Agile project management is life or death in the cardiac operating room

The spread of highly lethal Mycobacterium chimaera has infected greater than 100 heart surgery patients worldwide since 2013. The bacteria has been found breeding in specialised, water-filled medical devices known as ‘heater-coolers’, which are essential for cardiac surgery. However simply discarding infected devices has not been possible. The Australian healthcare system’s management of the heater-cooler crisis is a unique and contemporaneous example of ‘agile transformation’.

Cardiac units are being shaped by continuously emerging research and technology as new ideas are proposed to manage the mycobacterium problem. The pace of change raises the challenge of ongoing regulatory compliance. Operating in a highly regulated sector where serious mistakes may cause patient harm, means that failure to comply is equally as dangerous as failure to act. Consequently, balancing the approaches of aggressive and conservative agile transformation has been critical.

Another interesting challenge has been the “soft” side of agile transformation. Requesting already time-pressured healthcare workers take on additional responsibilities has elicited some negative organisational behaviour. Agile project management has quite literally saved lives in this instance and I am excited to share our agile journey with you.