A welcome boost for agile in government

By Tony Collins

David Wilks, Digital Performance Manager at Government Digital Service, which is part of the Cabinet Office, says there has been “incredible” interest in clarified guidance that makes it easier for departments to obtain funding for agile projects.

The guidance applies to major projects.

Wilks says on the GDS blog that the guidance will “cut bureaucracy and encourage innovation, making digital transformation easier across government”.

It means that, in most cases, government organisations can spend up to £750,000 on the first two phases of a government agile project, discovery and alpha, on the basis of Cabinet Office spending controls – without needing an HM Treasury business case.

The guidance means:

  • more use of “light-touch” Programme Business Cases
  • using agile discovery to replace the Strategic Outline Case in most cases
  • avoiding the need for a separate Full Business Case stage where procurement uses a pre-competed arrangement such as the Digital Services Framework

“For agile and finance teams in government departments, this guidance clarification has produced incredible interest,” says Wilks.

Comment

It seems fashionable to criticise the use of agile in government, perhaps because agile requires a mindset and culture that may be alien in parts of the civil service. But done well agile could help to modernise and reform central government administration.  It’s not a cure for all the problems of bloated government IT and it has risks, among them:

–  Zeno’s paradox where a project is perpetually on the point of delivering successfully but never actually does, as with the BBC’s Digital Media Initiative.

–  A so-called agile project that combines waterfall and agile approaches. It’s either waterfall or agile. It’s difficult to see how a project can be both. Those projects where there has been a hybrid agile-waterfall approach have not been successful: Universal Credit, the BBC’s DMI and an Oracle IT-related project disaster in Oregon.

That said, investigators of the “Cover Oregon” failure seem now to advocate a purer form of agile as one solution. A highly critical official report into the failure has some positive comments on agile:

“Since September 2013, CO [Cover Oregon] has been utilizing a home grown development process which is based upon agile methodologies. There are seven functional areas within the process, referred to as tables, with each table having a dedicated table lead (a mini project manager) and a dedicated business analyst. This process appears to be well orchestrated.

“Each morning there are daily “scrum” meetings for the different functional areas. While not rigidly adhering to the formal agile scrum format, these meetings serve a valuable purpose in providing a regular opportunity for various parties from a functional area to provide the latest updates on the progress across the outstanding major defects/issues …”

 

With some reservations the Cabinet Office’s initiative to cut bureaucracy and make it easier for departments to adopt agile is welcome.

 

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2 responses to “A welcome boost for agile in government

  1. “spend up to £750,000 on the first two phases of a government agile project, discovery and alpha, on the basis of Cabinet Office spending controls – without needing an HM Treasury business case” Just shows how out of touch GDS is with new proven 6GL software that has basically commoditised the build without coding. You could build a benefit system for that sum but does GDS care? Apparently not as long as they stick to their unsupported marketing that Politicians swallow they do what suits them. Disgraceful; time for some accountability waiting for detailed response on FOI why they ignore innovation and remain to achieve intelligent customer status?

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    • Saying that you could replace something like the benefit processing system on the cheap without writing any software is a strong claim; but this is proven, you say. I take it you mean by this that it has been subject to peer-reviewed research. In which case all I can say is “citation needed” – that sounds like it would make fascinating reading.

      (Incidentally, I’ve got a pro tip for you: if you’re going to post things in your capacity as a CEO then you should probably get someone to proofread what you write. Sloppy writing might be taken to indicate a sloppy attitude in general. People can be very judgemental.)

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