption of using scrum processes to solve complex issues.  Scrum is being used around the world for the purpose of building software faster and better than it was previously being built. Today scrum processes are being used to help several different industries to become more “agile”. 

Throughout history projects were traditionally built using a “Waterfall” process. Waterfall is a great process to follow for projects such as building houses and bridges.  In those projects there is a long list of procedures to do prior to beginning assembly of any parts and pieces.  For instance, building permits need to be acquired, land needs to be purchased, utility, plumbing needs to be installed, etc.  Every part of the construction needs to be planned and approved in advance.  If a change is needed in the future then there should be a written process to discuss and agree on the change.  For example, suddenly deciding to add an additional floor would require new permits and engineering.  Therefore, changing the plans are discouraged.  I have worked on projects that required waterfall processes.

The first computer systems used processes similar to waterfall.  Prior to building the computer system the architects and engineers planned the software, memory, and the rest of the infrastructure.  This process was slow and often led to building systems which were outdated prior to the projects being completed.

Today technology and tools such as scrum allow systems to be built faster and to change more efficiently.  The pace of changes is speeding up. Global competition combined with the pace of changes in technology has forced companies to become more agile and to expect changes during the build process.  Scrum allow organizations to become more agile and to make changes within the project without slowing down the process. 

I have worked on software projects as a scrum master and product owner.  I have seen how agile and scrum processes can create or modify software systems for fortune 100 organizations.  Proper agile processes are priceless.

Recently I have seen the medical industry benefit from using practices similar to scrum.  In my personal life a very close relative has been going through debilitating medical challenges for the past few years.  Each time she had an emergency multiple doctors would perform a string of tests.  They all seemed to follow the same long list of procedures without having a way to change the process.  Every time they informed her that they did not have a solution to her issues and didn’t know what caused her issues.  It felt as if the only advise they were giving her is to wish her “good luck” and asked her to call them the next time she had an issue.  Those hospitals reminded me of the old waterfall process of being inflexible and not able to change.  There were countless possible reasons for her issues.  Yet the hospitals didn’t seem to have any answers.

More recently she had another emergency due to the same issue.  This time the hospital suggested that she spend time in physical rehab.  It was never suggested in the past.  Therefore, we did not know what to expect.  At the beginning of her rehab the doctor stated that the process would take several weeks.  During those several weeks the staff isolated her fluids, food, movement, and prescriptions as they rebuilt her health.  They regularly ran tests, reviewed the results daily, and had weekly meetings to discuss her progress.  They also used this time to update their plans for moving ahead.  This process reminded me of the agile scrum events (sprint planning, daily meetings, demo, retrospectives).  The doctor seemed like a product owner.  The sprint demo each week was when the staff watched my relative learn how to walk and function again.

After several weeks the rehab hospital was able to declare that the overall issue is due to only 1 of 3 specific causes.  Doctors now have a fighting chance to “fix” the issue.  My relative is out of the hospital and able to physically function.  This is another example of using scrum processes to improve complex challenges.

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