Improving Care through Scrum and Servant Leadership

Never underestimate the power of what you’re reading simply to pass the time on an airplane.
While traveling in early 2018, I chose to research different approaches to project management in preparation for my new role at Devereux Advanced Behavioral Health. That’s when I came across the Agile Manifesto, downloaded it, gave it a good read – more than once, actually – and had a “lightbulb moment.”
Devereux’s leadership team wanted to launch a transformative cultural initiative called servant leadership. (For our organization, servant leadership makes sense – you can’t have healthcare if caring isn’t a top priority, and servant leadership is all about serving others.) The challenge was finding an effective way to build this unified culture across a geographically disparate organization.
We knew pulling this off wasn’t going to be easy, and that we needed to really think through our approach. That’s when it dawned on me: What if we used Scrum to launch this major organizational initiative?
Scrum as a solution
Our small but mighty national team – consisting of me, our chief operating officer, our national communications director, our vice president of Human Resources (which we call People Operations) and our national director of Learning and Organizational Development – used Scrum to identify individuals from each Devereux center to assist as our “Servant Leadership Champions.” We also used Scrum to create deliverables such as training curriculums and communications and marketing materials, among other things.
Specifically, we managed this backlog of tasks by holding daily standup calls, running biweekly sprints, and breaking work down into smaller chunks. Every morning, we would discuss what we were currently working on, what we needed to work on, what was working well and what wasn’t. Over time, those who were initially unsure of whether a daily call was necessary stopped seeing these standups as “just one more meeting” and started seeing them as a better way to communicate. In fact, we all came to enjoy the meetings – and we missed checking in with each other during holidays.  
Collectively, we launched our servant leadership initiative with a Servant Leadership Champions Conference, where more than 30 Devereux leaders spanning 13 states participated in two days of intensive training on what it means to be a servant leader, how to drive and sustain servant leadership across the organization, and how to utilize servant leadership to improve the client experience at all of our campuses.
Quantitative and qualitative impacts
The conference was a success, and the larger rollout thereafter, even more so. We are still implementing data collection measures to see how much of an impact our shift to servant leadership has had on our organization and on our clients, but preliminary data is promising.  
Devereux centers that achieved a greater number of servant leadership project charter milestones during the study period (May 2018-May 2019) tended to have a greater proportion of positive client discharges versus those centers achieving fewer milestones. In addition, since we began implementing servant leadership, we have experienced an 8% reduction in employee turnover.
We’ve also seen several qualitative successes that, at least indirectly, stem from our servant leadership philosophy. For instance, there was a day when two cooks at our Colorado center were unable to make lunch for our youth. Lunch is a big deal, especially when approximately 100 kids are depending on it and, without thinking, staff members from different departments jumped in and started cooking. This is just one example of how servant leadership can benefit those in our care; and we are hearing more and more of these stories every day.  
Devereux has just begun to see all the good that can come from Scrum. But even in its early stages, our work has garnered attention: Our President and CEO Carl E. Clark II was recently elected to the Board of Directors for the Robert K. Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership. (Greenleaf is credited as being the founder of the Servant Leadership movement.)
I have no doubt that our Devereux team members and, by extension, the clients and communities we serve, will continue to reap the rewards of servant leadership, and hope we can inspire other healthcare organizations to do the same. The greater good depends on it.
Rich Rinaldi is a Certified ScrumMaster and the national director of special projects for Devereux Advanced Behavioral Health, where he can be reached at [email protected].

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