Can Government IT Projects Be Done Using Agile?


The CNN moments for the government projects are not uncommon. In the recent years, Obamacare seems to have made it to the list. Even though it is easier to blame the software for the glitch, the issues related to implementing software in government departments are much wider.

The government projects are funded by taxpayers’ money, and transparency is critical. Government need to choose carefully the vendor who could complete the work within stipulated time and budget. In a complex and unpredictable environment, it invariably results in budget or time constraints.

With the pressure to deliver the software on time, the vendors will start cutting corners to meet the deadline. In the Obamacare example, the coders on the ground knew about many challenges. The coders had their own doubt about the unrealistic deadlines. However, no one had courage to openly challenge as the environment didn’t encourage open communication.

Another challenge that plagues government projects is the lack of innovation.  Governments want to ensure every investment to produce reliable results and in turn applying many checks and balances which in turn hinders creativity and kills innovation.

The question is, can Agile methodology be an antidote to challenges we see in government environments?

As we know, the government projects demand transparency, accountability, and predictability. Agile methods provide all the three.

Transparency could be implemented by setting up regular stand-ups, showcases, and retrospectives.  The stakeholders could also make use of big visible charts to track the progress on regular basis.  Transparency breeds self-correcting behavior and in turn accountability. The regular short sprints and practices such as continuous integration, delivery and deployment results in a predictable environment.

The good news is many forward thinking governments across the globe have understood the importance of Agile and have started embracing them fully. The UK  is leading example of Agile adoption in government.  They have gone in-depth creating service manuals, Youtube videos sharing their personal journey.

Apart from books written to help governments to embrace Agile methods, several successful case studies are available, like the FBI’s Sentinel project. This project reduced the cost and time of development by nearly one-third by purely implementing Agile methodology.

To conclude, the cost, transparency, accountability and predictability the key levers needed for every successful project could be delivered applying Agile methods. 

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