Agile Governance Today: What’s Working and What to Watch Out For

Agile Governance Today: What’s Working and What to Watch Out For

Insights | 10 April 2018

When you think about it, “Agile governance” is a bit of a misnomer.

The word “governance” risks sounding decidedly pre-Agile – more command-and-control than organic or delivery-focussed. Perhaps a better phrase would be “Agile alignment”?

“Agile alignment” embodies something a little closer to the desired end state. Agile teams should deliver measurable value to the customer, while maintaining transparency, control and assessing risks. Alignment and oversight of teams, even Agile teams, is essential.

So, when you think about Agile governance – a phrase we’ll keep for its recognisable shorthand – consider letting Agile be, well, agile.

Let’s examine what’s working, what’s not, and what we can all do better in the future.

What’s working?

Agile governance, when done right, allows for the best of Agile to rise quickly to the top.

Consider transparency. When dealing with true Agile teams, strategic partners should be able to clearly see, in real time, the state of a project and understand immediately what is being delivered and when (even more so than with traditional waterfall methods).

Similarly, strong Agile teams should never have issues backing requirements (regulatory or otherwise) into the iterative design/build process.

Perhaps this is why governments are increasingly merging Agile methodologies[1] within their highly regulated environments.

One study into Agile governance detailed 10 examples of governments around the globe excelling at both Agile and good governance.

According to the study[2], the most common Agile principles implemented are:

  • “Outcomes over results”
  • “Responding to change over following a plan”
  • “Participation over control”
  • “Self-organisation over centralisation”

In one example featuring the Danish Business Authority, the government overhauled a broken industry code classification system. The result, this study found, saved “companies and authorities DKK 24 million ($4.2 million) between 2011 and 2015. These gains are equivalent to the investment delivering a full return 21 times.”

Now what needs fixing?

There are many ways in which teams can improve their Agile governance. To begin, we must go beyond simply understanding that Agile teams work differently. That difference needs to infuse and inform all aspects of the project, especially governance.

For example, a highly capable Agile team would naturally build a more scalable approach to monitoring in real-time, as opposed to simply piling on the documentation. This ability to assess problems and focus on scalable, elegant solutions rather than adding unnecessary complexity needs to be encouraged at every turn.

Another key component to understand is that Agile governance is a relatively new concept, with the room to grow and evolve.

Writing in the “State of the Art of Agile Governance: A Systematic Review”, the researchers agreed with the notion that “Agile governance” can seem like two words at odds with each other – but only at first:

“Truth be told, when we look at the application of agility on governance it may seem like antagonist ideas (an oxymoron) or counter intuitive, because governance denotes the idea of mechanisms, control, accountability and authority, while agility conveys the idea of informality, simplicity, experimentation, and for some observers (maybe) “almost anarchy”. Nevertheless, if the goal of enterprise is to achieve business agility, it cannot be reached without commitment from all sectors of the organisation, which in turn cannot be achieved without governance.”

What else can we derive from this report?

  • Agile governance is new. There is not a single study on the topic older than 1996.
  • Agile governance does not always look the same. The researchers delved into software engineering, enterprise, manufacturing and multidisciplinary for a broader view of principles at work.
  • Agile has truly moved away from the Agile Manifesto and toward a whole new definition of “business agility”. The study defines this as “the ability to deliver value faster, better, and cheaper to the core business”.

For further consideration are the six “meta-principles” for the future of agile governance:

  1. The concept of “good-enough” governance
  2. That all decisions need to be business-driven, but also:
  3. Human-focused
  4. Quick wins equal momentum
  5. Approaches need to be systematic and adaptive
  6. Solutions should be simple in design and feature continuous improvement

These definitions and insights should form a basis on how we view and apply Agile governance going forward.

Agile governance today – and tomorrow

Agile governance is evolving. There are still considerable amounts to learn and discover, with new definitions and models constantly emerging with practitioners sharing what they’ve learned.

Projects are expected to be delivered faster, more efficiently and within budget. These approaches to Agile governance can help achieve this.

The World Economic Forum Global Agenda Council on the Future of Software and Society[3] envisions the next phase of Agile governance as software-based transformations across all industries (including government) embracing the power of self-organisation:

“Today’s new technologies allow knowledge and power to be distributed more widely than ever before. They allow the collection and dissemination of experience, the collective assessment of problems, and the design and application of solutions and improvements. The ability to self-organise decreases many of the burdens on central governance.”

How has Agile governance helped your teams successfully run projects?

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