Having worked for a number of organisations across the UK, I wanted to share some observations of what I think prevents organisations from achieving AGILE transformations. I will share my observations of the ‘public sector’ AGILE approach.
AGILE is a methodology that can be adopted by several frameworks. These vary from Scrum to extreme Programming, DSDM, SAFE and even Lean. In short, AGILE speeds up the process of delivery (even outside of IT) so much so that ‘items’ can be delivered more readily, feedback received and customer satisfaction gained faster. By shortening time to market, the key benefits are of the adaptability to changing needs, delivering quality and maximising ROI. The ‘public sector’, which I will refer to as ‘The British Government’ is therefore a prime candidate for AGILE adoption. Its ways of working are bureaucratic. This way of working is non-compliant with AGILE, but it’s supposedly ‘the worst and best system’ that British society has. When I mention ‘bureaucracy’, I am of course referring to signatures on forms, PowerPoint presentations to highly paid officials and e-mails which respond with ‘APPROVE’ or ‘DECLINE’. Bureaucracy is the superego of reality which takes your aspirations and says ‘stop’. Bureaucracy may even prevent you from ‘speaking’ to individuals in the government if you haven’t ‘followed the right processes’. So, what are my three most significant observations which prevent British Government offices from achieving this great change?
1) Bureaucracy and process: In this way, the British Government cannot achieve AGILE transformation because it is laced with permission structures, public accountability and with ‘paper flows’- literally, documentation after documentation. For example: a Product Owner may wish to accept work into the product backlog but as the hierarchy commands, may need to seek permission (from a budget or individual) meaning the said individual is disempowered. Furthermore, the Government is accountable to its people and AGILE is all about delivering incrementally and discovering risk sooner. But, what if it doesn’t deploy? What if an entire market collapses as a result of bad development? Moreover, paper everywhere and all the trees aren’t thankful for that. From poor contract decisions to ways of working which involve ‘a document completed before we’ to ‘oh, we can’t do much until the next document is formed’- it’s a recipe for disaster.
2) Experience over talent: without a doubt, AGILE is born from a product team (replacing a project management team) - however, those who make it into positions of Product Ownership or Scrum Master are often ‘experienced project managers’ who ‘are adapting to a new role’. With experience comes age, and with experience and age comes resistance to new change. In this way, the product owner may prevent AGILE adoption by insisting on project management approaches such as TIME and BUDGET. Talent can be young, trained and excited individuals who ‘only know an agile approach’. By following the Scrum Alliance and very literally ‘the way of delivering AGILE’, a talented individual is likely to deliver change much faster than those who have only project management experience. There are simply not enough young people leading the government’s agenda. It’s also hard to see diversity of disabilities like Autism, Bi-Polar and schizophrenia make it to senior positions. I expect this may change in time. However, with ‘dyslexia’ being considered an equal disability to schizophrenia, I find it highly unlikely.
3) Not enough knowledge: The government has access to great funds and is more than happy to inject it into AGILE. Leaders send the ‘working layer’ to train, costing thousands and then (very literally) ‘expect delivery’ of said training without much knowledge of prioritisation, visions or even a ‘daily stand-up’. This relates to bureaucracy (point one) in that some individuals may believe ‘they do not need to know’, only to decide. AGILE must come from the top (the very top) by giving permission to the ‘working layer’ to deliver. You may frown at that point, but it is very true. If the most senior person in an organisation cannot (briefly) describe what AGILE means, then how are the working layers expected to deliver this through all of the bureaucracy that lies between? IT in Government deserves more attention, respect and should perhaps identify the customer, which in AGILE, is the key.